Depersonalization and What it Means to be an Artisan
Craft is no longer close to us like it used to be. A lot of production has been moved out of the UK and other western countries over the years, meaning we are no longer physically close to the production of Textiles, as well as other industries, meaning less people are aware of the processes and therefore don't experience it. Also potentially meaning that due to this lack of awareness, the original craft practices of production have become a more distanced idea. 'Up until the industrial revolution, and into this century in many peasant societies, women spent every available moment spinning, weaving and sewing.' (Barber, 1991)
It's less likely you would find many women, or men for that matter, dedicating so much time to something so time consuming, technically demanding and reiant on skill, especially when that woud mean competeing with mass production; something that is undoubtedly impossible in terms of time, and using time profitably to pay the bills. The lack of willingness to really devote so much time to creating, I think, is what has disconnected the world from craft. As a whole, people aren't really aware of how things are made anymore. The whole act of production has just escaped the minds of the ordinary human, as long as they can head to a shop or online and get what they want when they want it, why should it matter how it got there.
In my experience, working for a milliner and in conversations about my own craft, very few people even have the faintest idea on how to go about creating something like a piece of textiles; be it fashion or interiors, its very rare that anyone knows where that process would even begin, and how much of the quality they are losing by buying mass produced rather than carefully crafted. Many dont even understand why there is a higher price often attached to handmade in comparison to mass produced items of a similar nature.
Crafts 'Steady disappearance, in the face of the more powerful and efficient forms of production that we call "industry", is therefore to be understood as a tide of depersonalization.' (Adamson, 2013) You only have to look at the 'throw away culture' we are in to understand this quote. The nature of mass production and consumption shows it. The very fact that people are so willing to throw away and replace consumer items, such as clothing, signify a lack of personal attachment to an item, and a lack of value more important than money. Production of consumer items has become depersonalized, replaceing groups of hard working, skilled humans with a single machine. You could probably count on your fingers the number of human hands that have touched an item during the craft production process.
For instance, with the production of woolen yarn, before the 18th Century yarn was spun either on spindle or a spinning wheel, either way, one person would spin a single thread of yarn each at any one time, so if you needed 5 threads of yarn spun at one time, you would need 5 people to spin them. In the 1700's machines such as the Spinning Jenny were introduced, these machines coud spin 5 to 6 yarns at a time, with 1 person looking after each machine. (Merrimack Valley Textiles Museum) That very fact alone represents a depersonalization. A hand made item might only be produced by one single person, that one individual has put themselves into every item they produce. Each item they make is entirely personal, and I think this is slowly beginning to be realized and appreciated again through people looking for an escape from the mass produced.
"I do think that in essence we are all human and so will always have a greater response and empathy to objects created by hand. Work that is handmade makes you want to touch and feel what the artist felt, find the shapes in the clay from their hands or the texture of the cloth. There is also the factor of the craftsperson themselves, people love to meet the artist, either personally or via the internet, that whole experience adds to the final piece." (Louise Brainwood, 2015)
Photo featuring one of Louise Brainwoods gorgeous lampshades, linked to her website - please not Louise is having a small break in early April so website will be down during that period.
This is a quote from a practicing Textiles designer maker, and her experiences. This quote has often rung true in my own experience as a craftsperson. The response my work has received in person, in comparison to shop bought products, is significantly different. For example, I wove my mother a scarf for Christmas a few years ago, which I had also hand dyed, inspired by a local country park, Ham Hill. When the scarf is presented to people, showing what my Mum had received from me as a gift, their reaction was weak and
uninterested, until they were informed that I had personally crfated it. The sudden change in interest is unmistakable, with the person instantly wanting a closer look, and to feel and smell the item, with almost shocked expressions as they question whether I really had made it from scratch. I've often witnessed this shock and awe with many of my pieces, some people asking if id woven it on a machine, as apposed to a hand loom, because they are unable to believe that something so fine and intricate could possibly be crafted by hand. Or maybe it's something to do with the lack of knowledge or experience about production processes other than that done by a machine.
'The machine here is not villain but helpful beast, that's fully accommodated into daily life and made part of the scene.' (Rowly, 1999) I feel that, with the resurgence of craft in recent years, maybe the hierarchy of the artisan may come back to a certain degree. I don't think it will ever be the same as it was before the industrial revolution, I'm not convinced that sort of respect for skilled craftspeople could ever resurface entirely. However, I do believe a certain amount of respect is being revived, and so along with that, there may be more willingness to learn and specialize in a craft, or at least try; and therefore realizing the work it takes to become highly skilled, and so respecting the professional artisan that specializes in such crafts.
I also think that being an artisan is changing, and as the quote says above, the machine will, or has, become part of it and it won't be questioned. For instance the sewing machine; although we have had some slightly less mechanical versions than we have today, in earlier times where women spent their days weaving, spinning and sewing, they would have been hand sewing; now a skilled seamstress or tailor is more than allowed to use a competerized sewing machine without losing their artisan status. So maybe as long as there is some hand work involved in your craft, i.e. pattern drawing and cutting, the guiding of the fabric through the sewing machine, then there is no harm in using a machine to speed up some of the process; so as mentioned in the quote above, the machine becomes 'helpful beast' and part of the artisan scene.
What are your thoughts on the status of artisan makers in the wider community?
And do you think its acceptable to use machines to aid the process?
I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Thanks for reading,