11 December 2006

craft research

On the http://www.craftscotland.org/ A Hutcheson makes this comment. "I recently attended a talk at Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre in Dundee, where the three presenters, originally from either a jewellery or textile background, referred to crafts as the ‘c’ word, and apologised whenever the craft word appeared, in his/her presentation." What a sad inditement. Do we as craftspersons now not only have to find other names for ourselves to maintain credibility, but to apologise when we use the word CRAFT?
We should be standing up for ourselves: We should carry the name "Craftsperson" with dignity and pride: We should produce work worthy of the high standard and quality traditionally expected of a craftsperson. We should walk with our heads held high!

06 December 2006

A story of craft

I read a wisdom story, called product line.
1. There used to be an American trader arrived at a small town in Mexico. He met a craftsman there, who was making and selling delicate baskets, which only cost 2 cents. The trader bought one back to America. His friend saw the basket and was willing to buy it on the price of 1.75 dollars. Friend also wanted to buy as many as the trader could offer. The trader went back to Mexico immediately. He wanted to buy a great deal of baskets from the craftsman. But he got a rejection. The trader asked the craftsman why he refused such a big business. 2. The craftsman said: “look, I made the basket along my own thinking. Every morning, when the sun comes out, the birds start to sing, butterfly stop on my work. I knit the song and my soul into it. That is the reason why the butterfly can stop and I can make. If I made a lot of them, there won’t be a song, neither my soul, then every basket is the same. It will erode my heart.”

So what is your thinking about this story? Do you think the meaning come from the part 2? Such as the unique value in each craft process which distinct the hand making from machine producing?

As you may see, the thing annoyed me is why a delicate basket only sell 2 cents, especially when the craftsman knit his soul into it? Should he be angry with the price? What is the value of craft in market/economy?...

It is a story or not just a story…

24 November 2006

A Place for Creative Work

I have recently returned from a one day conference in London organised by EUCLID, (UK, European and International information and services for arts and culture) entitled: A Place for Creative Work: International Responses.

"Finding the right space to work as an artist or creative practitioner is still a challenge for many. This conference brings together people from Europe and the Americas who are involved in delivering particularly innovative and successful responses to this challenge." says the opening paragraph of the conference literature. This is what it did, and it was an eye opening experience for me to hear some of the projects that are taking place around the world.

Generally there was a lot of discussion about investment in people, not just buildings, and the need to create a human infrastructure as well as the bricks and mortar. There was debate about the need to shift the current paradigm so that creative people are recognised as valuable assets, not a luxury or a drain, and that there needs to be a global creative revolution! As I was listening to this I thought about all the shopping malls that are springing up in towns and cities and the increasing similarity between each of them. I thought about the planning departments who make the decisions about what facilities we 'need' that in essence define our very culture. It seems that we need to shop....all the time...in the same shops....everywhere. So I thought, who decides that we dont need a creative community to occupy areas within a city centre? Creative communities can regenerate areas, they can be a commercial resource as well as a tourist attraction. Shawn Patrick McLearen from Artspace USA (a non-profit real estate developer) sited exactly HOW WHAT WHY and WHERE, (which included figures) for all of us to gawp at with envy. According to Keith Hackett (a freelance consultant), the EU Lisbon vision is to nurture regional distictivness. Surely art and craft has a central role to play in this vision?

Tim Jones the Director of Artscape in Canada, another non-profit enterprise, talked about building creative communities, developing creative districts and clusters and cultivating creative cities. He believed that the way forward is to be pro-active and deepen the understanding about creativity. He was the person who said we needed a paradigm shift in order to develop a culture of creativity and innovation. People he said can change the world for the better.

The director of the Media Guild in Amsterdam, Andrew Bullen talked about the Guilds aims, which are to "stimulate the innovation potential of [the Guild] and multi media creative industries by bringing together, coaching and enabling talented starters, young entrepreneurs and established professionals to develop and prototype their ideas'. like the other speakers the space they inhabited is in a central location and was rescued from demolition. And like the others, there was nothing second rate about these spaces, they are contemporary workspaces for "creatives".

I just want to discuss one of the final speakers briefly, David Panton from ACME in London. He explained Barratt (the house builders) wanted to build apartments in a prime spot that, I think, had been targeted for business use. Barratt approached ACME and between them devised a way for Barratt to build a sister block that would be used as studio spaces. Their plan was accepted.

So if like Gus Casely -Howard (this months Crafts Magazine) you are fed up with "...craft not being as glamorous as fashion, or as marketable as design, or as credible as visual art [when] we all know that the craft market has a greater potential than the fine arts market , that more people want to buy craft than painting, that a greater proportion of the public want to participate in craft", we are going to have to give some thought to space, how we get some(much more than we have at present), and how we develop creative communities.....aren't we?

22 November 2006

Knitted Ferrari

craft research
Just thought I would add this posting of a Knitted Ferrari that appeared on BBC breakfast news the other day. Any comments?

Lauren Porter’s Knitted Ferrari
Sarah Myerscough Fine Art
(Monday 27th November to Friday 1st December)

In Laurens Porter’s full size knitted Ferrari we find the fusion of the seemingly incompatible. The most aspirational of all consumer products is presented in the medium most quintessentially ‘home-spun’. The masculine is brought together with the feminine, soft with hard, young with old and the fast with the slow - this particular Ferrari was 10 months in production. If you were to ask what the opposite of Ferrari might be – could the answer be knitting?

The beauty of this piece is not just in the simplicity with which these associations and stereotypes are challenged; the positivitey with which Lauren raises these questions is just as immediate. Stressing the importance she places on using humour and optimism to put across a deeper meaning, Lauren especially wants people who don’t normally go to art galleries to see her work.

The wide appeal of this piece can be seen in the breath of interest in it - exhibited in both the British International Motor Show in the Sunday Times VIP Super Car Section and at the Alexandra Palace for the Stitch and Knit expo. ‘I get men admiring the racing lines and old women admiring the stitching’ Lauren says, and likes the way that people walk away from it with a smile on there face.

A controversial cross between a Testa Rossa and a 355, this version includes windscreen wipers, wing mirrors, low profile tires and, of course, the famous badge (here hand embroidered). Having already drawn a great deal of attention to itself, having been featured in the Times, the Sun and on BBC 1 already this year, the red knitted Ferrari will now be on sale at Sarah Myerscough Fine Art.

10 November 2006

craft research

There is an interesting discussion going on in the forum of the Craft Scotland website. http://www.craftscotland.org under "Craft in Crisis" posted by Tina. This was a recent comment by 'Duncan' "I think Liz and her question about who the credit goes to (the work or the maker) is a moot point. The work and the maker are related - but surely the work is the most important thing - many great works have been produced by not very nice people (!), but that does not make the work less important.Also, knowing what craft is and this encouraging people to come and see/buy craft is not a strong link. Perry won the Turner Prize (although avoided using the craft word) and Chihuly does 'glass sculpture'. These people avoided the craft word, and reaped the benefits, it could be argued. Potentially, had they used the craft word, they would not be where they are now. I still think this hangup on names is becoming irrelevent. On fewer people going to craft shows - correct. But fewer people go to installation shows in visual art, fewer go to photography shows by less well-know photographers than painting/photography shows by better-known artists, but that does't faze photographers - as they have high profile blockbusting photographers to carry the torch for the profession.Maybe galleries don't sell/show craft as much because it is on the whole 3D - takes up more space and is harder to show and ship than 2D works (this alos applies to the buyer). And again, the auction resale market and lack of museum shows and permanent collection reinforces this negative circle (well established by reports written by the Arts Council for England for example). What do gallery owners think about this?Yes, people should study craft like fine art. How would this get started - is this something Creative and Cultural Skills are working on? Anyone working in universities reading this who has ideas about how it would start?Duncan.

Let's start here in answer to your point. I don't know if Creative and Cultural Skills are working on this. I do know that a lot of funding is going to people who are researching craft, craft practice, what craft is and how it should be 'read' and taught. Dr Sandra Wilson has just finished her PhD looking at Craft and linking it to Goetha's theory of holism and William Morris. Very interesting reading! I am part of the 'Past Present and Future Craft Practice' project looking at the interrelationship between skill, intent and culture. My part of that is looking at the aesthetic embodied in craft by researching methodological approaches in historical and contemporary craft practices. I guess that's a start. part of my research is to develop a model for reading craft so that it can be taught )I am also a teacher and this is very close to my heart)We are having a big New Craft-Future Voives conference next year in July which hopefully will provide a voice for craftpeople and those interrested in craft. http://www.newcraftfuturevoices.com/ Take a look I agree with you that craftpeople and artists are crossing the bounderies and using each others disciplines to create their work.(Perry & Chihuly ) I also agree with you that people are afraid to use the word Craft. Isn't that exactly the point we are trying to make? That the term craft and craftsperson is no longer afforded credibility, value, or dignity? This is exactly why AHRC and other bodies are giving funding for research in this area.
No, you don't have to be a nice person to make beautiful or important 'work'. LOL! By this I take it you mean crafted objects and not art/craft. craft/art or design? Or are you blurring the three, combining them, diluting them in fact? Anything diluted is weaker than the origional. I believe craft - the craftperson, process, methodologies, methods, and product has in itself a stronger identity, than when it seeks to try to be accepted by the marketplace by diluting it's ethos and identity.
Perhapse you have a comment you would like to post in response?

Live webcast from Valencia

It's another cloudless warm day in Valencia, and we about to leave our hotel for Universidad Politecnica de Valencia for the second and final day of the Crafts in the EU conference. Above we see Chris McIntyre, Dean of the Faculty of Art and Design at the University of Hertfordshire, striding across the palm tree lined campus.

Today we have two main themes - new relation models and the role of new technologies - which should prove interesting. But don't just take my word for it. As I reported in my post below, there is a live webcast from the conference. Apparently you may need to give it a minute or so for the video streaming to start. Check out the conference programme, and join us today in Valencia!

09 November 2006


A quarry worker, a maker of hand-made luxury ice cream, a tailor, and a plumber who made ceremonial swords - these were just four of the people who took the floor in the first plenary session of Crafts in the EU - New Challenges for a New Century.

Today the Craft Research blog is reporting from Valencia, Spain at the end of the first day of this pan-European conference on the future of craft in Europe. I am speaking tomorrow afternoon, towards the end of this two day event organised by Fundacion Espanola para la Innovacion de la Artesania. The organisers are to be congratulated on pulling together speakers from eleven different EU countries, all covering a range of engaging issues. But most particularly they are to be commended in succeeding on what so often alludes us in the UK - attracting practitioners from the full range of craft practices: art-craft makers through to artesans.

This seemingly eclectic mix reflects the different cultural and economic conception of "the crafts" in the south of Europe, compared with the north - itself reflecting different economic structures. It makes for some spirited exchanges, and brings home the rich cultural diversity of Europe.

Spain is at a turning point in the development of higher education and - in particular - provision for art, design and craft. This conference is helping to inform that debate, and to place it in the context of perspectives and experiences from across the EU.

The morning started on a postitive note, with a government spokesperson arguing that while craft is not properly considered in Spain, there is an urgent need to recover the craft industry's reputation, to revalue skills and embrace new business strategies. All well and good. But then the following speaker claimed that "craftsmanship needs to be understood in terms of heritage".

There is a tension in the conference (a healthy tension) between a heritage/tourist development conception of craft, and a more future-focussed consumer-savvy view. In part this cuts as a north-south divide - but that would be to overly simplify some complex issues. There are some views expressed worth taking issue with, while others make postivie points with exceptional eloquence. The conference chair - Professor Jesus-Angel Prieto - in introducing the morning's main themes said "hands generate thought - they are a form of thought".

My personal highlight of the day was Rory O'Connor of marketing consultancy True Potential in Ireland. He presented a market analysis of craft in Ireland and the market oppportunities facing practitioners. There was a clarity in the analysis and sense of future direction that was refreshing. "Craft makers," said Rory "don't provide the stories; they don't make the offer". Pointing out that the craft sector effectively competes both with low cost producers in the far east and large multinationals, he set out the challenges - but, importantly, suggested economic ways forward for the sector.

This is a conference on policy and strategies for the crafts, and as such it is very welcome and timely. Comments from some of the speakers - and indeed from many on the floor - suggest that for significant sectors of the 'craft industry' there is no sustainable future unless radical action is taken to provide new business models, marketing strategies, and professional development. However, evidence from Germany, Finland, the UK and Spain itself is suggesting strategies that may have wider application across the EU. So, let us see how the discussions go tomorrow.

Now apparently there is a live webcast of the conference somewhere. My task this evening is to track down the URL for it. Watch this psace.

08 November 2006

craft research

Tina, on the Craft Scotland forum says "The word craft is misused, misunderstood and misplaced. It is used in ways that diminish its credibility. It is vitally important we reclaim the word craft so it is understood and people will buy it, galleries will want to exhibit it and the media will want to write about it. How can we stop the word craft being misused and misunderstood?" http://www.craftscotland.org/HaveYourSay.htm Some interesting replies have been given in response. Have a look. Perhapse we could look at it here too.

06 November 2006

passing comment

A craftsperson said, "The most attractive thing about craft is the sharing of knowledge" That passing comment got me thinking.
What really makes craft attractive? Where is the beauty in Craft? Is it in the sharing of knowledge? Is it in the finished artifact that reflects the craftsperson's personal vision? But wouldn't this then mean that the beauty of craft is in the entire process, person and product combined? What do you think?

25 October 2006

Another Houston Blog

An addition to our list of Blogs reporting on the 'Shaping the Future of Craft' conference. David Richardson leads Furniture Society - After Hours : thoughts and ideas related to studio furniture, craft, and art.

craft research

craft research
A remark by one of the delegates at the houston conference intrigued me. She was referring to Norman Kennedy a weaver/spinner origionally from Aberdeen, now living in the USA, http://www.nea.gov/honors/heritage/Heritage03/Kennedy.html and said, 'Of course he is a National Treasure now.' I wasn't aware that America, like Japan, had living 'National Treasures'. Isn't it wonderful that a Scottish Craftsperson is an American National Treasure!

"Japan’s living national treasuresScholars have long recognized the intangibility of culture. In the 18th and 19th centuries philologists, folklorists and others tried to document the world’s oral traditions. Yet the term “intangible cultural heritage” is relatively recent. In 1950, Japan initiated a living national treasures programme to recognize the great skills of masters of the traditional arts.Similar programmes began in Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, the United States and France. Intangible heritage is seen as an asset or resource to be protected, appreciated, utilized and managed–an idea traceable back to the Meiji period". http://www.unesco.org/courier/2001_09/uk/culture.htm
Does the UK honour people like this? Especially in the area of 'great skill in the traditional arts'? One would presume that craftspeople would be among these honoured people???

24 October 2006

Well Hallelujah!

I can't believe it! After posting comments yet to be 'approved' by blog owners, and attempting to get my comments actually ON the blog ... maybe this time it might actually work! Someone design a user friendly thing without such an ugly name! Anyway, rant over, lets see if this actually DOES publish my comment or whether mechanized monsters are actually out to get me, and it's not all in the mind!

Houston calling Dundee, Houston calling Dundee! Come in Dundee.Looking at the future of crafts. Well, it's not the future as we know it, that's for sure! It was very interresting to listen to the different accents and drawls, the nuances of differing local cultures between those in New York, San Fransisco, and far off exotic places (for us) The ideas were just as different. The leaders in the craft world accross the Pond, are administrative - gallery owners, curators, collectors, sellors and historians of 'art', very few 'makers' and most of them had little to do with their practice now that they were involved in the business and political side of it all. Educators appeared to be the ones most likely to be involved in practice. Where was the craft? Well, in the galleries were examples of well known 'artists' of craft or was it craftsters, or artists using craft as a medium, or craftspersons (dirty word) doing craft art? Terminology was bantered to and fro between intellectualized rhetoric which was a mirror - so it seemed - of the craft world. Crafts appears to be devided into the 'hobbyists' the 'DIYists' and 'homecrafters' none of which had their work underpinned by intellectual rigour. Jump the great divide and you find yourself among those who do not want to be craftspersons, but are all referred to as 'artists'. It appears that if you do any form of art; be it electronic based, craft based, paint based, installation based or anything else that demonstrated intellectual rigiour, you are an artist - no longer a craftsperson. Is this the way forward? To revert to the age old terminology, ie art being all encompassing and therefore artist being the executor of the personal vision through whatever medium he/she wishes at the time? Could that be retrogressive or progressive? There were no answere. Many questions, some timid ones from practitioners and students right at the end - but no answer.The networking, contacts, laughter, penetrationg discussions, and comments over meals were probably the most important aspect of the conference. There was much to think about! Many email contacts to be maintained, and sleep to be caught up on.Houston signing out Nanu, nanu!

22 October 2006

Shaping the Future of Craft - Day Two (am)

This second day in Houston started with an examination of critical writing in craft and began with a tour de force from Glen Adamson
(V &A) and Edward S Cooke (Yale) in a 'master and apprentice' two hander covering craft history from the 1950's. The pair examined four periods; 1950's, 1960's, 1980 - 2000 and the present in an inner and outer dialectical approach. In this historical overview it was clear that craft has lacked any political or broader social awareness in much of the work that has been produced which in part is being remedyied in some contemporary work for example a recent exhibit which displayed fine silverware juxtaposed with slave shackles under the title metalwork! The focus in the now and in the future was on crafts engagement with the discourse.

The main suggestion was that craft should be grounded in the discourse. What do we think about this? I personally feel that what is unique about craft is that it has been grounded in its materials and holistic/organic way of seeing the world. If we expand this to include the discourse how does this affect craft as we know it? Most craft practitioners to date have been content to effectively ignore the discourse and concentrate on their relationship with their materials. Do the benefits of being engaged with the discourse outweigh the disadvantages?

We were encouraged to consider the stakes both economically and politically; think about the divergences with art and think about deeper integration. Simon Starlings Turner winning Shed Boat Shed was presented as an example of craft processes being used to trace embeddedness in the economy. If one word were to be used to sum up a vision of the future of craft it would be hybridisation. Craft techniques or processes being mixed with aspects of other disciplines to create something new. One speaker suggested that young artists are no longer married to their materials. What do we feel about this?

Much of the Q & A concentrated on the pedagogical implications of what had been heard and whether we should be aiming to build the person or build a society and what role the market should play in shaping craft education. It was further suggested that there is in fact a huge discourse surrounding the crafts but we prefer not to acknowledge it.

Speakers in subsequent sessions had a hard job following this act. A further session on critical writing followed with erudite contributions from Tanya Harrod, Maria Porges and Susan Yelavich. Tanya highlighted examples of craft as a form of critque where the work itself is taking more of a archeological than historicist turn. She cited an example of hand made ceramics in Stoke that effectively comments on Wedgewood who have relcoated their operations out of the UK on economic grounds. Her overarching message was that the economy will have an impact on the quality of the critical discourse. Another key theme emerging from the other speakers in this session was the increased reflexivity apparent in more recent work produced where craft has become interested in itself and student work has become much more self conscious. Ultimately contributors in this session felt that what was needed was a greater sense of our connection to the wider world and an awareness of the issues in the world.

20 October 2006

Houston blogs

In addition to Sandra (see below), there are others blogging from Houston:
Amy Shaw and Jae Kim are there and possibly blogging.
The ever-insightful Dennis Stevens is also blogging.
If I find more, I'll post them. To those there - enjoy.

19 October 2006

Shaping the Future of Craft

craft research

American Craft Council Conference
Houston Texas

Pre-conference Tour
A whistle stop tour of over eleven different museums and galleries in Houston enables you to develop a clear view of the state of contemporary craft particularly its curation and status. It was striking how differently craft was treated in each of these spaces.

First stop was the Hiram Butler Gallery and Darryl Lauster's "A Seat at the Table Exhibition (Left)". This in part paid homage to craft makers of the past by dipping early 20th century cuttlery and crockery in paint with iconic images e.g. statue of liberty etc. Here craft was appropriated as part of a language.

The Rice Gallery part of Rice University provides gallery space for contemporary artists to create innstallations on site. The current exhibition "Rip Curl Canyon" by designers Gaston Nogues and Benjamin Ball evokes "a mythical location in the American West where land and water collide" (Below). This is a
fantastic installation where visitors are unusually for an art gallery encouraged to climb on and under and become part of the experience. Is this art or is this craft? Certainly on one level and particularly to a viewer it really doesnt matter. The question however is of relevance in economic and pedagogical terms. In this space less commercial work which is perhaps more challenging can be produced. One curator did abruptly suggest that the question was just pornography!

The Museum of Fine Art had a different approach to this question. In a rare move all the curators had worked together to jointly curate an exhibition on memory and here we were able to see craft objects, for example jewellery by Wendy Ramshaw sitting alongside painting and new media - all with equal status. This was refreshing and an approach that other museums should be encouraged to adopt.

Opening keynote speaker Sculptor Martin Puryear suggested that craft suffers from a semantic indeterminacy however it survives because of the deeper longing that we have to live with objects that provide a nourishing intimacy. He preferred the term artisan to craft. As appears to be custom at craft conferences these days Martin announced that he himself was not a craftsperson and was a little bewildered as to why he had been asked to speak! He effectively laid down the gauntlet however by reminding us that when critics suggested painting was dead - it was a call to pick up brushes and produce work of the highest quality. Certainly as some have suggested recently that "Craft is Dead" then perhaps similarly we should respond by producing some outstanding examples of craft that more clearly articulate what is so special and unique about the discipline.

26 September 2006

Neocraft - call for papers

Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University is hosting the NeoCraft conference, 23 - 25 November, 2007, as part of the Canadian Crafts Federation’s Craft Year 2007. The NeoCraft conference has been designed with the objective of further developing critical thinking, theory and history in relation to the crafts. It is the intention of NeoCraft to not only acknowledge the vital role the crafts play in our culture and economy, but to challenge the position of craft by creating a forum for lively exchange and debate.

There are five conference themes:

Crafts and Political Economy
Cultural Redundancy or the Genre Under Threat
Craft, the Senses, and New Technologies
Global Craft
Invention of Tradition: Craft and Utopian Ideals
Papers are sought for each of these strands. Abstracts of no more than 250 words, and a short (3 page) curriculum vitae are due by OCTOBER 6, 2006.

Please send your abstract and CV, or any queries, via e-mail to Sandra Alfoldy at salfol@yahoo.com or salfoldy@nscad.ca

An international panel of referees will jury all paper proposals, and successful applicants will be notified by April 1, 2007. Proposals from graduate students and proposals in either official language are encouraged.

25 September 2006

New Craft - Future Voice - DEADLINE EXTENSION

Abstracts continue to come in for the conference (see below) which augers very well for a successful event last July. Given that the deadline for abstracts is so close to the start of the academic year, some colleagues have asked if the dedaline can be extended. Therefore, we have set a new deadline for the receipt of abstracts - 6TH OCTOBER 2006.

05 September 2006


The third call for papers for the conference New Craft - Future Voices has now been issued. Full details of the call have been posted on this blog. With some abstracts already submitted, the conference is shaping up to be an exciting event. A number of keynote speakers have already been confirmed:
  • Marie O'Mahony is an independent consultant and lecturer specializing in textiles and technology. She has worked for companies and institutions advising on projects, preparing reports and organising workshops, symposiums and exhibitions. Clients include The Netherlands Design Institute, Interval Research Corporation, Ove Arup and Partners, Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, Interstoff at Messe Frankfurt and Zaha M Hadid. She has curated several international exhibitions including The Soft Machine - Design in the Cyborg Age, Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, Amsterdam (1998 - 99). O'Mahony is author of Cyborg: Man-Machine and co-author of Techno Textiles and Sports Tech, and co-curator of the touring exhibition The Fabric of Fashion.
  • Bruce Metcalf, a highly noted jeweller, has received crafts fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ohio Arts Council, and the Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities. Over 27 solo exhibitions of his work have been mounted and his work has been included in major exhibitions at the American Craft Museum, New York; Kunsthal Rotterdam, Netherlands; Museum of Contemporary Art, Het Kruithaus, s'Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands; Akron Art Museum, Ohio; Dayton Art Institute, Ohio; Renwick Galleryof the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; The Galleries at Moore College of Art and Design, Philadelphia; and the Galeria Universiteria Artistos, Mexico City. Mr. Metcalf also contributes art criticism to American Craft, Metalsmith, Studio Potter, Crafts Australia, and Design (a Korean arts magazine). He is currently a senior lecturer at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
  • Paul Greenhalgh is a world-renowned scholar and former Head of Research at London’s Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum. Most recently, he served as President of NSCAD University (Nova Scotia College of Art and Design). As current Director and President of the Corcoran, he will oversee the oldest private art museum and oldest art college in Washington DC. He has researched and written seven arts and culture books over the past 17 years, including the most recent, The Modern Ideal: The Rise and Collapse of Idealism in Visual Arts from the Enlightenment to Post Modernism, published in October 2005.

  • Jorunn Veiteberg is Professor of Craft Theory at Kunsth√łgskolen i Bergen (Bergen National College of Arts) and editor of the Norwegian arts and craft magazine Kunsth√•ndverk.

The conference has also attracted a prominent international review panel to review abstracts, papers and exhibition proposals.

In favour of craft-based education

A recent piece by Matthew B Crawford, writing in The New Atlantis provides a spirited case for craft-based education. He argues for the importance of making in education and culture:

"Perhaps the time is ripe for reconsideration of an ideal that has fallen out of favor: manual competence, and the stance it entails toward the built, material world. Neither as workers nor as consumers are we much called upon to exercise such competence, most of us anyway, and merely to recommend its cultivation is to risk the scorn of those who take themselves to be the most hard-headed: the hard-headed economist will point out the opportunity costs of making what can be bought, and the hard-headed educator will say that it is irresponsible to educate the young for the trades, which are somehow identified as the jobs of the past. But we might pause to consider just how hard-headed these presumptions are, and whether they don’t, on the contrary, issue from a peculiar sort of idealism, one that insistently steers young people toward the most ghostly kinds of work."

The image “http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/laborandmonopolycapital.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

In Shop Class as Soulcraft he provides a well argued case for 'shop class' (to use a US term) citing Braverman (whose Labor and Monopoly Capital, pictured above, remains a critical text in this field) and Marx is an essay which makes key points about both the degradation of blue-collar and white-collar work. Many of the arguments reflect those coming from the 'new' craft activitists / DIYers, but rooted in an analysis of work in a more Marxist sense.

31 August 2006

Challenging Craft

In a previous post I appeared to suggest that we have been waiting years for a good conference on craft to take place. In fact, we've only been waiting since September 2004, when Challenging Craft was held at Gray's School of Art in Aberdeen, Scotland. Initiated by Gordon Burnett, Challenging Craft was a highly stimulating and diverse event with a full programme of refereed papers alongside key note contributions from Gijs Bakker, Mah Rana, Grace Cochrane, Kenji Toki, Jayne Wallace, Jane Harris and Paul Atkinson.

The refereed papers and the key note contributions are all still available on-line. The papers are themed under: approaching technology, hybridity, the academy, craft articulating culture and cultures of display. The website remains an extremely useful craft research resource.

Gordon Burnett was also a key driver in the Connectivity Project that co-incided with Challenging Craft. His own craft practice recently centred on Australian Cultural Issues Redefined by Digitally Crafted Domestic Objects, and is - unusually - very thoroughly documented in this website.

28 August 2006


While googling for information on how craft contributes to economic development in Africa and Palestine (which I'll doubtless post at some later date) I came across this interesting cultural phenomenon. The text and photos below are from this link.

Do you appreciate handmade arts and crafts? Are you the owner of a computer, a PDA, or, an iPod? Are you an Apple Computer fan? If so, SafariPod probably has a product that will make you smile... today, and everyday. You see, SafariPod is the real thing: a true handmade craftshouse. Not a single item here ever touches a machine of any type. Each art object here is not only useful and beautiful, it demonstrates theunique artistry of a specific Kenyan craftsman... the man who made it just for you with his bare hands.

SafariPod craftsmen make each object sold here to his own design. We determine the need for a specific type of product... say, an iPod stand. Then, we tell the artist what we need the object to do, and he then develops a design to his own taste and standard. Each of our artists have been sculpting native wildlife pieces for many years. Now, they are applying those years of thoughtful experience to creating technology accessories just for you. And, each of our objectsis made of renewable tropical woods, so as not to contribute to Kenya's horrific wood depletion problem. This makes your SafariPod object not only a wonderfully beautiful possession, but one that is also made to respect the environment.

Strange but true.

What this brings to mind is the analysis of objects developed by Jayne Wallace as part of her doctoral research into digital jewellery. She has very usefully differentiated between gadgets and non-gadgets:
Most if not all electronic, or digital appliances have a lifespan, governed not by a technological defect of the appliance, but by its function or usefulness becoming usurped by another, newer, faster, 'better' one. Such appliances are often referred to as gadgets. Gadgets do not feature highly or endure on our list of objects of personal significance. They are replaceable, therefore meaningless. Any meaning they may have once had for us is fleeting, replaceable, and transferable.
This she contrasts with crafted objects of high personal significance. SafariPods are seemingly objects that seek to bridge this divide and imbue gadgets with some sense of individualism and personal significance. But I'm sure Jayne could write about this far more intelligently than I.

22 August 2006

Craft Conferences - Canada and the US

Academic conferences on craft are like buses - you wait years for one, then suddenly three turn up at once. Thanks to Dennis Stevens' excellent blog, we have news of two forthcoming conferences - one in Houston this October, and another at NSCAD, Nova Scotia in November 2007. This is evidence of a healthy and welcome rise of interest in exploring issues of research in craft. Together with our own New Craft - Future Voices conference next July, we must try to ensure that each of our conferences reinforces and supports the others, as each has a distinctive focus within the overall field of craft research.

Neo-Craft: An International Conference on the Crafts and Modernity has been designed with the objective of further developing critical thinking, theory and history in relation to the crafts. It is the intention of Neo-Craft to not only acknowledge the vital role the crafts play in our culture and economy, but to challenge the position of craft by creating a forum for lively exchange and debate.
Dates: November 23-25, 2007
Location: NSCAD University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Seeking: Papers are sought pertaining to five conference themes:

• Crafts and Political Economy
• Cultural Redundancy or the Genre Under Threat
• Invention of Tradition: Craft and Utopian Ideals
• Craft and the Senses
• Global Craft

Deadline: October 6, 2006

Contact: Dr. Sandra Alfoldy, Email: salfoldy@nscad.ca

Shaping the Future of Craft is the American Craft Council's 2006 conference, to be held in Houston in October 2006. It aims to stimulate serious and timely debate on the state of craft in our culture. Various invited artists, curators, writers and educators will participate. The conference program will focus upon three successive topics:

• New Artists/New Work
• Contemporary Craft: Museums, Galleries, Alternative Spaces
• Scholarship/Critical Writing

16 August 2006

The politics of knitting

Anne Galloway, on her blog Purse Lip Square Jaw, has written a great piece on knitting and public politics. As she concludes in the post:

"...It is this making of culture that is so important and valuable when it comes to public politics. Knitting's strongest contribution, then, is a persistent demonstration of the ability to craft culture materially, socially and ideologically. The question that most interests me at the end of the day is what kinds of culture and politics are being crafted, and by whom?"

08 August 2006

Call for papers and exhibit proposals - NEW CRAFT - FUTURE VOICES

The first international ‘New Craft - Future Voices’ conference will be hosted by Duncan of Jordanstone College, University of Dundee, Scotland from 04 - 06 July 2007.

The conference will encourage the discussion surrounding the future of craft. It seeks to expose and articulate craft issues currently being investigated via doctoral research, post-doctoral research and craft practitioners, and to document new ways of questioning and disseminating the dialogue of craft practice.

‘New Craft - Future Voices’ will explore the relation between skill, intellect and culture within the individual vision of crafts practitioners. Under this banner, the following themes could serve as areas for discussion and exploration:

• Craft and science
• Innovation, design and craft
• Story-making and storytelling
• Epistemology of making
• Craft and the economy
• Craft and digital process
• Craft and cultural diversity
• The pedagogy of craft
• Practice and research
• Craft management
• Mindfulness
• Intelligent making
• Craft & Dialogue
• Craft and manufacturing
• Intuition, Creativity & Craft
• Craft and wellbeing

Papers and exhibit proposals on these or related topics are sought for presentation at the NCFV conference. Papers and exhibit proposals from craft practitioners and researchers and other atypical sources are of particular interest. We also welcome case studies of successful doctoral education, examples of best practice in education, craft practice from all disciplines, teaching, learning, supervision and successful programs and/or initiatives. The emphasis should be on the intellectual framework or thinking and making process of craft.

Abstract and Exhibit Proposal requirements:
Initial submission should take the form of a 400-word abstract (for papers) and overview (for exhibit proposals). The abstracts and exhibit proposals should include the nature of the research and/or practice, the methods used, and the main findings and/or outputs (the latter if an exhibition proposal). Submissions should be made through the ‘New Craft - Future Voices’ website http://www.newcraftfuturevoices.com

A maximum of 5 images can be submitted as part of an exhibition proposal, in jpeg (72 dpi).

Refereeing of Papers & Extended Exhibit Proposals:
Selection of papers & exhibit proposals will be a two-stage process. Firstly, all abstracts & proposals will be reviewed; authors/practitioners selected will be invited to submit full papers/extended proposals for a further review process. In all instances, abstract, papers and extended exhibit proposals will be blind reviewed by an international panel of experts in the field of craft (writing, practice and research).

Key dates:
Deadline for abstract: 28 September 2006
Notification of accepted abstracts: 26 October 2006
Deadline for papers: 01 February 2007
Notification of accepted papers: 20 February 2007
Deadline for full papers: 22 March 2007

For further information, please contact Louise Valentine at l.valentine@dundee.ac.uk

This conference arises from the AHRC funded project, ‘Past, Present & Future Craft Practice’, conducted at the University of Dundee. The conference in addition to the exhibition and papers will provide opportunities to hear prominent keynote speakers, and provide opportunities for rich interaction and discourse.

19 June 2006

Problems with the F-word

For many of us working in craft research, we have spent a not inconsiderable time anguishing over the use and validity of the C-word. Some prefer not to use "craft" at all, using handles such as "designer-maker" or "intelligent making" to describe their practices and research interests. Now, as debates on this blog have shown, we face new complications with the F-word.

"Fine" craft opens up a new contested territory of practice and understanding. As I've said previously, I think that it is a categorisation of creative practice that is useful to explore, but I would appreciate some clearer definition from somebody about what it is.

It seems to me that the idea of "fine craft" could be derived from one of two things. The first is "fine jewellery", a well used and understood term that broadly means:
Jewels with precious gem set (diamond, ruby, emerald, sapphire in platinum or gold setting) differing from semi-precious jewels (such as amethyst, aquamarine, tourmaline in gold or silver setting) and costume jewellery (imitation stones in base metals, gold-plated settings). The difference is in the distribution and sales channels since fine jewellery is most exclusively sold through high-end independent sellers or exclusive jewellery chain stores.
In other words, the "fineness" refers to its economic value: craft for rich people. However, it is clearly the case that craft for rich people in the 21st century need not be defined simply in terms of the economic value of the materials from which it is made.

David Poston's treacle-tin armlet

David Poston's laser welded armlet made of treacle tins was one item in this year's Col lect exhibition. Germaine Greer referred to this piece in her review of Col lect in The Guardian, which stressed both the high cost of much work on show, and its lack of utility:
"There was only one basket maker, almost no cutlery, few textiles. Everything was meant to be displayed, not used. It is a feature of 21st-century life that craft is discontinuous with our lives; our dwellings have become showrooms for conspicuous consumer durables."
So, to take "fine craft" as a definition related to "fine jewellery", we are talking about symbols of conspicuous consumption - beautifully crafted, but exclusive and "discontinuous with our lives."

study for grey areasonly onesuspend

The second derivation could be "fine art", where we are stressing the conceptual content of the work. Caroline Broadhead, whose work is shown above, is prominent amongst those makers whose work bridges craft/fine art. The difficulties of bridging this divide, especially in terms of the institutional obstacles presented, are very well explored by Jorunn Veiteberg.

The semantics of the f-word itself aside, a further interpretation of "fine craft" could be that which is professionally-defined - in other words, craft produced by art school graduates. This professional segmentation of creative practice is also noticable in fine art, where the art establishment is rigorous in its policing. The reason that the UK's top selling and highest profile painter is in the permanent collection of only one public gallery in the country (in Kircaldy) is less to do with quality of his work, and more to do with the fact that he's a former mining engineer from Fife who is self-taught. As Sir Terence Conran says of Jack Vettriano:
'They turn their backs on him because his work has been reproduced on posters, which I think is incredibly elitist and snobbish. In Scotland the art establishment has sneered at him because he is self-taught."
So, which is it?

As we await responses, check out a recent article in The Guardian on the new political crafters. It quotes Betsy Greer, who says:
"Each time you participate in crafting you are making a difference, whether it's fighting against useless materialism or making items for charity ... it is possible to go beyond banners, email petitions and chants as ways of fighting for a cause you believe in. You could have a knit-in, papier-mache puppets or teach a crafty class for kids."
This, it seems to me, follows the long historical role of craft which is a way of thinking and acting upon the world as a means of self-development, critical reflection, education and making culture. And at times, to pay the bills, it's about making stuff for rich people.

31 May 2006

Inclusive definitions

Leslie Madsen-Brooks says: "I understand that within any study, the researchers need to define their area of study. Otherwise, the project's scope can become too large to address in a single article or book. That said, an attempt to define "fine craft" seems especially risky and high-stakes."

She rightly indicates temporal and cultural shifts in our definitions of "fine craft" and "art" and the dangers of embracing "a hierarchy of craft". I think that we are all highly cautious of definitions that smack of hierarchy - rather we must acknowledge and map diverse practices. A key objective in what we are discussing and researching must be to enhance the value and status of craft which, in a phrase I've used elsewhere, is usually considered "domestic, working class or just plain thick". Thus it simply doesn't appear on the radar of most cultural commentary, apart from those of us working at its outer edges.

What has been interesting over the last week or so is that discourses around craft in the United States have collided with those that we are engaged in over here in the UK and Europe. Our colleagues in the US are concerned with the shifting boundaries between art and craft, framed by feminist interpretations of creative practices (to overly simplify their positions). The issue debated is that of the status of the crafted object as a reflection of the culture that gives rise to it. This clearly is a question that is of key concern to those discussing the crafts in the US.

Its not so much that our concerns (this side of the pond) are hugely different - it's just that we are driven by a different set of issues which arise from the politics of academic inquiry in the UK. These issues focus very much on the status and standing of craft, but in a somewhat different respect.

It's evident that our blog is being read by quite a few colleagues in the US (and elsewhere outside the UK), so for their benefit let me try to summarise some of the key drivers. For over a decade in the UK we have benefited from new sources of funding for research in art and design in our Universities. This has provided opportunities for practice-based PhDs in craft that have demonstrated the value of craft thinking as a unique source of knowledge (in the fairly tight academic sense). This does not appear to be happening in the same way in the US. I've provided a summary of some of this on my own blog. The motivation of many of us trying to further such work is not to define a "new hierarchy" of craft, but to demonstrate how a system and process of thinking that integrates hand and brain has equal value to that of so-called intellectually-based knowledge. To my mind, it's craft knowledge that we must champion and the inherent value of which we must assert and argue for. But while we are fortunate in being able to do such research, there are others in the design research community who are seeking to undermine the validity of such approaches to research.

A project such as this (Craft: Past Present and Future at the University of Dundee) is a unique opportunity to take the debate forward and to weave together radical perspectives of craft and craft knowledge. We should try to move towards a perspective of craft that acknowledges the rich diversity of craft practices, while identifying the relationships between (for example) craft activism/DIY culture, craft as an expression of disenfrachised cultures, craft-centred research and "fine craft".

"Fine Craft" as a category to define those practices that extend innovation and practice in craft in a western-industrial professional context is a valid subject of inquiry and investigation. But let us not for a moment entertain the idea that it represents some sort of pinnacle of the craft hierarchy. For those seeking to assert the value of craft in relation to fine art (and Jorunn Veiteberg in her excellent book is doing precisely this), "fine craft" is an extremely useful definition.

As academics we define, we pick apart, we focus on specifics (if we didn't then we wouldn't get the research funding). But at the same time we must keep our eye on the politics of those practices we seek to explore and understand. Let us keep this debate going, explore differences of emphasis and perspective, but commit ourselves to seeking a synthesis that will raise the profile and status of craft in the 21st century.

29 May 2006

Why define??

Leslie Madsen-Brooks in California wonders why we should be defining Fine craft and creating a hierachy. I don't believe we are creating a hirearchy, but clarifying what is already out there, and answering questions. This comment on her blog is common among craftspeople.

Oooo Girl!!
Comment by debra roby posted Sun, 2006/05/28 - 7:09pm
You and I are gonna have to sit and have a long talk sometime! You are writing about things close to my heart.

I've been trying to write about a valid definition of craft and crafts. It's as hard as trying to catch mercury.

Leslie continues with this comment. "Part of the problem with defining an object as "fine craft" or "art" is that the object may be defined as merely everyday handiwork in one decade may be praised as art or fine craft in the next."

I agree with her. However, this does not make them Fine Craft, but examples of fine handiwork - often traditional craft. The process or skill is traditional, the object is traditional, the materials are traditional, the craftsperson may have outstanding skill in excecuting this craft, but it hasn't moved on. It is not 'new' in the process of thought, in the experimentation in materials or techniques or in the production of something unique.

Leslie wrote " ... that poor African-American women in the South have not usually been associated with intellectual practice."

Comming from a primative and very poor area in southern Africa, I watched an uneducated, non-intellectual young woman, push the boundries of her traditional craft of basketmaking into a new realm of thinking. She experimented with her materials and the 'function' of the basket, and produced a well crafted, unique, highly desirable basket,(see above) which changed the 'function'(making it one that traditionally held maize meal to one that can carry water as well, or be used as decoration)and the aesthetic of it. Although this woman is not an accademic, she is a thinker. She pushes boundries, experiments, responds to a different voice to that of her teachers, and could, in time, produce a piece of Fine Craft. It is not about the role of women, or the status of women. It applies to craftsmen too.

With so much confusion about craft I believe there needs to be a set of clear definitions. Do you have any good ones? What do you think defines Traditional Craft? What defines Popular Craft - hobby craft, pop craft, DIY craft etc all fits into this catagory ... or does it? Is there something that rises above what is out there and can be defined as Fine Craft? You tell me!

Fine Craft - let's have a debate!

Georgina's recent post has stimulated some spirited discussion on museumblogging authored by Leslie Madsen-Brooks in California.

I have reproduced most of the post below, but would recommend viewing the original from the link above. This is a welcome contribution to our discussion.

I've been following with some interest the relatively new blog craft research...
Throughout its three-month history, its contributors have been discussing definitions of craft. For example, Liz Donald writes,
I was interested to read that in Australia craft of exceptional quality of workmanship, uniquene and refined, and show a degree of problem solving, creative intellegence and innovation, is classed as 'Art Craft'. In the USA the same criteria is used to but called 'Fine Craft'. In the UK I have found no distinction in the crafts. Everything is lumped together. What do you think?

I've been thinking about definitions of craft quite a bit lately, which might seem a bit odd for an academic whose current project is on the history of science. My next project, however, will be focused on hobbies and crafts. And I do see some connections between women's place in the sciences and women's craft work.

A recent post written by the project's principal investigator, Georgina, both piqued my interest and raised my hackles. An excerpt:
Time to move on. The practice of crafts, and the arena in which crafts operate has changed, not is changing. We have to see a future, so, what aspect of craft practice? Can we move into a new paradigm? I suggest that we start to look at the intellectual basis, seeing the thinking process, not the happy clappy hands that everyone keeps referring to, (i.e. make it but don’t think about it, or the home therapy session), is not what is meant by a system of thought that moves through the processes and materials, using each and every aspect of making as additive to practice. Until this is accepted as the boundary for fine crafts you are lost in icing sugar! Sweet, synthetic and too much makes you sick!

She concludes with an invitation for engagement with this "intellectual basis," and says "I will respond with works that I can identify as fine crafts."

I understand that within any study, the researchers need to define their area of study. Otherwise, the project's scope can become too large to address in a single article or book. That said, an attempt to define "fine craft" seems especially risky and high-stakes.

photo by Michael and Felicity

Part of the problem with defining an object as "fine craft" or "art" is that the object may be defined as merely everyday handiwork in one decade may be praised as art or fine craft in the next. Take, for example, the the quilts of Gee's Bend, Alabama. The quilts and the African-American women who created them were "discovered" by the U.S. art establishment earlier this decade and exhibited at the Whitney Museum and elsewhere. Since then, the quilts have been celebrated in a book and their designs licensed for use in rugs.

Another problem with Georgina's desire to focus on the intellectual effort of craft comes from the fact that poor African-American women in the South have not usually been associated with intellectual practice. Segments on NPR and PBS reveal that these women do think about their aesthetic choices and see their quilts as individual creative achievements. But outsiders have not always recognized their quilts as such.

It's easy, I think, to look at much of the production on Craftster, Etsy, and whip up as amateurish and, to borrow Georgina's phrase, "happy clappy." But it's not always clear what separates the most original and technically accomplished (again, both value judgments) work on these sites from "professional" work featured on, for example, design*sponge.

The craft-art boundary is increasingly blurred, and I think that's a good thing, especially for women. I worry that setting up a further hierarchy within craft--by distinguishing some craft as "fine" or "high"--could hurt the thousands upon thousands of women who hope to sell their work and become self-supporting, as then standard-issue craft becomes less valuable (culturally and monetarily) than fine craft.

A similar phenomenon has occurred again and again in the natural sciences in the U.S., where work undertaken by women becomes undervalued or made invisible. In the course of my dissertation work, I've learned that in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, women specimen collectors who sold or donated their collections to museums were not considered to be undertaking scientific work, even though they followed scientific guidelines for preserving their specimens and recording information about them. If they weren't undertaking original research, they weren't scientists. Similarly, women who sold seeds or ran nurseries were not recognized as scientists even if they hybridized new species. Women scientists who worked in museums were expected to undertake both outreach to amateurs and laypeople and to conduct original research on the collections, but only their research for a professional audience was considered real scientific work.

In short, narrow definitions of science have kept women from being recognized for work that is indeed scientific and that, if presented in another light, might have brought them some prestige. Instead of being dismissed as a "seedswoman" or "nurserywoman," for example, a woman who hybridized plants would earn more acclaim if we called her a "biotech pioneer."

And that's why I'm hesitant to embrace a hierarchy of craft. Such a schema makes craft less democratic; it closes off possibilities, economic and social and cultural, for women.

(cross-posted at BlogHer)

28 May 2006

Fine Craft?

In the link that Mike posted some time back, there is an item of basket making made by Brian Jewett (see below). In this 'traditional craft', I see someone who has taken basket making a step further, and has experimented with materials in order to produce something new. Although it is beautifully crafted, and aesthetically pleasing, it is the beginning of interrogating materials, but not interrogating the process. Fine craft it is neither art masquerading as craft nor vice versa. Other people have experimented with traditional skills but have pushed the boundries of their skills, techniques and materials and produced items no-one has made before.
The picture I have added is a small fragment of Coptic Cloth about 182x55cm in size. the weave is exquisitly fine, beautifully executed, using new techniques in order to weave the stylized faces and demonstrating considerable thought - intellectual process. I consider this a piece of Fine Craft.

Extreme Craft: Compendium of craft masquerading as art, art masquerading as craft, and craft extending its middle finger.

That's the Ticket!
Brian Jewett's background is in manufacturing. He left the world of widgets and wonder to start his own small business, thenstarted sniffing around some community learning courses in welding, which led to classes at the Otis School of Design. At Otis, he discovered....Basket Weaving! Rather than getting right with nature and making some really sweet birchbark berry baskets, Jewett turned to what he knows best...industrial materials. His baskets take largely traditional forms, but utilize material like rubber tubing and cable ties to achieve some seriously stunning modern effects. People in the basket making community have largely embraced him--it's been my experience that many people in traditional crafts don't think of themselves as artists or creative people, but craftspeople are anything but playa haters--they love to see people push the envelope. He's studied with some of the masters of the form, and continues to develop baskets, vases, and beautiful bowls made out of tickets!
Liz Donald,
PhD Student Researcher,
Past Present and Future Craft Practices

25 May 2006

Get a New Life

Time to move on. The practice of crafts, and the arena in which crafts operate has changed, not is changing. We have to see a future, so, what aspect of craft practice? Can we move into a new paradigm? I suggest that we start to look at the intellectual basis, seeing the thinking process, not the happy clappy hands that everyone keeps referring to, (i.e. make it but don’t think about it, or the home therapy session), is not what is meant by a system of thought that moves through the processes and materials, using each and every aspect of making as additive to practice. Until this is accepted as the boundary for fine crafts you are lost in icing sugar! Sweet, synthetic and too much makes you sick!

So moving on the definition as one of a process of thought, using the intellect and materials, what do you see when you evidence such practice? Please put in works that exemplify such thought, let the dog see the rabbit, and then we can talk about real things, not theories grounded in ether, but work!

So, send me some and I will respond with works that I can identify as fine crafts.

Principal Investigator
Past, Present & Future Craft Practice

15 May 2006

...to boldly go...

Dennis wrote, "The important question here is where do the cognitive and affective domains come into play, if all at?They certainly are applicable in art making but what about design? In any case, am thinking about it..."The implication could therefore be that there is no real cognitive domain in Craft, but there is in Design. I agree that in certain aspects of 'craft' where the 'crafter' follows a pattern, uses a kit, or pre-designed materials, there is little cognitive domain. Even in Traditional Crafts, the crafter can become highly skilled and even manipulate traditional 'patterns' to make it more contemporary. However this does not bring the Traditional craft into the cognitive domain. There is a place where a skill is learned, and mastered. Then the crafter moves into a new realm of experimentation, learning, re-experimentation and making; and then moving from the knowledge acquired from the previous 'making' pushes him/herself again into new learning, new development and new knowledge. Every time the crafter makes, there is an intellectual process building on the new knowledge acquired. This is a new domain which I call 'Fine Craft' It is not design, although design serves it (not the other way around)and it is not 'art' although art principles can be applied to it. It is a meeting place between the "Intuative and Rational (composing) and the Interprative and Analytical(musician)where all is called into play" [Dr.Paul Renan.] In this place the 'composer'is creating a platform for the 'musician' (in both cases the fine craftsperson) to boldly go where no man has gone before!

12 May 2006

Craft is fab

Neil Gershenfeld is the Director of MIT's Centre for Bits and Atoms, and author of Fab: the coming revolution on your desktop - from personal computers to personal fabrication which is a vital read for anyone interested in the future of craft. Recommended to me by John Marshall, the book not only helped me to make sense of his doctoral research (finally) but also raised some vitally important issues about craft practice, and the potential of digitally connected craft practice to quite literally reshape social and economic systems.

Fab Labs basically are places for making things. Typically they pull together a laser cutter, sign cutter, a milling machine and the kit for programming microprocessors. Together with the software and control systems, fab labs cost less than $25K. In the book Gershenfeld demonstrates their considerable potential as liberatory tools for students, for communities in India and Africa, for marginalised communities in the US. Together with pragmatic detail on how the kit and the labs work is a highly vibrant text on the primacy of craft and making for creative, intellectual and community development.

09 May 2006

Crafters of the world unite.....

Karl Marx was perhaps the original prophet of the Pro-Am economy. In The German Ideology, written between 1845 and 1847, Marx maintained that labour – forced, unspontaneous and waged work – would be superseded by self-activity. He evoked a communist society in which: ‘. . . nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes . . . to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.’ By the mid-1850s Marx had already modified this utopian vision and instead looked forward to a time when ‘material production leaves every person surplus time for other activities’.

The Pro-Am Revolution: how enthusiasts are changing our economy and society
is a book by Charles Leadbeater and Paul Miller published by Demos. Available as a download from here, the book describes the rise of "amateurs who work to professional standards", and who are transforming all fields from music through to software, business and astronomy: "The Pro-Ams are knowledgeable, educated, committed and networked, by new technology. The twentieth century was shaped by large hierarchical organisations with professionals at the top. Pro-Ams are creating new, distributed organisational models that will be innovative, adaptive and low-cost." In the passage at the top of this post, the authors are making the point that technological and cultural changes are moving us very close to Marx's ideal of how a communist society would actually work. A more recent article in Fortune suggests the significance of the DIY economy. DIY is thus a mash-up of the post-industrial enterprise economy and good old unreconstructed communism.

Today I received an email from the ever-perceptive John Marshall who was trying to link together some of the issues I've been raising in this blog with issues that he too has been exploring. Links he provided led me, somewhat accidently, to the Leadbeater book and the Pro-Am thesis, which strikes me as one way of framing some of this stuff. To quote from John:

I was reading your posts at www.craftresearch.blogspot.com when I made a mental connection to something I was reading at Anne Galloway’s blog:

“In the past I would have considered these things amongst the ill effects of capitalism, but now I think it's a bit more complicated than that. After all, some of this labour is actually being done for free. Out of love even, like with Flickr or any number of mod communities. The DIY ethic, in fact, is based on the power of creative re-use and re-appropriation. But these terms are now being tossed around in software and hardware development like organisations and companies only care about democratic participation, and not profitability. Jean Burgess knows much more about mass amateurisation and vernacular creativity than I do…”

There are some interesting posts at Jean Burgess’s blog creativity/machine on vernacular creativity (see under categories in her sidebar). I think that is a great academic term to describe this type of activity.

I agree with John that Vernacular Creativity is a useful term to describe these emergent activities which focus around craft and making. The digital culture that manifests VC appears to be growing rapidly: there is HobbyPrincess and her Craft Manifesto, there's the Make blog, from which is arising Craft Magazine. Then we have Readymademag, and the making things blog. Taking an interesting and explicit political position is Craftism. I am trying to document as many of these as I come across on my del.icio.us page.

I have thrown all of this down, not to make a point, but rather to pose some questions:

What implications does all this have for "fine craft", and how does it change the culture of consuming such craft?

How should we regard the rise of vernacular creativity?

How should we curate and critically comment on the digitally connected vernacular crafts?

What are the political implications of this new culture?

08 May 2006

Migratory practices: call for abstracts

Call for abstracts

Migratory Practices: exchanges between anthropology, art, craft and design

5th – 6th September 2006, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, United Kingdom

Symposium outline and aims
This symposium aims to bring together artists, makers and academics engaged in ethnographic study and cultural investigation. Over the course of two days we will explore the relationships between anthropology, art, craft and design practices. Presentations are invited on topics related to the areas outlined below. Contributions in the form of academic papers, artists’ talks or other formats (please specify) are welcomed.

Extending the debate
A dialogue between contemporary art and anthropology has emerged over the last ten years. Has craft and design practice been equally involved in this and if so, has it had to transform to embrace social agendas and action in the field? Are there differences in the ways that art, craft and design have drawn on and been drawn to anthropology, and vice versa? What can we learn from asymmetries of involvement between the different practices?

Making and ethnography
Cross cultural study has been a consistent feature of many makers’ practice since at least the late nineteenth century, but this activity has had little critical acknowledgement. When makers study culture can their research be thought of as a kind of ethnography and on what basis can this be decided? For example, can a ceramic piece convey ethnographic knowledge in itself, rather than as a means to the production of more conventional forms of knowledge, such as text?

The use of the term ‘field work’ has become a phrase applied to contemporary artistic practice. This seems to align it to traditions of empirical research and taxonomy in the sciences. Is this term adequate to indicate what artists - and anthropologists - are doing ‘in the field’? How do the processes of representation, presentation and analysis of field notes differ between contemporary artistic practice and contemporary anthropological approaches to fieldwork?

The ethics of anthropological and artistic production
Anthropological practice has been concerned with evolving a methodology that is ethical. This may appear to differ from some artistic practice in which methods are used to expose issues through mechanisms that in themselves appear unscrupulous. Does this also apply contemporary craft and design practices? Does an apparent difference between anthropology and artistic/craft practice create a polarisation that frustrates any hope of inter-disciplinarity?

Details of abstracts and deadline
Presentation slots will be 45 minutes followed by a discussion. Abstracts should not exceed 400 words (you may include appropriate images in addition to text)

The abstract should include the following information:
- title of paper
- presentation format
- conference topic to which it relates
- author’s name and affiliation
- contact information (address and e-mail)
- short CV (not exceeding 125 words)

Symposium conveners: Dr. Jane Webb and Dr. Amanda Ravetz
Please send the abstract (in an MS word file format) by e-mail to j.webb@mmu.ac.uk
by May 31st 2006.
Further information can be obtained from j.webb@ mmu.ac.uk

Craft think tank

Think Tank is a newly formed group of European art historians, theorists and writers engaged in a discussion on the theory and practice of applied arts. Members include Edmund de Waal, Tanya Harrod and Jorunn Veiteberg (see previous post). They do not appear to have a web presence, but were behind this exhibition. As the exhibition text explains:
Each Think Tank member has chosen two works by two different artists. In individual ways these works reflect the positions and directions of applied arts in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands. The selection brings together the works of well-known makers and young, recent graduates to create an exhibition which gives a qualified and intellectually stimulating report from the forefront of European applied arts.

Think Tank has produced two publication, copies of which have been obtained and will be lodged with the University of Dundee library. For further information on obtaining their publications, Think Tank are emailable: thinktank@gmunden.at

New book on craft

Craft in Transition is an excellent new book on craft theory by Jorunn Veiteberg of Bergen National Academy of the Arts, Norway. Recently translated and published in English, this highly readable volume is an extremely important contribution to its field. Presented in three parts, the first essay explores the shifting boundaries of craft practice, the challenges of definition, and its relationship to contemporary fine art. The second part examines "the problem of beauty" and is in itself a vital contribution. The third part explores the craft / fine art relationship through an exhibition curated by the author in Bergen. An earlier version of this essay was presented at the Gray's School of Art Challenging Craft Conference. In summary, highly readable and engaging, full of fresh insights. My personal favourite is this:
It is not what beauty is that is the issue, rather what it does. Beauty is about the rhetorical tools that craft utilises in order to arouse visual joy and desirte, heal spiritual wounds and worn out bodies, and about the aspect that makes a piece irresistable (even though we may not have liked it initially). In brief, beauty is about craft's affective side.

28 April 2006

DIY Craft

OK, so here's something for us to ponder in terms of our research objectives. We are looking at the "past, present and future of craft". Right now we are witnessing a remarkable cultural phenomenon which is the spiralling interest and participation in DIY crafts. Just take a look at the del.icio.us links for craft, and you will see what I mean.

Here's one attempt to pin down what's driving it - from the HobbyPrincess blog.

On the Redefining Craft blog, Dennis Stevens poses an important question:

Where is the definition that addresses craft with respect to the flurry of creativity that we are currently seeing within the DIY community?

Certainly this is craft or crafting, just not craft as we commonly know it. It is slightly reminiscent of the 1970’s craft movement, but this a remix; it is witty and it is often nostalgically ironic and it offers biting sarcasm with regard to the presumed role of domestic creativity within our culture. However, a common definition remains elusive.
A number of bloggers are addressing this field and their taglines are descriptive of the common themes among DIY craft practitioners, i.e.:

Extreme Craft: Compendium of craft masquerading as art, art masquerading as craft, and craft extending its middle finger

Craftster: No tea cozys without irony

SuperNaturale: Celebrates ingenuity, creativity and the handmade

Craftivism: Documenting the crafty life, stitch by political stitch

WhipUp: Handcraft in hectic world

New definitions of craft

In her post, Frances raises an important question - how is the role and definition of craft changing in a highly technological contemporary culture?

I've recently been reading research by Cathy Treadaway, whose doctoral research is investigating the impact of digital technology on creative textile practice. This page has links to her on-line publications and projects. In her discussion she raises Walter Benjamin's notion of aura, that describes the emotive aspect that appears to be absent from industrial product. She argues that aura comes from David Pye's idea of the workmanship of risk. Cathy's research shows that practitioners (design and craft), who are working in the main digitally, acknowledge the vital importance of hand making in the creative process. As she says (in a currently unpublished piece) "the emotional content of digitally produced artefacts therefore, resides in the perceived evidence of physical interaction of its author".

So, at the risk of summarising a very fullsome argument, craft in the early 21st century can be defined in terms of a process whereby designers provide emotive engagement for consumers through physical innteraction with materials and process. Craft may be a minor part of the development process (or not). But the definition of the fine crafts in the early 21st century is an entirely different matter!

27 April 2006

craft research

craft researchJanet Abrams comment "call me a Luddite" started me thinking about tradition and craft. The American Crafts Council have many quotes published on their website and I thought I would share a few.

" in its broadest sense craft refers to the creation of original objects through an artists disciplined manipulation of material. Historically craft was identified with producing objects that were necessary to life. Today the word craft in America has new connotations. Modern industrialised society eliminates the need to make by hand essentials for living. As a result craft has transcended its traditional role and meaning. The term craft now must be defined in the context of a society that focuses on greater efficiency by technological achievement". Paul J.Smith. Craft Today: Poetry of the Physical, Weidenfeld & Nicolson,1986.

It is interesting that Smith identifies craft as necessary to life and that he feels that is has now transcended its traditional role. I find the reference to makers and materials, something that is voiced continually in crafts writing: is this worthy of greater discussion? For instance how do we define materials? Is there a historical meaning and is it now changing and evolving into something new.

17 April 2006

Radical craft

An excellent account of the Radical Craft conference Janet Abrams, Director of the University of Minnesota Design Institute, can be found here on the Core 77 website.

She kicks the piece off thus:

Call me a Luddite, but I went to Radical Craft, the second biennial Art Center Design Conference, hoping for insights into the shifting definitions of craft and how it is evolving in an age of post-industrial design and manufacturing. With the exception of a few talks that touched on things hand-made in a digital era, however, few of the speakers addressed this fascinating issue head-on.

And finishes it with this challenge:

Could a design conference truly galvanize, challenge its audience, provoke us into action, spurred rather than dazed by the stunning variety of its speakers' agendas and accomplishments?

Now, that would be radical.

Fine Craft - a question of definition.....

I would agree with Liz that until recently 'craft' was used as a catch-all for diverse creative practices in the UK. One development that has moved us on somewhat is the publication in January 2006 of Making it to Market: Developing the market for contemporary craft, commissioned by the Arts Council of England (ACE) and authored by Morris Hargreaves McIntyre. Download the whole report here.

The report takes as its starting point this new definition of 'fine crafts' by ACE:
We examine the whole market of contemporary craft made by self-defined professional designer-makers. In accordance with Arts Council England policy we place particular emphasis on the market for contemporary fine craft. This is work that meets the following criteria:
• contemporary craft work that is cutting-edge and ensures the highest standard of workmanship
• work that must not seek to reproduce or restore, but rather must be innovative in its use of materials and aesthetic vision
• work that not only reflects the signature of the individual maker, but also demonstrates investigation of processes and critical enquiry.

Taking this definition as the starting point, the report goes on to propose a four-fold typology or segmentation of craft practices:

Segment 1 – Recognised craft and recognised designer-makers
Established designer-makers have work in significant public collections, and in solo exhibitions. They are concerned to be recognised for working in a fine art discipline and make for an international market. They make up 7.3 per cent of the sector.

Segment 2 – Progressive craft and progressive designer-makers
Designer-makers here are making themselves known for their cutting-edge work. Their work is beginning to be collected; it is intended for a national and an international market, but they sell at a range of outlets because of a shortage of dealers and high-quality outlets. These designer-makers make up 3.1 per cent of the sector.

Segment 3 – Emerging craft and emerging designer-makers
In this segment there is work by emerging designer-makers seeking to be recognised as progressive. They face a battle for survival and this often means making commercial work that subsidises more challenging work. These designer-makers comprise 4.9 per cent of the sector.

Segment 4 – Most craft and most craft designer-makers
This segment contains the vast majority of professional designer-makers – people who are driven to live by their creativity. They are generally making non-critically engaged work and are selling mainly to a local market. There are many very successful entrepreneurs in this group who make a good living from sales and commissions. These designer-makers are 84.7 per cent of the sector.

All in all, an interesting and useful piece of work that takes this question of definition forwards.