A Craft by Any Other Name

Why is it so important to find meaning and promote an understanding of craft? After all, we see this word all the time on our television screens, in magazines, on billboards splattered around our cities. Herein lies the problem. Craft has become an everyday word no matter how you cut it…or drink it or eat it or wear it.

Artisanal, hand-crafted and small batch. These labelling devices are the result of mass marketing and advertising campaigns by multinational corporations. They feed into the sociological need for people to seek authenticity and, in doing so, return to old values. ‘Crafted’ is currently a term that has been appropriated to promote desirability to the consumer. Consumers become confused and the overuse of the word ‘craft’ has predictably made our audience numb to the power that true craft holds, including its ability to connect people and objects. We need to steer away from the misrepresentation of the term ‘craft’ which is currently applied to beer brands, cookies, ice cream and bread with its ‘mass produced promise’. What does it mean to the consumer?

The late Sandra Alfoldy highlighted a need for governmental definitions of the term ‘craft’ akin to the globally recognised terms such as local, organic and fair-trade, all of which have legal and copyright implications. It is vital for the craft community to define the term craft to reclaim it and insist that consumers, who accept without question the labelling of commercial brands, ask what is meant by these labels that are used indiscriminately; perhaps rebranding is necessary.

At the same time it is integral that the craft community challenges the fine-art world, where the response by some visual artists to craft still belies recognition of the training and fine skills required for an appreciation of craft as an art form; we must ensure that this does not open the door to producing inferior products. For some, Glenn Adamson notes, it has been coded language for a marginalised art form thought of as pedestrian, amateur, therapeutic, connected to the home and linked to women. However in today’s market, craft sells and people are willing to spend money on handmade items.

Consumers now need guidance about terminology from craftspeople themselves: long overdue recognition of the skills, training, materials and tools required in the manufacture of beautiful handmade objects still require an advocate. Patience and perseverance are yet another skill now required in a craftsperson’s arsenal.