craft discussions

Recently I’ve been party to a number of very different discussions involving the c word. I’m always a bit wary of these. Sometimes — as happened in one of these conversations — you hear an artist (and in this case rather a well-known one) pouring scorn on the mere craftsperson who has not been to art school: “without an art education, you cannot produce any worthwhile work”.

(No, I’m afraid I’m not joking: that’s what she said. I won’t bother to list counterexamples here, though – I bet you can all name a dozen straight off. And then of course we need an agreed definition of “worthwhile”. I may not have had much art education but I’ve had an awful lot of maths education, and I can spot a flawed argument at a hundred paces.)

But there are aspects of the discussion which are much more positive and engaging than that kind of sweeping snobbery, and I’ve enjoyed many of the books on craft which have been published lately (I’ve even gone so far as to blog about one of them). That earlier post, about Matthew Crawford’s The Case for Working with your Hands, mentions that I bought the book after hearing about it on the radio, and that does seem to be my besetting weakness. It was an episode of Thinking Allowed which introduced me to David Gauntlett’s Making is Connecting, and I was so struck by what the author was saying that I actually sat down and wrote to the programme. This is the sort of thing I often think of doing but never actually do, so I rather surprised myself.

The reason for my particular surge of interest was that Gauntlett was talking variously about craft communities and online communities and craft communities online. Well, weavers know all about those don’t we? We’ve got blogs, we’ve got Yahoo groups, we’ve got Weavolution, we’ve got the Online Guild…  So I wrote to Thinking Allowed to say so.  And now my wee email appears right here on David Gauntlett’s research blog. If I had anticipated this I might have expressed myself a little differently, but I was asked if it was OK to publish my words and I still agree with what I said. I love our online weaving communities and I honestly don’t know what I’d do without them.

Anyway, I’m sure Professor Gauntlett will be pleased that I have gone out and boosted his royalties, and I am already well into chapter two. I’ve also just finished On Craftsmanship by Sir Christopher Frayling, so the craft discussion library is growing.

craft discussions” was posted by Cally on 13 May 2011 at

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7 Responses

  1. Meg in Nelson
    | Reply

    Where to start! I listened to two BBC sound clips, read linked posts, and came away without ordering books, yet, and the first question that came to mind was, what DO you do as your day job that is so mysterious? I suspect some kind of a statistician??

    Some disparate thoughts now…

    1) When I was a student in the mid-70’s, I read that the amount of technological change that used to take place over three generations/a century, was taking place over one generation, and in the 80’s, they expected the same amount to occur 10 years. I.e. what used to happen in roughly 300 years was to take place in one person’s lifetime. The article was curious (and concerned) about the impact it would make on the human psyche, mostly about the stress levels but also the greater generation gap, (remember, we’d just come through the 60’s.)And I believe most would agree the pace hasn’t slowed down, or stayed on par with the 70’s.

    2) With my weaving, (so just one case study), I feel a great primal joy in looking at colors, handling yarns and cloth, and smelling the wool in my stash room on rainy days., These are things I have no control over, and they are positively joyous.

    During the weaving process, “the intellectual” becomes involved, starting with how many warps, what EPI, what structure, and if it doesn’t, I can’t weave. But by necessity I pay less attention to the primal joy and provide space for care and attention, and inevitably, judgment. With some pieces, the primal joy stays until the end; with others, the judgment (usually critical) overtakes. And the satisfaction at the end of each piece or warp depends on the balance between the two feelings. (I have come to realize judgment/critique is not as objective as I had thought previously but are flavored with such things as life experiences and insecurities.) However, taking off ANY piece, however unsuccessful, off the loom is far more satisfying than, say, finishing a report or closing an event as I did with my office jobs.

    I never loose the child-like joy with spinning or knitting, on the other hand, because I don’t care how strange or bad the finished product is, I’m just happy I’m doing it, and if I get to finish it, well, good for me!

    3) Which leads me to my past office jobs. Most jobs I had were low-to-mid-level administrative jobs, and those jobs are never designed to give individual employees a whole heck of a lot of control/responsibility or opportunities to shine; in fact in many corporate situations, we worked hard to document our roles and tasks so we were interchangeable cogs, (ergo, employees not workers).

    And then there is the small matter of bottom-line/managerism that infiltrated work places worldwide where there is never enough employees, and they cut headcounts but amount of work remains the same or increases, so we have no time to look back, take a breath, or consider making something of good quality. I remember one particular job in IT where we felt we were on a virtual assembly line problem-shooting and installing new things one after another without the chance to test if the last fix or installation was successful.

    4) I don’t play nice with other children. With weaving, in the end there is only one person I answer to, and that is me. On the one hand I own the quality-, joy-, and critique-control. Most weeks I’m holed up in my basement, willingly, or in my head, joyously, Monday – Thursday. So the “virtual” weaving (and other) communities is as real, and in some cases more appreciated than living humans I know, and acutely necessary from time to time. And as you said in your letter to the programme, a good weaving community in real life is hard to find. I also like the focus of the virtual community where we gather together to talk about a particular thing.

    I find most of my anti-technology friends have not tried them before they diss it. That is their loss. On the other hand, I decided that I’ll give something a go, but if I don’t like it I’ll drop it just as quickly because I need the time to thread those 1200 ends. I agree with you, (again, in your letter) that blogs are my preferred platform, and I agree with your observation about Twitter being a big party, that’s the very reason I dropped it because I don’t like large parties in real life.

    • Cally
      | Reply

      OK, so I am still processing here, but I’m definitely in tune with your items 2-4. Item 3 is a particluar bugbear for me. Working as a technical/professional bod I actually love the process of creating a mathematical model – it feels as hands on to me as weaving does, as if I am up to my wrists and elbows in the data I am handling. However, the managerial structures and the politicking that goes with them just about drive me up the wall. My patience has worn thinner with every year on the job and I am not sure my sanity can survive it. Where this leaves me when the PhD is done, well, I don’t know.

      On the other hand I *love* twitter! It’s facebook that I can’t stand – its stupid restrictive interface and all the silly apps just seem like so much clutter to me. Every time I go there – which has been less and less in the last few months – I feel as though I have opened an overcrowded closet and all the contents have fallen out onto me.

      Party pooper, that’s me :-/

      • Meg in Nelson
        | Reply

        No, not necessarily. I feel the same way, but I realize that for some (not me) Facebook has become a blog reader as well. Also, I don’t have a smart phone and I can’t stand texting (I can’t see) so no Twitter for me, but isn’t it nice we have options now – you can almost streamline Blog=>FB=>Twitter and let the audience choose their… poison, as it were. I also think where your friends are matter? While many of my friends are on both FB and Twitter, if I quit FB as well, I won’t be able to be in touch with them as often as I’d like as… most of my friends *suck* at emails! :-}

  2. Meg in Nelson
    | Reply

    And I can’t believe your setup allowed that a long comment in one go!

  3. Sheila Carey
    | Reply

    Hi Cally

    This is a really interesting discussion. Congratulations on getting your response added to David Gauntlet’s blog. I will look up the books you recommend and I’ll probably also download some of the podcasts for “Thinking Allowed.” It looks like a great show!

  4. neki rivera
    | Reply

    i’ll add those two to my to read list. also there and may i suggest richard sennet’s the craftsman?
    meg’s #4 speaks to me.
    and now off to read your comment. a new spokeswoman is born:)

    • Cally
      | Reply

      Yes, I read The Craftsman – and enjoyed it, although for some reason it hasn’t left much of an impression afterwards. I might need to read it again.

      And I need some time to digest Meg’s comment – good ol’ wordpress!

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