A backlash against handcrafting?

I just ran across this video, and while part of me is sympathetic to lampooning the trend of artisanal crafts that prey on the value associations of handcrafting with big dollars, I am more than a little disturbed by the easy conflation of function with aesthetic value. While I get this video, it seems like a slippery slope that side steps the idea of quality that is not based on function.

Is this a backlash against snake oil salesmen or against handcrafting in general? Are we going to pay for the hype marketers overselling handcrafted products with a general disavowal of the idea of artisanal quality? The mockery in the comments to this video have me worried that the abuses of some only make it seem like the Emperor is not wearing a stitch, that the ‘new clothes’ have to be a fraud, and that folks are being trained not to notice the difference: Rather than folks assuming a naked man is wearing clothes, as in the fable, I worry that folks are now seeing naked men where they are actually fully dressed….

If this were a video about a potter’s work, what would be the difference? You can get a mass manufactured bowl for $4, so why would you spend the $20-40 many potters charge? Where do you stop your sense of value after a minimum of function has been achieved? Being handmade adds nothing to how well something functions. How do we justify it costing more? How do we make that case to the public? How do we educate them? How is what we are doing not selling snake oil to a gullible audience?

Maybe I’m just pointing out that most folks won’t get what we are doing, and that this means we have to be more than a bit humble. Unless you are deliberately attempting to deceive the public there is something real about what we are sharing, its just that not everyone can see it. We run the risk of inciting the hysterics of the Emperor’s new clothes. Like the video above…..

So perhaps its only natural to have some questions about what we are offering. Our self doubts should be more about the ability to communicate what we’ve got than that it lacks real value. If some folks hate spicy food its not an indictment of spicy food, and not seeing beauty does not mean there is no beauty to be seen….. So how did we get to where this video resonates with so many people? Is there a growing lack of trust in the handmade?

Any system of values has an inside and an outside. To insiders something will make sense while to outsiders it will not. The gap is qualitative, mostly. There is preaching to the choir and missions to the unbelievers. Credibility and discredit stand on opposite sides of this fence, often for no other reason than merely standing where they stand….

Things to think about, at least 🙂

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, Creative industry, metacognition, Pottery. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A backlash against handcrafting?

  1. Pat Stamp says:

    I’ve been an active potter for almost 40 years and throughout that time I’ve struggled with the rise of “fake craft” and the overuse of the word “artisan.” In the 70s handcrafted meant something. Then China rose as a superpower in fakery and many people couldn’t tell the difference between what was mass produced to look hand made and what was truly hand made. My grocery store has artisan bread sold in brown paper bags but I know it is anything but artisan made. It is all in the packaging and that is what I think this spoof is about. the way things are packaged and how easy it is to fool some people.

  2. RachelleChinnery says:

    I thought this vid was hilarious. But, once I stopped laughing, it struck me as a bit of a sad commentary on how the *artisanal* is currently fetishised. Here on the West Coast we see everything under the “lovingly made in small batches” moniker. Everything from beer to herbed salt to cheese, to recycled bicycle inner tube clothing. All of this “artisanal” making is wonderful. It’s great to see the entrepreneurial spirit thriving, but is it all quality crafted work? Some of it is, certainly. And some of it is just a little value-added je ne sais quoi being marketed as artisanal or craft, or the sentimental hand-made. I think this video speaks more to the power of marketing than it does anything else. A biting look at the pretentious promotion of an entirely ordinary product and anyone who would buy it.

  3. Pingback: artisan this, artisan that | these compelling things

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