Are you a designer, a craft professional, an artist or something else?
In her book out this week, Material World: The modern craft bible, Perri Lewis asks the “great craft question”: “What makes some craft art and other craft, well craft?”
The question sums up some of the issues everyone in the designer maker/craft professional community struggles with regularly. That sentence shows the struggle in itself. How do you describe yourself? Is craft a dirty word? Is “artist” too pompous?
Perri talks to a number of people to try to answer the question and while I’m not sure they answer the question they do provide some interesting food for thought.
There is a definite view that craft means low value and art high value – and it’s not clear where handmade fits on that spectrum. Artist Tracey Emin epitomises this, as she says in Material World:
“I have never faced opposition for using traditional handicrafts. Somehow it’s been amazingly easy. But I do know that, traditionally, textiles aren’t as valued and are considered to be craft and this reflects itself in the marketplace.”
“Artist” Rob Ryan creates his work using paper cut techniques. He has a very clear definition of craft: “For me, craft is based on instruction. It’s like painting by numbers”. He goes on to say: “Craft stops being craft when people design it for themselves. Once people have an idea and put it into practice and they make it, then I don’t think it can be considered craft anymore.”
But if asked would he automatically say that a wrought iron candlestick, a hand-dyed skein of yarn, or patchwork toy is art.
Knitwear designer Kate Jenkins designs for her own label and exhibits knitted artworks in galleries. She says she never set out to be an “artist” but that all her knitwear is art whether worn of behind glass in a gallery.
The range of views in Material World underline the problem many designer makers and skilled craft professionals have. “Craft” as a term has been devalued. Ryan’s comment about following instructions is a case in point. It disregards years of experience building up skills and understanding of your materials and the notion that you can use such skills to create something individual but also desirable and in many cases practical.
And more fundamentally it has an impact on what you can charge – art is expensive, craft is under-priced.
As we build up to the launch of the full Planet Handmade we’ve been giving a lot of thought to how we describe handmade businesses, designer makers, etc. So we’d like to hear from you about what you call yourselves and describe what you do. We’d appreciate it if you could take 30 seconds to answer a quick question about this here.
And please leave your comments about how you might go about reclaiming the word “craft”.