04 February 2007

Both ends of the spectrum

The second in a series of monthly Guardian Guides is - Craft. It focuses on how to make everything from a stylish new dress to a DIY dining table. An interesting section entitled adventures in modern craft includes "New Wave Crafting" that derives pleasure from the recycling of everyday objects.

"More punk than Stepford homemaker, the modern craftster is a sociable creature, gathering in pubs, clubs and online to chat and swap ideas."

The guide also includes crafty websites we love - with one glaring omission!

This is a guide for those who wish to get in at the ground level of craft - this is the craft of the hobbyist. Craft sadly is not presented as a vocation or a worthwhile way of making a living - it is presented as a distraction from everyday living rather than a way of living.


This same week the Craft Council will be promoting Collect the leading international art fair for contemporary objects in London. This is what some might describe as the other end of the spectrum, forty one galleries presenting work by over 350 leading artists.


The word Craft here is only visible in the title of the Council but for how much longer? One end of craft has for some time been keen to distance itself from the term and yet the other end is happy to embrace it and reinvigorate it for a new generation.

Why are we so ashamed of our hobbyist associations? Do both not belong to the same family of craft? Are both ultimately just striving to understand what it means to be human? Some more dedicated than others? Can we not celebrate this diversity, rather than create more distance between us? How much of this distinction is related to class? Do these craft differences exist in other countries? Writing this blog on both ends of the spectrum has also made me ponder where is the craft middle ground, what does this look like and who occupies it?


  1. Hi Sandra, I agree with you that from the most humble to the most sophisticated, craft is craft. All of it important. Maybe it's because the emphasis is so much on the lower end of the spectrum, that the project and others are looking at the higher end of the spectrum. I personally don't think it is to do with class, but with denegration of craft by those otside of the craft 'family'. We are presenting an argument as to why craft has value, why it should still be taught in schools and institutions, why it can and should be pursued as a viable means of making a living, why it shouldn't be dismissed as purely 'women's work' or 'of no value' or dropped by funding bodies because they can't see the contemporary value of craft. Maybe by our deafining silence we are allowing this to happen?! Like a see-saw, it is unblalnced at the moment. There is a middle ground, but it is leaning heavily towards the lower end. By emphasizing the value at the top end we are balancing the equasion, and allowing people to find the middle ground.

  2. I was consciously trying to avoid the use of loaded terms such as higher and lower as they imply hierarchies - both ends of the spectrum suggest we are all on the same level just different degrees of something. What I would like to hear more about are the qualitative differences between the two ends. Any suggestions? We need to find a language to describe these.

  3. Talking to colleagues Roger Morris and Janet Shelley the other day they suggested that the issue was concerned with design. So I suppose it could be to do with a variety of factors that could include a mix of design, skill, clarity of voice or content of the work. Comments?

  4. Anonymous8:46 pm

    While visiting my parents last week I was handed a copy of the Guardian Guide to Craft. Ooooh.....it made me wince!

    While it is a great idea to offer the general public an attainable result from simple hand making, these are nevertheless pipe cleaner and string solutions which, forgive me for saying, would be better labelled as "home craft" or "occupational therapy".

    There has been an ongoing and long debate about the definition of the word "craft" amongst those who make their living from hand making. The craft fairs that sprung up all over the country during the 1970's, where you could buy corn dollies, bobble hats and jars with shells stuck on them, did a lot to damage the perception of fine and contemporary craft in the eyes of the public. The Guardian Guide to Craft - as lively and encouraging as it is - unfortunately feeds this confusion.

    Please refer to The Crafts Council's Photostore Selected Register or take a trip to Collect at the V&A (currently on) to see contemporary craftsmanship at its very best.

    Perhaps it is time to find a new word for hand-making that is the result of a long gestation of study and practice. Judging by the Guardian's publication "Craft" just doesn't do it!

    The delivery is bright and cheery, and perhaps I shouldn't be so sensitive, but a number of seriously supportive bodies in recent years have worked very hard to return credence to THAT word, which sadly here is emblazoned across the front cover in felt!

  5. Anonymous1:06 pm

    There is nothing wrong with simple inventive ideas. Craft covers a huge spectrum of skill levels. For some to have suggested that this is a class issue or that it is about high end/low end craft, for me is off the mark. Surely the Guardian's Guide, apart from its totally inappropriate cover title, should lead us to debate, rather, what is good or bad craft. Hobby craft or home craft can be of the highest order - The Mingei International Museum of World Folk Arts and Crafts in Tokyo demonstrates traditional and contemporary folk art, craft, and design skills that would make the pages of any current interiors magazine, as would Shaker work and Canadian quilts. Here in the North East proggy mats, depending on the creativity of the maker, carry similar values.

    Perhaps the craft debate should expand further to look at changes in social behaviour. Education has little room left for craft disciplines with the constraints of modular teaching, health and safety issues, lack of take up. Consumerism and a "quick burn" lifestyle, the demise of apprenticeship schemes, new technologies, have all led to an ongoing generational loss of understanding and valuation of the process. Pity, because commitment to the process can develop the person, and in the days of quilts and proggy mats, it also lead to useful social exchange.

    The Guardian Guide to Craft reflects, in a rather extreme and silly way, where we are now in terms of the rejection of traditional values in making. For those who make their living from Craft, thankfully there will always be a few individuals who will seek out what the rest reject through lack of understanding or valuation. The important thing for craftspeople, artisans, designer-makers - whatever you want to call us - is to maintain visibility. Embracing modern technologies, both in our working practice and promotion; watching trends and networking; bridging (collaboration with partners and industry); striving to refresh our own skills and ideas whilst passing them on to others - these are the tools for our survival and the future of Craft.

  6. Andrew Wagner1:21 am

    Hello...my name is Andrew Wagner and I am the new editor of American Craft magazine. We are in the process of redesiging and relaunching our magazine (scheduled for October/November 2007) and I've been enjoying reading the discussions on this blog as I research what our next step should be exactly. I was in London for Collect and was impressed. I unfortunately missed the Guardian Guide to Craft but from what I've heard and read here is that where it went wrong was not presenting the other side of "craft." There are so many facets to "craft" which is precisely what makes it such and exciting, vital, and absolutely alive and kicking field but it is so rarely shown this way...it is always one way or the other and that is where I see the mistakes being made. I think "craft" needs to proudly display the ranges of the discipline and revel in those. That, I believe, is the future of craft. I'd welcome hearing from any and all of you so please do drop a line if you're interested. Thanks for making this blog so relevant.

    - Andrew Wager

  7. Thanks Andrew
    I wholeheartedly agree with you that craft needs to 'proudly display the ranges'. The time is right for the relevance of 'craft' to be acknowledged in everyday life. Eagerly anticipating the re-launch of American Craft. Hope you will continue to comment on the blog.