Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Technophilic craft

One of the highlights for me at last year's Neocraft conference in Canada was Ezra Shales from Alfred University, New York State. He has just had a paper published in American Craft that deserves full reading, and is available online here. Below is one of his compelling arguments:

"The “craftsman-artist” was a strategy to combat the division of labor but it contains an important contradiction: When the Arts and Crafts movement distinguished the craftsman as autonomous, it simultaneously signaled a withdrawal of engagement from the collective social economy. The cliché of “freedom” has become ingrained in craft lore. The craftsman-artist continues to be described as an inspired individual, as if the process were redemptive for society as a whole. The idealization of the individual atelier as a bulwark against “alienated labor” has remained widespread even now, as new disciplines, such as digital craft, challenge the primacy of traditional processes. Are the craftspeople engaging in DIY in the privacy of their home really being radical, or are they simply participating in niche consumption, merely like microbreweries promoting “ethical consumption?” I would argue that craft will revive its radical aspect only if it returns to engaging in collaborative production and addressing its audience by speaking in the vernacular."

The article is a passionate and well argued case for craft makers to "Reclaim The Factory". Ezra uses the example of Barry Dixon, who worked with Wedgwood on the piece shown above that was cast using Josiah Wedgwood's black basalt, to demonstrate the relevance of factory production.

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