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.
Over the summer walking our dogs has been squeezed in between assignments, often at the end of the day as a bit of a chore.
Today I needed to find some inspiration so after I had dropped Reef off at school I took the dogs up to our local wood. Ours is a busy town with lots of commuters heading in to London and more coming in to WGC to work at places like Tesco’s HQ or Roche pharma. It is too easy to forget how close we actually are to nature.
Sherrard’s Wood is located alongisde the A1 and is a real haven as well as being a wood of special scientific interest. With the recent rain you can smell the dank earth that will soon be sprouting all kinds of mushrooms. The leaves haven’t really started falling yet so it is lovely and green with the sun streaming through. There are scots pines, beech, birch, oak, sweet chestnut, hornbeam and other trees I don’t know. We often meet other dog owners we know and do that oh so British thing – comment on the weather.
Walking helps me to think, to set my day in order and focus my mind. Sometimes I find myself drafting a tricky sentence in my head and it’s often when I get my mad ideas. The dogs quite like it too.
My eldest son is home from Uni where he is studying 3-D design. After 2 years it looks like what he most wants to do is design furniture, working with wood and metal. This is his stool based on an Egyptian throne. In fact since he’s been home he’s decided to make himself a new bed so our alleyway is littered with wood and the whole house smells of varnish.
While he was sanding the wood I found him watching one of my favourite TED talks by Sir Ken Robinson. If you have never come across this amazing man I encourage you to view the talks here.
He is described as an educationalist but is so much more than that. A professor of education, he also led the UK commission on creativity, education and the economy in 1998. These days he is an internationally recognised leader in the development of creativity, innovation and human resources in education and in business.
For me, his championing of creativity in education is what resonates the most with me . Broadly he argues that if children aren’t allowed to develop their creativity, they may not be able to unlock their problem solving abilities and that is crucial. It’s not just crafts people that need to be creative. Everyone from scientists to entrepreneurs, from doctors to care workers need to be able to problem solve, to make decisions about a situation and move it forward. Without imagination, and the ability to see a situation in 360 degrees rather than in a linear way, our world just wouldn’t progress. And it has been this way for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. How do you think man invented the wheel? How did Sir Isaac Newton make that quantum leap from a falling apple to uncovering the secrets of gravity? How did we get to the moon?
Yet our children are tested and examined like never before. I understand that government needs to know our future generations are able to read and write, but what about the qualitative side of education. Children are all unique and develop at completely different rates. They need to have the room to breathe instead of worrying about the next exam. They need to be allowed to be creative and express themselves in whichever way they are comfortable with. As anxiety among young people increases in such a stellar way, surely there is a better way to nurture them? I firmly believe that putting creativity at the heart of our education system is not only fundamental but just plain exciting.
Oh yes, and Sir Ken is pretty funny as well.