is future potential of craftsmanship?
Big thanks to Dean and Helena for help and support.
CNC – Computer Numerical Control
dictionary definition means the quality of design and work shown in something
made by hand of a person skilled in particular craft. However, people use this word to describe different thing than it used
to do hundred years or even decades ago. It seems like the rules for something
to be considered hand-made is getting more and more forgiving. Using pillar
drill instead of hand drill seemed like violation of true craftsmanship,
although today we can make same comparison between using CNC drill and pillar
drill. Because of this big change in technology something like pillar drill
seems very primitive and limited tool in today’s world.
It is important to discuss
this topic especially today because it seems that there is declining interest
in crafts which may lead to extinction of some traditional skills. In some cases,
is inevitable because of how the world is changing due to advancement in
technology. However, craft or specifically making things using your hand is essential
part of developing as a human being and according to both Richard Sennett and Howard
Risatti is a key of fulfilling life. Furthermore, it’s directly relevant in
product design world.
This essay is going to
investigate meaning of craftsmanship, relationships between crafts and
technology and how they changed over time. Also, important figures, historical
events, movement that influenced the whole world.
Crafts were around
since the beginning of time or at least since the beginning of human. It was
simply a way of surviving whether knapping flint into an arrow head to improve
on hunting or stitching animal fur to battle the cold. Sennett claims in his
book that the brain of human ancestors became larger after using their hand for
other reasons than steadying of the moving body and that lead to humans using
tools and developing a culture. (2008, p. 150). Handmaking was an essential
part of human evolution that aloud humanity to be where we are right now.
Not only crafts helped
humans to survive but also let then advance in education since sculpting and
drawing was the only way of documenting any events and passing knowledge to
next generations. For example, Venus of Willendorf (Figure 1) is an 4,5-inch figure
of Venus estimated to be carved out of limestone between about 28,000 and
25,000 B.C. way before any written language existed. Some scientist hypothesise
that the figurines may have been created as self-portraits by women and the
complete lack of face explained simply by non-existence of mirrors.
craft and technology was never as close as it was in ancient times. It went
side by side because of what technology meant back. For example, attaching
stick to a stone made a hammer which was a huge technological upgrade from just
a stone allowing person to hit an object with more force. Next step chipping
side of a hammer and here is first axe – a piece of technology that opens the
doors in a whole woodworking world. Separation began when technology got so
advanced that it made some crafts not needed anymore. Like mid-5th millennium B.C.
metal casting technology suppressed knapping flint and became craft itself.
In pre-industrial world, there was a strong correlation
between objects price and value. It wasn’t possible for something high quality
to be cheap, simply because of highly priced artisan labour, expensive material
Since the industrial
Meaning of crafts
Arts and Crafts movement
Arts and Crafts movement was one of the most important
and influential movement in design world and its values are still very relative
to this day. It started around 1870’s but quickly spread across Europe and
America. Movement was aimed at the industrial revolution and consumerism that
demoted craftsmanship. Two most associated figures were William Morris and John
William Morris was British designer, poet and
entrepreneur. He valued role of pleasure in work and believed that labour can
Perfection is usually associated with symmetry,
precision, taut, harmonious shapes and western world often is looking for this
in objects. Japanese have completely different view and it is called wabi-sabi.
Imperfections, impermanence and modesty are valued in wabi-sabi. This idea
comes from Buddhism and teaches to find beauty and piece in surrounding world
(English 2016). However notion like this is impossible in today’s industrial
world with mass produced object which are identical to one another. People are
losing difference and diversity in products (McFarren 2015). „Traveling
in was so more exciting in the past because anywhere you go everything is
different.” Max Lamb
Wabi-Sabi becomes popular again in western world since
the ideology shares same values as Makers movement. However, people in
developing countries dream about
Enzo Mari is 77-year-old Italian designer most known
for Proposta per un Autoprogettazione project he started in 70’s. It is a
technical drawing for series of furniture that people would be able to make themselves
at home using pre-cut timber and nails. Mari would send them to anyone who
would post him stamped addressed envelope and he received thousands of
requests. These furniture pieces were not meant to be just a cheap solution for
people to furnish their home. It was a statement against consumerism. (McGuirk
Mari worries about the future of today’s designers just
because more people join design studies then the world possibly needs. (McGuirk
of craft changed from type of manufacturing to something perhaps more art related
or spare-time activity. Many people choose craft as recreational activity
because of its therapeutic effect on mindfulness without any intentions of benefiting
financially. It’s actually opposite because, even though there are some free
workshop events, most of them requires a fee to participate.
Mass-production in developing countries is capable of producing
relatively high-quality product for extremely low price which puts local
manufacturing in western world in tough position. Furthermore, technology
impact on people life is still rapidly growing and electronic devices is not
something craftsmen would be able to manufacture in their workshops. Huge
demand of electronics is influences by business models, where life cycle of
most devices barely reaches couple years. In general, people especially young
adults do not own as much items. A lot people living in London for many years
do not own single piece of furniture or kitchenware simply because every
apartment or house was fully furnished. Even IKEA agrees that we reached a peak
of home furnishing, according to Wiles. (Wiles 2016)
OPEN SOURCE DESIGN
Open design connects creative individuals via internet
allowing professionals and amateur designers to share knowledge and break down
barriers. Motivated by passion for designing and making rather than commercial
benefits open design brings developed and developing countries closer.
(Cruickshank and Atkinson 2014)
Open source design company Open Desk offers drawing for
child’s stool. They claim it to be revolutionary, disruptive and customisable.
Justin finds out the price of the stool being 170£
which is a price made up of 54£ for material, 98£ manufacturing cost and 18£
for delivery. This seems way too extreme for such a product. For that amount of
money you can get many stools from mass manufacturing companies or a designer piece. (McGuirk
Notion of buying IKEA stools is opposite to open-source
design because of mass production in poor countries and shipping all around the
Open design furniture doesn’t not look nearly as good
as piece you can buy for 200 pounds. This
is part of why open source design isn’t successful because price doesn’t match
Justin says he’s not against open source design idea,
but it’s just too expensive to compete to mass production. Opendesk isn’t the
first company to trying to promote open source design. Enzo Mari presented
furniture series Autopregettazione in 1974, but even back then price didn’t
The old view is that individual genius, alluring
objects and consumers. New view is network, the system and the participant.
Enzo Mari’s approach of open design is more seductive for Justin.
McGuirk argues that we are between revolutions rather
than in the middle of one. Open source design is still more like an idea then a
practical way of manufacturing and obtaining products. A case study in buying
sofa in Italy where furniture is made combining crafts and industrialised
processes, makes his case for quality Design furniture being still strongly
tied to conventional manufacturing models, rather than new Open Models.
Today’s media is full of craftsmanship promoting
articles with lots of attention on process and not only finished product like
it was in the past. Handmaking is kind of therapy and one of the keys to
fulfilling life. (McGuirk 2011)
Before industrial revolution, designer and craftsman
roles were closer to each other. But since then these professions separated
where designer draws what then industrial craftsmen will mass-produce. However,
more and more young designers could be identified as designer-makers. This trend
is conspicuous at the annual Design Parade exhibition at the Villa Noailles.
Designers like Max Lamb, Jean-Baptiste Fastrez, Maarten Baas etc. make their
designed object using manual labour. This approach to design fits increasing
demand for customisation. (McGuirk 2011)
The growth of designer-maker is influenced by the fact
that is more popular that even to choose designer profession while possibility
of releasing a mass-produced product in consumer market is rather low (McGuirk
2017). Making your own designed object may be the only opportunity to have
successful carrier in product design industry. (McGuirk 2011)
Sam Jacob points out different perspective in his
article. All these needs and demands in capitalist consumerism era have a
negative side and it harder than ever to ignore the consequences like child
labour, sweatshops, wage exploitation, pollution etc. Reason for this is a
shift in a relationship between people and objects. Consumers are removed from
manufacturing as far as possible by online stores, choosing they items just by
glimpse at photos without any curiosity of how the object feels in a hand or
where and how it was made. The idea of designer-maker aims to bring back direct
relationship between objects and consumers, designers and manufacturers. (Jacob
According to Sam contemporary maker movement started in
80’s after few very successful examples of appreciation for craftsmanship in
design world. One of them was Marc Newson’s Lockheed Lounge made by designer
himself. Because of its the quality of making and uniqueness piece was sold in
an auction for a price of 1480000$ in 2009. (Jacob 2015)
People use cheap mass-produced object to hack and
improvise to fulfil a need for customisation as shown in an example of IKEA
furniture hacking website www.ikeahackers.net.
In general DIY culture is more active than ever. It is an essential for
developing skills to use imagination, repair and improvise according to Sennett
(2008, p 10).
The impact of all these ideas is clearly visible in
emerging Fab labs and maker spaces where people can use workbenches and
machines that otherwise wouldn’t have access to. At this point it is not only
about making. Movement covers socials aspects, opportunities for employment and
supporting local production. (Jacob 2015)
While in theory it seems to make sense invest into
quality product reality is quite different. For example, 4-piece cutlery set by
Maarten Baas (Figure.1) cost around 100 pounds which adds up to rather ridiculous
amount if you want to set a table for a family dinner. IKEA, on the other hand,
offers 24-piece stainless steel set called SMAKGLAD (Figure.2) for 25 pounds
and some might say both sets have relatively similar aesthetics. Of course,
there is an absolute budget option – 2.50 for 16-piece set and that is more
than 150 times more expensive then Baas’s design. This is an extreme example
but even looking at open-source design like Autopregettazione wardrobe by Enzo
Mari, just cost or material would be higher than a wardrobe from IKEA. (McGuirk
Figures 2, 3.
Andrea Trimarchi and
Simone Farresin are design duo from Italy that formed studio Formafantasma.
They mainly focus on furniture and kitchenware using organic, raw materials.
Designers explore relationships between traditions and local culture, ancient
artefacts and architecture, sustainability etc. Their work have been published
internationally at museums like London’s Victoria & Albert, New York’s
Metropolitan Museum, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Mint Museum of Craft and
Design in North Carolina etc. Furthermore, designers are also lecturing and
running workshops in various institutions.
These are pieces from De
Natura Fossilium collection that Formafantasme made in collaboration with Gallery
Libby Sellers (Figure. 3, 4). Project was an investigation of the culture of
lava in the Mount Etna and Stromboli regions of Sicily. Designers collected
samples of the lava stone from Etna and nearby Stromboli to melt and blow to
create glass. All pieces from this collection have rather brutalist aesthetics
that represents dramatic and scary event of Mount Etna eruption at 2013. (De Natura Fossilium 2014)
Maarten Baas is a one
of the most influential Dutch designers of this century. His works is very
expressive, playful, artistic and theatrical. Some objects look like three
dimensional interpretation of possibly child sketches. With limited pieces
Baas’s work lies on the line between design and art.
In 2009 Maarten with
designer Bas den Herder converted a former barn into a workshop where he
produced Clay collection (Figure 5), pieces for Smoke series etc. (Hobson 2014)
The Clay series was presented in 2006 in
Milan. Surrealistic, spontaneous and bright coloured furniture pieces are hand
shaped using industrial clay without any moulds, therefore every single object
is unique. With prices from 2500£ for a chair to 9000£ for a bookshelves
designer work is more often ends up in a museum rather than a household.
Sebastian Cox is a
workshop and design studio located in south east London where Sebastian himself
with group of young makers, designers and wood lovers design and make
collections of furniture. Team work only with British hardwoods and use every
inch of material simply because of appreciation for beautiful timber.
Sebastian seems like a
classic artisan making products using traditional crafts. However, in the
interview with Ross Bryant he said that he’s not sentimental or sad because of
disappearing of crafts and he’s just happy to make objects by hand and learn
new techniques. Even if those techniques are considered to be classic
craftsmanship examples by others, Sebastian feels that ability to make is what
unites us as people. Hand crafted objects resonates with a customer’s primitive
maker urges and as result end-user will enjoy product more keeping it out of
the landfill for longer. (Winston 2014)
Frommeld and Arno Mathies
Students of today in design and craft field see future
as challenging. Autonomation, unemployment, recession, competition with cheaper
imports are things student identified as threat in a design field.
(Soini-Salomaa & Seitamaa-Hakkarainen 2012). People more often lose their
jobs to machines (McFarren 2015). However, they stay optimistic about their
professional success despite of chances of running into financial difficulties.
Further, students in design and craft field have different motivation factors
then those in other fields. Managing your own career, expressing yourself
through making and well-being seem to be more important than financial success
when choosing this type of profession. (Soini-Salomaa &
crafts (Justin McGuirk
Meaning of crafts
Possibly some of the things your writing can
move into future as you write more
In general the challenges facing crafts as
time goes by. Perhaps look at a craft that is obsolete and inevitably about to
disappear (because of technology? Or old makers retiring without passing on
In comparison its interesting to look at an
enduring craft, and new crafts that are emerging?
Perhaps a balanced summary of what craft needs to hold onto
(from the past) and how craft needs to evolve for the future…
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REFERENCING IN PROGESS