crafty buggers: the great craft debate

by kath_red on 24/03/2009

in Community + Creativity

Just read an interesting article in the paper – crafty buggers – mixtape mashup referred to it. A close up on craft in the current craft climate age – looking at the different factions in the craft world.

One issue which was raised was quality craftsmanship (skill and pride in the perfection of the design and the quality of the work) v’s hobbyist so-so craftmanship (while pursuing all the other reasons people craft such as charity, giving, making a buck, making a statement, politics and ideas etc…)

Whatever your status as professional/amateur, trained/self-taught – the main thing seems to be the enjoyment of crafting as well as the ethical factor of selling good quality work.

I was interested to read in the article Pene Durston’s thoughts – I took time to read her blog – with articles on copycat crafting and cupcake crafting (a great analogy) and are all issues we are dealing with, Pene is on the ‘quality craftsmanship if you plan to sell your work’ side of the fence, and has a good argument to support her strong feelings, she says:

“I am not prepared to sell poor quality or useless products, a crafted product should be a quality product.” … Could all those hobby professionals out there please look to the quality, originality and -and I hate to say it – the pricing of their work? Take pride in what you make, take pride in the how it is made and take pride in being part of a long and important tradition. … Please enjoy your craft but please remember we are not all equal.”

Pip from Meet me at Mikes, a local shop selling all kinds of quirky and interesting handmade items says

“I like crap craft and I like skilled craft too. I just think everyone should have access to making things without worrying about what other people are going to say about their work.”

Like any industry, Pene is correct in saying that we are not all equal. Its a new age and all of us crafters are are trying their hand and finding their niche, and if you don’t have perfect stitches (and I sure do admire quality work when I see it), if you are self-taught, then really so what – there are other qualities that are also important and this is where the art v’s craft debate rages – ideas over craftsmanship.

But if you sell your crafty endeavours, then you go from being an amateur to being a professional, and that is when you are putting yourself and your workmanship on the line and up for comment.

Of course buyers are not stupid – and the market will usually sort itself out – those that survive will be the ones whose work is appreciated for its humour, skill or style. And like one commenter on the Radical Cross Stitch blog pointed out:

“Yes, there is a prevalence of ‘crap’ being made and sold but at least it’s crap being made by us and used by us, on our terms and not crap being made in sweatshops and sold to us by mass media campaigns designed to make us feel inadequate.”

What do you think?

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lelah March 24, 2009 at 5:46 am

I agree with Pip. I’m so sick of people being snobby when they see someone enjoying something they love, and trying to share it or even to help out their financial situation. Who cares if it isn’t your ideal? Buy something else. Don’t waste your emotions hating something because you don’t like it.

2 jolene martin March 24, 2009 at 6:08 am

I agree there is a whole load of snobbery in the arts and craft world. There are those who feel that people who haven’t had specific training are not worth spending time on and then I see some absolutely amazing self taught artists and wonder what the difference is between them producing amazing work and someone who has spent years at art college producing amazing work? I guess none, except maybe the taught artists have loans to pay back. Late last year there was a swap at swap-bot where the host had requested that only ‘real’ artists participate. He was quite rude to those who were ‘part-time, hockey mum artists’. He stirred up a whole load of hate for that and quite rightly. Why are those who craft in their spare time any less of a crafter than those who choose it as a profession?

3 nicole March 24, 2009 at 8:31 am

Totally agree that if you are going to put your work out there for sale then quality workmanship is key. But again, we all have our own standards, what is acceptable to some is not to others. For myself if I am ever unsure about my own workmanship I always get a 2nd or 3rd opinion from others that I know will be honest and won’t just give me polite answers to save my feelings.

4 Mary March 24, 2009 at 8:41 am

How incredibly elitist and vulgar to judge another’s creation as “crap”! I have attended arts and craft fairs where booth after booth is filled with crafty/artistic creations that I cannot imagine having in my home, but the booth is filled with happy, smiling buyers and sellers. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Different strokes for different folks?! Isn’t that what ART is all about?! Who is to say that one artistic expression is any more valid than another?! Standards like those expressed by Durston smack of censorship. Next they’ll be calling for craft book burnings of books that don’t meet some higher artistic standard. I want my children to always have access to a whole varied world of self-expression, so that they can self actualize their creative spirits without some craft-snob spoon feeding them what they deem “appropriate artistic craft”.

5 Delica March 24, 2009 at 8:45 am

I’d like to throw into the mix the issue of art education. (Full disclosure: I was an art teacher and I was lucky to teach at a school that fully supported the arts.) If we all had art education from pre-K through 12th grades, would that address the “crap craft” problem?

6 Alasdair March 24, 2009 at 8:56 am

I guess it’s an ‘eye of the beholder’ thing. How many times have you bought some mass produced item for buttons and had it fall apart within moments? Inevitabley the response given is, ‘well, it was cheap’. Which really misses the point … if something is being sold, regardless of who or where it was made, then it should meet certain quality standards in that it should have some kind of longevity (assuming it’s not a short shelf-life consumable).

As to whether or not an item is aesthetically pleasing is really a decision for the person who is either a) selling it and b) buying it and I think most crafters will either immediately realise whether they have a product that will sell or not … it might not be immediately obvious, but the market will generally sort itself out there. Especially if that market it somewhere like etsy and other on-line market areas where feedback can be given.

Alasdair (Jolene’s ^^ other half)

7 Slugs on the Refrigerator March 24, 2009 at 9:27 am

I see that there are two issues. If you are selling something, then the buyer has a right to know what they are buying…if the stitches are crooked, if it requires a bit more delicacy, then that should probably be made clear at the point of purchase. This is not a value judgement on a piece of work, rather a basic level of respect and transparency between buyer and seller.

However, I feel strongly that we live in a time where creativity and individuality are being brainwashed out of us. Any droplet of originality and creation should be valued as an importent element in the tide against that indoctrination. Just because someone is an artist, or has studied, doesn’t make them necessarily any more creative than someone who hasn’t. In fact, the “right” way can often be stifling.

There will always be differences, but to let there be divisions based on issues like this seems like we are falling into the trap that the wider culture is setting for us…”do it this way, or don’t bother.” As people who make something new for the world, you think we’d be beyond that.

8 Elizabeth March 24, 2009 at 9:38 am

For me, one of the most exciting things about craft is that it eliminates other traditional boundaries (and with this provides the opportunity for opening a lot of minds and a lot of opportunities) – I can happily sit and hand sew with someone from a radically different socio-economic background, different culture, different ethnicity, possibly not even speaking the same language, and we would be friends.

It also lowers the barriers to opportunity – it might be the poor, uneducated crafter who is the most gifted artist in a group.

Quality is absolutely important but the consumers should be the ones assessing acceptable quality. While the internet has provided tons of opportunity for crafters to sell their work, I often find it hard to accurately assess quality with only pictures and a description. As more and more people enter the online marketplaces, it would be helpful to have better filters so that consumers can sort out what is below their acceptable level of quality.

9 floresita March 24, 2009 at 10:50 am

I agree with a lot of the points Pene raises – I think it’s important for people who turn their craft into a business to maintain a standard of quality and pride in their work. They should also think long and hard if selling is what gives them the most joy in crafting – because there’s nothing wrong with making things for your home or your loved ones and friends.

My biggest pet peeve when it comes to the “copycat” issue is when crafters make VERY basic crafts (which are such simple concepts they’ve been done 1000 times before), photograph them, blog them, put them in public places, and react in incredible shock and horror when they are “copied.” Granted, there are cases when complex, artful works are copied shamelessly – I’m just irritated when crafters create very basic things and feel they “own” that idea just because they blogged it.

I’ve actually witnessed people up in arms because they felt they had patented the idea of a stuffed, embroidered shape!

I think crafters and artists should strive for new ideas and items that are complex enough to own as their own….

Sorry to be long-winded, just my thoughts! :)

10 laura March 24, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Perhaps the abundance of “crap craft” is a symptom of generations of people gradually forgetting how or not needing to craft. I hope modern society can make a broad scale return to craft over industry, and as we mature as a community of crafters maybe the level of quality will continue to mature as well.

In the meantime, I agree that the market will sort itself out, and quality workmanship will be rewarded.

11 shelle March 24, 2009 at 2:45 pm

I think this is a funny debate. What is the definition of “crap”? Is is something you don’t think esthetically pleasing, is it poor workmanship, is it something made by someone you don’t deem worthy of selling their work?
Historically crafts were done in the home by those not educated in art to supplement their income, British sock knitters, Swedish Bohus sweaters, or because it was useful to their home like the quilters from Gee’s Bend. I only craft for myself and my family and choose not to sell because I would prefer to teach people the crafting skills I have so they can feel the pride in making. I do not feel threatened by the abundance of crafty people, I also do not think it is fair to say home/hobby crafters create so-so product.

12 Kakariki March 24, 2009 at 7:50 pm

Fantastic to see this debate continuing. Who’d a thought corporate press could generate such an interesting debate ;)

I think one thing that needs to be considered is that some people like handmade stuff for reasons other than quality. Some people like craft for its interestingness or for its imaginative use of materials. Sometimes the creation processes involved to make stuff that’s interesting or uses weird materials means you just simply can’t do it for years and get good at it or it loses the appeal.

Personally my benchmark is something good enough quality for me to use or wear. I don’t aim for perfection, I’ve had enough of society trying to tell me to be perfect. And I also have extreme attention issues so I tend to only make half a dozen versions of any one thing. Usually less. And I sell stuff too but this is because my customers value my ideas not my skills (thank god). My customers know that when they buy one of my one-eyed trouser snake door snakes it probably isn’t top quality work, but it does what it says it does and most importantly it’s a genuinely interesting thing to take into their home. And they can be pretty certain that they’ll never see anther one since I only made four.

But this is what excites me about craft. I CAN make the weirdest shit and sell it at markets or give it to my friends and I CAN spend months working on high quality pieces for gallery display and I CAN do political craft action out in my community and leave it there for everyone to enjoy. And I do and it’s fun and there’s a fantastic community around me doing the same thing. And I don’t necessarily like the things other people make but I fully honour their amazing skillz and will always defend their right to make whatever they want. And most importantly I honour the generations of crafters and activists that have gone before me that have worked tirelessly to create the freedoms in the world we now enjoy.

xox

13 ototo March 24, 2009 at 8:41 pm

I don’t think it’s really a debate about who should be “allowed” to sell their handicrafts. Does anyone care what your background or training is as long as you’re offering a well-made and attractive item? (Exposure through the internet can level the playing field for new designers and artisans.) It’s really quality and workmanship that we’re talking about here. I’m always surprised at the number of crafters out there that are under the impression that “hand-made” alone adds value to an item. I firmly believe that whether an object is produced by hand or mass-produced it should be durable, well-made, and attractive. Functionality is something people determine individually so I won’t comment on that except to say that if an object has a designated function, it should do it well, not simply adequately. Furthermore, I consider the over-production of ugly/useless/poorly constructed crafts a sadly wasteful endeavour. The waste of materials, energy, and time to produce and then ship these products is out of touch with the new eco-consciousness. All that said, I don’t discourage anyone from crafting for pleasure, it truly can be a joy. I’m really just in support of a higher standard of quality and aesthetics in the marketplace especially.

14 Jo March 25, 2009 at 4:27 am

I personally don’t see what the fuss is about. Pene did say there is room in craft for everyone. When you start selling your craft for money then yes, it makes sense to ask “is my stuff up to a suitable standard?” That is true for any industry you find yourself in.

15 lizzie March 25, 2009 at 5:03 am

Hmm, nice ‘ol can of worms… I adore seeing crafts that aren’t perfect. I love that it allows you to see the person behind it. I would rather have an imperfect handcrafted product than a perfect mass produced one.

16 Jafabrit March 25, 2009 at 9:44 pm

I am not a crafter per se, but I have done crafts since I was little (too many moons to count now) and have recently ventured into incorporating elements into my art. It is interesting to read the discussion about quality, elitism, not much different than in the art world. I am glad to be at an age (and I got into the art game late in life) where I really don’t care or subscribe to the should’s and other people’s standards. Thank goodness too or I wouldn’t have done half of what I do. I have a passion for creating and hope others enjoy it, will perhaps buy my work, but in the end some will claim it isn’t skilled enough and others will think it brilliant. All very subjective.

17 Jafabrit March 25, 2009 at 9:44 pm

ps. forgot to mention I enjoyed reading your blog and everyone’s comments. Always good to read differing viewpoints and ideas.

18 Joy (Spool) April 2, 2009 at 12:21 pm

Live and let live

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