17 April 2006

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.


  1. Interesting that people feel compelled to define themselves as 'designer-makers'. Does that imply that they believe that unless they are 'designers' they are not critical thinkers? Or that there is no intellectual process in their making? Surely this avoidence of association to 'craft' needs to be investigated? Perhapse by redefining that part of craft that does have intellectual process, and does move into a higher level than the car boot, or tourist shop, needs to be carefully looked at? thanks for the link. I will follow that up

  2. Facinating what you all are doing!!! I personally am very excited about your research efforts.

    I have three things to contribute that I hope will be helpful here in terms of outlining a new definition.

    The first is a more traditional definiton of American Craft that I drafted a while back:

    Craft: refers to the products of artistic production or creation that require a high degree of tacit knowledge, are highly technical, require specialized equipment and/or facilities to produce, involve manual labor or a “blue collar” work ethic, are accessible to the general public and are constructed from materials with histories that exceed the boundaries of western art history, such as ceramics, glass, textiles, metal and wood.

    These products are produced within a specific community of practice and while they differ from the products produced within the communities of art and design, the boundaries of such often overlap resulting in hybrid objects.

    Additionally, as the interpretation and validation of art is frequently a matter of context, an audience may perceive crafted objects as art objects when these objects are viewed within an art context, such as in a museum or in a position of prominence in one’s home.


    The second is working definition of DIY craft, which is very much still in process:


    Craft: refers to a form of domestic creativity that emerges from a DIY ethos that seeks to confront mass market consumerism and the homogenization of culture as a result of the aggressive expansion of big box retailers. This creative handiwork is often nostalgically ironic, concerned with style, irony and occasionally contains a touch of kitsch; it often contains wit and humor and it is about being in the know; but also, without question, it is about choice. This work does not seek validation within traditional art methodology but rather it is motivated by a desire for creative and economic freedom.

    These products of the human hand are produced through predominantly social activities that are related to community activism and third-wave feminism with a lineage that can be traced back to the 1980’s and the punk movement, zine activity and into the early 1990’s with the Riot Grrrl movement.

    In its essence, craft demonstrates a “because we can, damn it” form of domestic creativity that often makes the second-wave feminists cringe.

    Because they have a choice to make what ever they want, many Gen-X and Generation-Y women are choosing to create using traditional domestic processes such as knitting, quilting, weaving, sewing and decoupage.


    Thirdly, here is something to think about... learning within the psychomotor domain from Dave (1975):

    * Imitation: Observing and patterning behavior after someone else.
    * Manipulation: Being able to perform certain actions by following instructions and practicing.
    * Precision: Refining, becoming more exact. Few errors are apparent.
    * Articulation: Coordinating a series of actions, achieving harmony and internal consistency.
    * Naturalization: Having high level performance become natural, without needing to think much about it.

    Dave, R. H. (1975). Developing and Writing Behavioural Objectives. (R J Armstrong, ed.) Educational Innovators Press. ...excerpted from the web at: http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/bloom.html#four


    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...

    Good luck with this effort, there are many of us in the US that are watching with great interest.




  3. 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!