November 26, 2012 § 2 Comments

I was asked at the weekend how I felt about making objects in a world filled with objects, many of which are superfluous. It is a pertinent question, especially at this time of year. What do we need all these objects for? Many Christmas presents will be bought because that is what you do at Christmas: you buy presents, you buy things, and more things will be added to our lives.

Where do pots sit amongst this plenitude, this cornucopia of riches? I have been reading ‘A Theory of Craft’ by Howard Risatti, and have found it incredibly stimulating. The kernel of the book is a dissection from his perspective of what distinguishes craft from fine art and in doing so he attempts to define each area. Coming from a fine art background, I find the relationship between these two facets of the arts fascinating. The book is an argument, a thesis, and each chapter takes you logically through his position. There are elements of his approach that I disagree with, such as, when he speaks of craft it is wholly in regard to form, material and technique (solid and unchanging over millennia), which he then compares with the content of fine art (whimsical and reliant on being read within a particular social context) – not really a realistic or informative comparison.

But, ‘A Theory of Craft’ is a challenging and thought-provoking read, and relates primarily to the functions of craft and fine art. Relevant to this seasonal blog post is when Risatti writes about how the purpose of much of what is made today ‘is not transparent in the object itself’. The growth of advertising convinces people that unnecessary products are actually necessary, creating an imaginary need ‘in order to entreat people to buy’. ‘In the kingdom of commerce, differences between desire, value, function, usefulness, and necessity are intentionally blurred so that little distinction is made between them. All seem equally purposeful…’

Craft’s purpose, on the other hand, is singularly clear: ‘physiological necessity’. He painstakingly sets out his argument to define craft and I find it compelling. In his opinion, craft objects contain (basketry, pottery, glass-making…), support (furniture-making…) or cover (blankets, clothes…) and originate thousands of years ago across the world, irrespective of geography or culture. Every culture developed these objects out of absolute physiological necessity. They are not arbitrary or whimsical for ‘without their continual satisfaction we simply cannot survive’. Risatti believes that ‘craft objects, individually and as a class, must be seen as a continuing reflection in the present of this ancient and timeless struggle that mankind has waged with nature for survival’.

‘In craft objects this historical past is linked together, conflated as it were, with our modern present, for embedded within the craft objects we use everyday resides the memory of our evolutionary moment, a memory that transcends ethnic and racial, economic and class, cultural and national boundaries. This is one of the glories of craft that make it a meaningful endeavour.’

There is always a place in the world for craft. It is essential, fundamental to what it means to be a human being.


§ 2 Responses to 26.11.12

  • Jane Sarre says:

    Interesting stuff… does he compare an industrially produced container/support/cover vs a crafted one? It seems to me, in ways that I cannot entirely verbalise, that the industrial objects many meet the immediate functional need but the crafted object does this plus containing some sort of layer of additional meaning/relationship with the maker, creativity, the material or the user and that is nourishing to us on the symbolic level and thereby meets both functional and emotional needs…

    • You have verbalised it very well, Jane, and I totally agree. There is something nourishing about using a handmade object. I like to think about it in human terms, that the handmade object is passed from hand to hand, from maker to user, and that humanity resides in the object.

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