A really interesting book landed on my desk called On Craftsmanship – Towards a New Bauhaus by Christopher Frayling, former Rector of the Royal College of Art and Chairman of the Arts Council England and the Design Council.
My son has just completed his dissertation as part of his degree course at Manchester School of Art – you may have seen me post pictures of his furniture. Part of his worked focussed on the democratisation of design and craftsmanship. He looked at organisations such as Open Desk, a very interesting collective of designers selling open source furniture. The basic idea is you choose the furniture design you like and then find a craftsman near you who can make it for you. This decreases the cost to the environment as well as making good design more affordable – the very epitome of the democratisation he wrote about. If you are able to make it yourself you can simply buy the CAD/CAM files as Joe did. You can see his Roxanne chair at the top of this post.
So the arrival of this book was apposite. It isn’t a long book but I haven’t had time to read it all yet. In the introduction, Frayling talks about the move from ‘the creative industries to the productive industries’ which seems a very satisfying move to me. His definition of craft as ‘an activity which involves skill in making things by hand’ resonated with me. The word skill had fallen out of favour in the nineties and noughties imho but I celebrate its return. It hints at years of deliberate practise, seeking to improve and build skills, and inherently celebrates age and wisdom.
I recently interviewed Mr Noro who is in his 80s. Many of you will know his amazing yarns that meander through beautiful colour combinations. He has spent his entire working life developing his skill and he is sought out for his abilities. With his kind of skill also comes the generosity and humility to pass the knowledge on to the next generation, which he does to his staff – the ancient relationship between master and apprentice, if you like.
The only things that worries me is that the word ‘craft’ will be overused – it’s already started. Craft should embody the time it takes to acquire skill and not just the latest buzz word used by advertising agencies and marketing consultancies. It needs to have substance.