The team at arch2O shared their thoughts about what has become of craft in contemporary times.

‘Craft’- Is it a word that has been silenced over shouty tags such as ‘digital’, ‘manufacture’, ‘fabrication’ and ‘3D printing’? To me, the word ‘craft’ somehow echoes imagery from the past or visions of several antique items piled up at an art collector’s garage.

Craft has been defined ever since the medieval times as a profession that is passed down from a master craftsman to an apprentice. A craft is, thus, handed down and undergoes a slow process of improvisation with changing times.

Craft flourished under the reign of kings. Artists traveled within the kingdom and the spread of crafts from one end of the world to the other was inevitable. With the slow decline of kingdoms, the future of craft that was promoted by royalty looked bleak. With the decline of craft, came the Industrial Revolution, which eclipsed craft with “soulless” machine-driven mass production. Inevitably, mass production became the norm of the day. Capitalism went one step further in almost completely annihilating the human hand in the production industry.

Antiques, Arts & Crafts

Manufacturers are thrusting millions of copies of one product. Before you know it, it is replaced by the next “advanced” version of what was sold to us as the best ever. Author, Bryant H. McGill, very rightly quotes:

“The loss of craftsmanship has turned America into a sweeping franchised wasteland of disposable goods”

Here, ‘America’ is synonymous to countries across the globe. Yet, in all the mainstream action of the inevitable fabricate-dispose cycle, there is an alter ego, a silent voice, that yearns for a diametric intervention in this monotony. It wants us to search for something of a rarer quality, experience the patina of usage, gloat in the trait of timelessness and maybe even pass it down as an heirloom. The search for all these qualities may end well in a “crafted” object.

Often synonymously used with something that is more personal than mass- produced, ‘crafts’ are assumed to be those that are either made by hand or with the use of basic tools. In an age where human skills are dwindling, craft is sold as luxury. From my own experience, I can say that a handmade dining table would take about the same time as fabricating ten similar dining tables with a machine. Would it be questionable if the price tag bore the same equation when time equals money? For example, a handcrafted Patek Phillipe or Breguet can easily surpass the average American’s annual salary while a Seiko or Swiss Legend watch could be picked up on a whimsical shopping spree.

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Although, there is a seeming want for craft, even at a relatively smaller scale, I am also saddened to see that several crafts have gone into oblivion while those that have remained are slowly waning away. Newer generations have taken a keener interest towards individualistic inventions than acquired apprenticeship that requires complete submission to a master craftsman. This has also led to the proliferation of “artificially crafted” products flooding the market that are worthless imitations of a hand-made product. Craftiness, for lack of a better word, seems to be so yearned for that manufacturers react to this want consumers have by ‘craft- ifying’ things.

A very prominent example of craft-ifying, would be wreaths for front doors, now that they are in season. There are wreath kits, with plastic fruits and plastic leaves that you would purchase at Michaels, as remnant of what was once a symbol of wealth and fertility. Today, they are used as a crafty thing you hang on your door as seasons change. Neighbors compete for who’s the craftiest of them all? These mass-produced objects, with slight variation from manufacturer to the other, flood the Walmarts and Big Lots.

Christmas-Themed Wreath

At this time, let’s ask this: What is a craft? Craft is the use of a person’s abilities in a particular field. That said, if smiths, cobblers, carpenters, weavers, and potters are craftsmen, wouldn’t surgeons, hairdressers, lab technicians, also be? With the misconception of crafts being solely manually produced. People blame the fast-progressing technology for the decline. We should pause and consider craft as simply the ability of a person to fabricate things using given skills. This raises a second question: Are crafts declining or rather the traditional methods of craftsmanship are? When one stops to consider that artisans are embracing technology by revamping unfinished machine-fabricated products to meet the needs of customers, it brings to light that technology might actually help craftsmen. A product that bridges craft with technology well is the German Leica Camera. This ad challenges that very idea of craftsmanship today:

In the fast-paced lifestyle of today, people choose ‘faster’ and ‘easier.’ As the world has evolved with the fast-paced technology, so have the craftsmen. Just as one recognizes the traditional process, one must also appreciate the ability of the artisans to produce goods with the help of modern technology. One must appreciate the actual product, instead of nitpicking over the path of production. After all, why else do artisans fabricate goods if not for them to be treasured?

Though craft is surely diminishing, keeping craft alive is vital for the generations to come, if anything, because craft is the mother of fabrication. Today’s fabrication trends would be baseless without a thorough understanding of how they were traditionally crafted. The final question I have to ask is this. Is Craft lost or can it be found? The answer lies on our choices.

Coauthored: Aishwarya Pai, Aiysha Alsane, Carola Winnie

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