In the hallowed almost clinical surroundings of the craft gallery space, collectors and visitors are invited to examine beautifully crafted and elegant pieces in relative isolation, removed from the place of their naissance and deposited far from the surroundings for which they were designed and originally intended. Furthermore by placing objects in an exhibition hall rather than browsing around a more intimate studio, visitors are unable to discuss with the makers the inspirations, experiences and influences that turned their ideas into tangible pieces for human consumption. By making choices about what to include or for that matter what to leave out of an exhibition, the narrative changes for the craft maker and the collector. As collections grow, the objects become embedded in the commentary about value and judgement and the dictates of a specific culture as to what can give the pleasure.
Craft can still be an affordable method of collecting original, one of a kind, aesthetically pleasing pieces. These items can be located in studios or graduate shows and once sourced can be of high quality, can demonstrate the skill of the maker and have fiscal value as well as having a functional or emotional value. Studio encounters allow the collector to touch and scrutinize an object for workmanship and skill and to test their connection with the desired object. The object can speak in a variety of ways, affecting the experience of a collector with an object, just as the maker will have had an emotional response during the making of that object. The expertise required for producing simple, useful objects can lead to a sense of great achievement but skill and talent needs to be found in equal measure with creativity and a love of aesthetics as the traditional handcraft edges its way towards the elite.
Are we in danger of making craft a luxury item by placing them in elitist surroundings? Or is this its rightful place?
Such skillfully made objects should be elevated today because they are far from ordinary, even if they were intended to be utilitarian, created for humble surroundings such as a table top or a kitchen shelf. As a growing number of cultural institutions have recently chosen to exhibit craft objects and treasures, Vancouver Art Gallery with their “Modern in the Making” and the UBC Museum of Anthropology with “Playing With Fire: Ceramics of the Extraordinary”, one could be persuaded that contemporary culture is shifting its attitude towards the ‘useful object’, recognising the skill, training and talent of the makers and uplifting the value it places on the traditional.
Perhaps with the support of cultural organisations, craft can rightly attain parity with its longstanding counterparts, art and design. Craft has burgeoned far beyond its original and historical intent, in the individual studio and in the home, to a contemporary discipline fit for the twenty-first century, incorporating design, innovation and technology.