Craft identity

The NCECA blog has asked folks in the ceramic media to participate in a study about the relevance of craft in contemporary society. Here’s what they are up to:

In October 2013, NCECA members Michael Sherrill, Michael Strand, Board Member Garth Johnson and Executive Director Josh Green participated in a Think Tank led by the American Crafts Council in partnership with the Center for Craft, Creativity & Design and crafthaus.

Its purpose was to examine to what extent the word “craft” still had resonance and meaning in contemporary culture as a good descriptor of the creative work produced in studios today. In our cohort, we examined how and whether the meaning of “craft” carries understandings to larger audiences in the broader culture.

We wondered whether the application of “craft” to everything from galleries and museums, to church sales, lawn care, cuisine and beer is making the “C-word” confusing for the outside world. We also discussed whether working together across a range of media interests to establish effective, shared language about craft can make an impact on communications to engage broader audiences.

The extent to which a communications effort like this can impact awareness, attitudes and decision-making changes favorable to craft work is perhaps unknowable. But it is important that we work to test some of our group’s efforts within our own communities before taking them to broader audiences.

The Think Tank brought together makers and leaders from across the craft field to consider questions including…

  • Can we communicate about craft with greater clarity and vibrancy?
  • What words, ideas, and value propositions might lead to heightened interest?
  • How can we be more inclusive and encourage people to participate?

Out of our discussions, we began to identify shared values as an essence of the craft community. From this, we began to develop an identity statement for craft. This first attempt at a unifying statement is what we are putting in front of you now for your feedback and commentary.  This is important; will you help us?

Please follow this survey link to help NCECA provide feedback on the Craft Identity Statement that came out of our Think Tank efforts.

Open until April 6, this survey link is set for one-time use per person. Once you answer the questions and exit – you will not be able to reenter and change responses.  All individual responses will remain confidential.

ACC will work to synthesize NCECA generated responses with those that come in from other involved groups.

Thank you!


I recommend following the link to the survey and giving them a hand with the project. As you can probably imagine I wholeheartedly sympathize with the motivations for this discussion but have my own thoughts on the direction this line of inquiry is leading us. Here are some of my responses to the survey that show at least a tinge of uneasiness with the assumptions being made:

Statement about craft values from the NCECA blog survey

Statement about craft values from the NCECA blog survey

6. If you knew nothing about contemporary craft, would the above craft identity statement motivate you to find out more about contemporary craft?

This question is phrased as a hypothetical, and I can see instances where the above statement would have less impact depending on how poorly a person self identified as an artist/crafter. One of the obstacles I face as an instructor is that students often come to class with the belief that they are not creative. It seems that one of the hurdles we routinely confront is that too few people in our audience understand their own creative potential, and that as soon as you deny that creative capacity the values of craft and art can seem foreign and unintelligible. Craft value is simply less real to outsiders because they lack the frame of reference. That’s why I see the above statement as a neat dividing line of folks who already believe in the values of craft and those who don’t. The very first line, “Everybody makes a mark”, is not something that all people agree with. Our job is to remind them that everyone, in fact, does or has the potential to do so. That’s not always easy if you have been brought up to believe that you are not creative and that art is what other people do. The dispute is one of fundamental belief structures that have been encouraged by society, if substantially through the negelect and dissolution of art education in our school systems. Since these issues seem important to me I have tried to pay attention to the world of arts advocacy, and it seems the important message is not simply finding a place for art within our communities, but finding the art within ourselves. The better we can convince people of their own creative efficacy the better craft values will be understood. Something to think about, at least…..

7.  If you knew nothing about contemporary craft, would the above craft identity statement motivate you to ________________ (choose all that apply)?

  • Search online for something or someone in the field
  • Visit a museum
  • Visit a gallery
  • Contact a craft artist
  • Visit an artist’s workshop
  • Purchase a piece of art
  • Create something
  • Participate in an auction
  • None of the above
  • Other (please specify)

As I explained in my response above, not self identifying as a creative person would potentially also be symptomatic of a lack of curiosity for craft values, and vice versa. Curiosity and belief are entwined in a person’s life. If I don’t believe in the values of craft I might not be motivated to investigate them. The more I believe the more curious I might be. The other options for this question all assume a foundation of curiosity, but curiosity doesn’t always lead us to new values as much as it extends the values we already have. If we already believe in craft we will be more motivated to explore its various manifestations. What we need to change first is how people self identify. To get them to be interested in craft they need to imagine a role for it in their own lives first. Teach creativity, and the rest will follow….

8. How do you describe contemporary craft? What statements would you use to inform and excite someone who was new to contemporary craft?

The language will be less important than activities that are themselves craft related. Language use reflects different ways of life that already manifest value and belief structures. If we are talking to people who don’t previously value creativity, words alone will be of little use. It might be like trying to convince a conservative Republican of the wisdom of progressive Democrat values. The real issue is a question of conversion, and this rarely happens through words alone. Rather than just making new statements about craft I would ask them for help on a craft project, get their hands busy making things, demonstrate to them first hand that making has value. I’d give them a brush to paint with or some clay to mush around. Not everyone is as rational as we might imagine, and rationality serves causes better than it mediates between them. We need more subversive actions than simply changing the words we use. That may be part of the bargain, but we need to affect people at a deeper level. There is a phenomenon in Psychology called the Ikea Effect. The insight is that we don’t simply do what we love, but that we love what we do. Get people to start making things and we teach them that making things has value.


All you potters, ceramic artists, and other creative crafting lovelies out there, please take a moment out to complete the survey. Remember that some of the questions are asking what you’d think if you were not already involved in contemporary craft, so its asking us to see things from the other side. Of course we all know why we like making things, but how do you explain that to others? You can’t simply tell them what is in your heart, you must show them. Its like trying to convince a person who has never tasted sweet things that cookies are scrumptious. How do we do that just with words? How do we do that from within our own experience of sweet things? How do we change other people’s world view without letting them taste ice cream and fresh fruit?

These are important things to think about if we are interested in promoting the values of craft and art in our culture. I hope you will all participate in the discussion!

Peace all!

Happy potting!

Make beauty real!


About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
This entry was posted in Art, Arts advocacy, Arts education, Ceramics, Clay, Creativity, Imagination, metacognition, Pottery, Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Craft identity

  1. Hi Carter – I really enjoy reading your blog. Especially this post – I also took this survey and had many concerns, some of which you’ve shared here. Thanks!

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