richard sennett

Discussing craft with L

This is part of an ongoing discussion with an artist friend L about craft and making, sparked off by listening to an episode of Thinking Allowed on Craft and Community with Richard Sennett and David Gauntlett.

[…] That’s really interesting. I listened to it again but found the dissonance of the two speakers frustrating. They obviously had different agendas and I think what Richard Sennett is saying is more interesting to me. Still a lot to think about.

I’ve made a list of what craft is for me, some of which overlaps with what you’re saying.

-shared knowledge, community of practice, generational, family, time-based

-function/outcome/use as opposed to idea/concept/communication

-manual, tactility, hand-eye-mind

-material – an intense awareness of materials and their manipulation/transformation – working with rather than against, not a struggle

-‘beauty’ hem hem

-somehow embodying organic, natural, true processes, seen as more true, has more integrity, innate, not synthetic

-outside of time, utopian, a past that never existed

-subsuming of id into continuity, monastic, persistence, focus, dedication

-values and economies – monetary, private, domestic, personal, gift, exchange, love, possessible, inheritable, heritage

-elevates the owner, allows owner to signal perceived positive values

-blankness – not communicating ideas loudly, a vessel for other meanings

-creativity but in small ways, perhaps more problem solving, slow gradual reaction to changes as opposed to conscious decisions taken by one person

-origins are obscure, no prioritisation of the ‘original’ as opposed to the ‘copy’

-fragility, sense of knowledge lost as opposed to mechanisation and technology

-time – when buying a crafted object, you are buying someone else’s time and the perception of that as a value in itself, not recognised by all, sets you apart from ‘the crowd’

-gender – condescension if done by middle-aged, middle class women in their spare time. A ‘hobby’, not serious, superficial.

-class and power relationships. Who buys craft, who appreciates craft? What the social position of the maker in relation to the buyer?


Been thinking about Walter Benjamin and ‘aura’ and how print as reproductive medium sits within that. And craft.

As you can gather from the above that I’m ambivalent about craft, but often on whole more positive about craft than art. Doesn’t try to answer big questions, just goes on regardless. Less attention-seeking and the contexts in which crafts sit and are seen are more varied. It doesn’t make itself ‘other’ as much as art?