Saturday, 16 February 2013

thinking about : what is craft?

hand knitted jumper

And so I finally get round to a question I should have asked when I started blogging, namely : 'what is craft'?

Of course this is not an easy question to answer - perhaps if it were I would have answered it sooner, in what would probably have been a very short blog post. Nor is this something for which there can be a definitive, once-and-for-all, answer. So with that in mind this post is a starting point - an overview of ideas about craft that are 'out there' on the Internet; and with this I shall consider how these ideas relate to my own personal concept of craft.

Hopefully in this way I can start to gain a deeper understanding of craft which, although by necessity will be in a perpetual state of flux, should act as a pragmatic starting point for another important question for this blog, i.e. : "can there be a 'digital craft'?"

For the sake of simplicity, I will start with the relatively uncontroversial meaning of craft as a verb : 'to craft'.

The Chambers Dictionary describes this as 'to make something skilfully.' Many things can be crafted so here there is little, or no, tension between art and craft. There is nothing controversial to say that art is often (but of course not always) made in a skilful manner.

However It is in considering 'craft' as a noun that the problems start. The definition tends towards fuzziness and questions such as: "what are 'crafts'?", "how do 'crafts' differ from 'arts'?", and "'does this difference matter?" arise.

Here I shall, as I so often do, look fist to Wikipedia which has a simple definition of craft as…

'…a pastime or a profession that requires some particular kind of skilled work.' Wikipedia

This seems a reasonable starting point. I like its simplicity, but I find it lacking. Do all skilled works result in craft? It seems to me that there is some degree of skill involved in most work. But most work involve skill, yet most skills are are not crafts. Craft to me embodies an element of making and creating, eluding to a finished product, which this definition fails to capture.

Next to the V&A which asks "leading figures in the craft world, 'what is craft?". The answers given are short and often personal to the responder. It is interesting and distracting to read these brief thoughts about craft, but I found there to be too many ideas thrown up, and no space to debate and refine them for it to be of particular use to me here.

I found more success at Tate's website who provide several suggestions for the essence of craft, as a starting point for a wider discussion in their Tate Debate blog series, namely: material, skill, usefulness. To me, craft is all these things, and these get me closer to what I belive to be the essence of craft - suggesting a grounding in reality, in the here-and-now.

And it is actually a comment on this blog which gets closest to my current understanding of the essence of craft:

Comparing art to craft is like caomparing [sic] philosophy to engineering: they're two separate ways of looking at the same thing. To me art is communication of an idea or an emotion, while craft is the physical manipulation of material. [Tracy Fiegl]

I guess to me that craft is concerned with the physical realm, as opposed to the world of ideas and metaphor. Craft is real and material, and it is about making and shaping and the skills involved in doing so. In comparison, art concerns itself with meaning, feeling and concepts.

This to me implies that craft can, in a way, be digital, just as there can also be digital art.

Yet digital craft does not strictly lie in the physical realm, it exists in the world of ones and zeros. And what does it mean to handcraft something that can be automated and duplicated? By its nature its very nature digital craft must be different to that of traditional crafts. But my instinct is that there are more similarities an differences, something I hope to explore in future blog posts.

And so with this in mind I will leave this post with a quote from Grayson Perry, from the Guardian, where he touches on the concept of digital craft:

'Nowadays craft overlaps with design and contemporary arts, and there is little territory that is actually crafts. Are websites crafted? Is craft making a TV programme, or writing an article? They all have a craft aspect. To call something craft is just to say it is physical.' Greyson Perry


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