I’ll admit it: sometimes, I’m a snob.
What prompted this thought? The other day, someone creative referred to another creative person as “extremely talented”, so I checked out their work, of course. I’m always on the hunt for fabulous new art/craft/design, right? I was disappointed. The new work was nice, it was pleasant, it was well-made, and someone will buy it. But really, it wasn’t special. It wasn’t that ‘grab-you-by-the-throat’ goodness that makes you swoon a little.
My immediate reaction was, I’m sick to death of people saying things are amazing when they’re not really. By all means say they’re lovely, say they’re cute, say they’re beautiful, but not ‘a-MAZ-ing’. I pondered my reaction for a while. Why are we using these words?
Are we devaluing skill and artistry in this renaissance age of handcrafted?
It’s a wonderful time for all of us who appreciate handmade. For makers, it’s so easy to make things – there are a plethora of DIY, How-Tos and You-Tubes on just about anything you care to mention, and technology has given us easy access and tools. But this has led to a rash output of stuff that, quite frankly, is not that good.
So my NEXT thought was, have we lost our understanding of quality?
Part of the problem comes from folk who DON’T try. Because they don’t do, they don’t understand that ALL of us are able to produce beautiful things, if we just try a little harder. I’ll say it again – we are all capable of making things and creating beauty. So when those who don’t make stuff see someone who does something, they call them ‘talented’. I wouldn’t. I would call them courageous, engaged, connected, but not especially talented.
It’s important to encourage each other, to build each other up, to congratulate each other on our achievements. But do we need to change our language? It’s a big grey area that should be teased apart a little.
For the folk that DO have a go, another part of the problem comes from results-driven DIY. So many instructions for doing and making out there! but a great deal of this information is about quick solutions and short cuts, with the focus on end results.
Where does that leave highly skilled craft?
There are truly skilled people out there, with years, sometimes decades of dedicated experience in their chosen field. (And it’s true, there are some exceptionally talented people who switch into these skills a whole lot quicker than most.) Utter familiarity with materials and their processes gives rise to both delicate nuance and to virtuosity in the maker’s work. Such skill and care is appreciated by other seasoned makers who recognise the hallmarks of years of practice. Peter Dormer, author of the seminal The Art of the Maker said
“a carefully made object carries with it the record of how much its maker valued the work.”
The work itself reveals all those years of trying, of experiments and failures. It’s the heart and soul of the maker on display.
Artistic vision is necessary, but not enough on its own – vision and expertise work best when they’re used together. Craft expertise gained through long years of practice allows the maker to fully explore an idea to get to the best solution; skill adds depth, meaning and substance to an object.
I don’t think I’m really being a snob. There IS a place for DIY, there is a place for using our skills to make handmade to sell and swap, instead of relying on lots of mass-produced goods. I want more people to make things! But I am also asking people to hone those skills. I am asking people to experiment, to fail, to learn, to reach higher. The more we use our skills, the better we get at doing stuff ourselves. The more we work at our skills and vision, the more we value just what it is that we are capable of. And, the more we value those that are truly gifted.
We need to re-connect with what we are capable of.
I want people to do. I want people to ASPIRE. I want people to put in the hard yards. There IS no shortcut, skill is a beautiful thing, and I want people to recognise it for what it is.
Do you agree that there is a great lot of poor quality work out there? Is the DIY movement a good thing? How do you think we can help lift people up and improve their skills?
When you look back at your own work from a few years ago, do you think that your ideas and skills have progressed? Have those years of practice changed the way you view things? Or do you look back at stuff you haven’t touched for years and know that your skills are way behind where they were then?
SO many questions, and I would love your thoughts! Feel free to leave links to your own work below, or to others whose work you admire.