craft a simulacra

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    By David Morgan
     Student No.0516945

This essay is my attempt to define the term ‗craft‘ from a professional perspective as
opposed to an amateur one as I have always maintained a keen interest in this field,
particularly in hand weaving. Since living in Ireland I have attempted to pursue my
interest more seriously but have found this difficult due to the lack of definition of what
craft really is. My interest in this definition is in the use of hands and how it relates to
craft here in Ireland.

I graduated from college almost thirty years ago with an honours degree in woven textile
design, where all the practical work was woven on hand looms. I would have loved to
have began a career as a designer maker, hand weaving one off pieces of art, but ruled by
the need to survive, I did the next best thing and began a career in the textile industry. My
experiences in this industry ranged from weaving technician to designer and from general
manager to the owner of my own small business. Although I worked mainly on my own
in this last venture, with a large amount of machinery and a hands on approach, where the
amount of manual labour was high, I never considered my products to be craft or hand
made. During the last three years of my business, I did buy a handloom and began
weaving one off pieces initially for pleasure, then more seriously as I considered my
options for the future. To this end I joined the Crafts Council of Ireland in the hope that I
may progress my art further and hopefully find direction to market my products. I
attended a seminar in Dublin a year ago, to which I took samples of my work as I wanted
an appraisal and some guidance in how to progress my ideas. I was rather surprised when
I was advised to take one of my ideas to a manufacturer in Turkey to weave the fabric,
and to take the fabric somewhere else to be made up into bags or cushions, to then sell
them through retailers in Ireland. I felt their advice was in contradiction to the word
―craft‖ as surely my product would have now become industrial. It is this dilemma that is
behind the reason for this essay as I would like to explore the term craft and what its
definition is in relation to industry – has it become a simulacra.

Defining Craft
The word craft is explained in the dictionary as ability, skill, artifice, manual art or trade,
whereas industry is defined as any type of productivity, manufacturing or enterprise.
These definitions alone are not enough to establish a distinction between both within the
context of this essay, as it is important to understand and relate these two words to their
respective processes. The word craft is better described as1 ‗an activity e.g. weaving,
pottery, carving that involves making things skilfully by hand often using traditional
techniques, and usually for functional purposes. In contrast industry would be better
understood in distinction to arts and crafts as the2 application of technology to practical
production and in today‘s modern plants this would be highly automated and in some
instances robotic and with little intervention of any particular person.
It is this that is at issue in this essay –the difference between the craft product which by
definition would be handmade, and the mass produced industrial item. More importantly
if a product is labelled as a craft product should it be handmade, or does this not matter,
and if it does not, what is the difference between a craft product and an industrial one?
One thing is certain—there can be no confusion between that which is hand made and
that which is not. Has it now become necessary to label hand made craft products as
‗handmade‘, and not merely as craft? It is also important given the abundance of machine
tools today to define what is indeed meant by the term hand made, as in today‘s modern
craft industry, what if anything is truly handmade-only in a few exceptional
circumstances such as in basket weaving or pottery perhaps. For the cabinet maker or the
wood turner a variety of tools are available from hand powered to electric powered. This
poses a problem –does it matter whether the craftsman uses a power saw rather than a
hand saw to cut his timber, or should the wood turner turn his lathe by treadle rather than
an electric motor? What does matter is that the craftsman is constantly in control of his
tools and materials and that the movements used in the work are essentially the nature of
manipulation. The matter lies differently in an industrial context where the machine
process makes use of the workman as he has become purely an operator, who no longer

    Wikepedia the free encyclopedia
    Abstracting Craft by Malcolm McCullough

requires the skills of the craftsman. The results of the two processes can be seen in the
finished article. The craft product seeks variation in the individual object whereas the
industrial product achieves a precise repetition of each object made and in some
instances, a detail and material quality of work impossible to achieve at any cost by hand.
It would appear therefore that there is no confusion between the hand made and the
industrially produced object, or the methods in which both are made. What is difficult to
understand is why there is so much confusion over the word craft. Undoubtedly it is
being used freely these days with little consideration given to the term and being applied
to products that are most definitely not hand made. Perhaps the term is too ambiguous
and we may have to redefine the word by including ‗hand made‘ in its title in order to
make some distinction as to what craft means in relation to the mass produced industrial
item. Certainly there is a strong case for this as can be seen from the chief executive,
Leslie Reed of the Craft Council of Ireland for 2004, where he states in his report that
    ―many owners of craft micro enterprises identified what they regarded as a missing
offering in the councils projects and schemes a promotion of “Hand Made in Ireland”
brand to help define their products from factory produced imports made in China and
other low cost economies. It was a view that was so consistently reported amongst
members that it merits comment in the council‟s annual report particularly in the light of
the fact that it was most strongly held by craft exhibitors in the annual international trade
fair „Showcase‟, many of whom felt that buyers were being misled by products that look
Irish in terms of design and material but which were not made in Ireland‖. It is also
necessary to distinguish between made in Ireland and hand made in Ireland as both are
presently being sold under the craft umbrella. This makes it extremely difficult for the
hand made product to compete as this would already have a far higher labour cost than
the mass produced item.

The importance of authenticity
This identifies the importance of authenticity in promoting goods and services. The
valuation of the authentic – the genuine and the original by consumers can be closely met
by craft which by definition involves the making of distinctive and individual goods by

    Crafts Councils Annual Report

hand. It is ironic that although the Craft Council could promote ‗Hand Made‘ they cannot
promote ‗Hand Made in Ireland‘ due to bureaucratic EU regulations that prevents any
member state from promoting a country of origin brand which persuades its consumers to
purchase indigenous products of those over other member states.
It is difficult to understand why the word craft has become so clogged up with conflicting
associations that it has become virtually meaningless, almost a liability in the sense of it
not been taken seriously. It is this imprecision which represents the biggest obstacle for
the credibility of craft. Each society, and each sector within society, interprets craft in
different and often contradictory ways. For example, in India craft refers exclusively to
traditional handicraft, such as hand-woven, block-printed and embroidered textiles. In an
article by Lesley Jackson a curator and design historian on the editorial board of the
‗Crafts Magazine‘ in the UK states that Lubna Chowdhary, a British Asian ceramicist of
Indian parentage explains 4―In India, working with clay is considered to be a lowly
occupation, equivalent to a gardener. Indian people regard making things as a basic skill
that most people have, like writing but some people do it more beautifully than others.
Because everyone has these skills, they are not identified as special‖.
In contrast the UK, a more mature and capitalist economy, provides a different climate
for the production and consumption of craft. Even traditional craft such as basket making
often only survive because of an orchestrated revival, as very few craft workers are able
to live by their work. Craft has become a luxury rather than a necessity, something we
choose to do- a channel for self expression, an artistic vocation a hobby or lifestyle
choice. The consumer of modern craft is often a collector following a fashion/trend where
he would see his purchase as an investment and not as a functional item to be used.

The concept of modern craft
The modern day concept of craft has its roots in the late nineteenth century Arts and
Crafts Movement lead by William Morris (1834-1896) and the gentleman and historian
John Ruskin(1819-1900).
Both men were anti-industrialist and supported socialist theories for the regeneration of
man by handicraft. The Industrial Revolution which began in England in the mid

    Craft Wars by Lesley Jackson

eighteenth century was in full swing by the mid nineteenth century. As factories grew in
size and became more and more automated so was the demand for labour for people to
operate the machinery of industry. This saw the decline of cottage industries throughout
the country with people migrating to the towns and factories for work. This decline in the
role of the artisan brought some adverse criticism. Ruskin wrote 5―for it is not the
material but the absence of human labour which makes the thing worthless, a piece of
terra cota or plaster of Paris that has been wrought by human hands is worth all the
stone in Carrara cut by machinery. It is indeed possible and even usual for men to sink
into machines themselves so that even hand work has all the characters of machinery‖.
William Morris firmly believed that the life of the craftsman- be he an artist craftsman
like him, or an artisan craftsman like the stonemasons of medieval England, was
ennobling and spiritually pure. 6―A man at work, making something which he feels will
exist because he is working at it and wills it, is exercising the energies of his mind and
soul as well of his body‖. Bernard Leach (1887-1979)- father of the studio pottery
movement took Morris‘s morality further and turned it into a creed when he argued 7‗The
pot is the man, his virtues and vices are shown therein-no disguise is possible‟. These
views were still influential during the Crafts Revival of the late 1960‘s and early 1970‘s
which was a hippy led, anti establishment movement which promoted craft production
and rural self sufficiency as an acceptable middle class way of opting out. This was an
era that influenced people like me – a post war generation that brought with it a new
found freedom of expression, where love and peace was high on the agenda and where
authority was challenged and questioned.
I believe that craft today needs to establish an identity more than ever before, for it to
survive in any credible form. As industrialisation has developed so to has the concept of
design. Whereas before the Industrial Revolution the design of artefacts was more about
their functionality and appearance, industrialisation shifted attention from the individual
item to mass production and processes such as production planning, quality control and
material optimization became essential. Industrial Design became a skill in itself and with
it a completely new scenario in which to operate. Herbert Read, the great advocate of

  Abstracting Craft By Malcolm McCullough
  Craft Wars by Lesley Jackson
  Craft Wars by Lesley Jackson

industrial design as a high and abstract art stated in 1936 8―The real problem is not to
adapt machine production to the aesthetics of handicraft, but to think out new aesthetic
standards for new methods of production‖. He also identified the dilemma that the
artist/craftsman found himself to be in. “If we decide that the product of the machine can
be a work of art,then what is to become of the artist who is displaced by the machine?
Has he any function in a machine age society , or must he reconcile himself to a purely
dilettante role- must he become, as most contemporary artists have become, merely a
society entertainer?” These were strong words to be used by Herbert Read and although
I‘m not sure I wholeheartedly agree with him, he did illustrate the situation that many
artist /craftsmen found themselves to be in. This situation has not improved even with the
Crafts Revival of the late 1960‘s as the economist E.F.Schumacher observed in 9‗Small is
Beautiful‘ in1973 ―The type of work which modern technology is most successful in
reducing or eliminating is skilful, productive work of human hands, in touch with real
materials of one kind or another. In an advanced industrial society, such work has
become exceedingly rare, and to make a living by doing such work has become virtually

Craft – a simulacra ?
So what is craft today and has it become a simulacra? What indeed is a simulacra?10
French socialist Jean Baudrillard argues that our post modern culture is a world of signs
that have made a fundamental break from referring to reality. Baudrillards concept of
simulation is the creation of the real through conceptual or mythological models which
have no connection or origin in reality. The model becomes the determinant of our
perception of reality—the real. Fashion, Art and Craft, Music, and the way we live have
all become dictated by images presented through the media. The boundary between the
image, or simulation and reality breaks down. For example, it is extremely fashionable to
wear trainers these days to the extent they are worn almost everywhere. Originally they
were a very functional item whose main purpose was as a pair of running shoes. They
have since mutated into all manner of styles some of which have lost all contact with the

  Abstracting Craft by Malcolm McCullough
  Abstracting Craft by Malcolm McCullough
   Baudrillard and Simulation by Byron Hawk

original and are designed as how the designer thinks they should look without
considering their original purpose at all, not that this matters as who really buys a pair of
trainers as a pair of running shoes? More often than not it depends how ‗cool‘ a certain
brand is – more appropriately are they worn by the latest soccer idol or pop star.
Perhaps to compare the word craft with a pair of trainers may not seem to be appropriate,
but within the confines of this essay I think both are probably as confused with the
original concept of that which they had both once conveyed. Both have lost touch with
that which was once real.
Certainly it would seem the word craft has reinvented itself. Old fashion terms such as
craftsman have been supplanted by craftsperson, maker or designer maker. Potters have
become ceramicists and glass makers have become glass artists. More and more craft
products sold in Ireland are no longer hand made but with increasing competition of
products made in low cost economies there is now a greater pressure on the economic
viability of small craft based industries. As a result there is a growing tendency to invest
in more modern/automated plant or to outsource their manufacturing. I would argue that
many of these businesses are now no different than the large industrial companies- the
only difference is that they are just a lot smaller in size, acting locally in reaction to
anonymous, globalized industrial production. The Craft Council of Ireland continues to
sell these products as craft with their only credentials are as being ‗craft like‘, which
would truly make the word a simulacrum.
If we are to accept that the definition of the word craft has changed, I believe that it is
time that organisations like the Craft Council of Ireland redefine it within their brief –
how it differs from industrial production and as requested include a ‗hand made‘brand.
Unless this is addressed there is a danger that everything hand made will achieve no more
than an amateur status and no longer be taken seriously. It is interesting to note that in the
Chairman‘s report for the Craft Council of Ireland he states 11―our recognition goal is
factored on shifting public perception of craft from the traditional concept of the artisan
to the creative entrepreneur‖. It may be true that public perception of what craft is may
be changing but it is important for organisations such as these to recognise the part they
play in altering our ideas. As in the essay by Adorno ―The Culture Industry‖ – where he

     Crafts Councils Annual Report

pontificates about the role bureaucracy plays in shaping our perception of art it could be
argued that all the while craft like products are endorsed as being craft then our
perception of what is craft will never change.

Today the word has resurfaced in popular usage as a verb. People ‗craft‘ everything from
good stout beer to organic cheese. As a noun we generally identify it with folk art at best
and rustic shops full of tourist trinkets at worst. Unlike art where we identify with the
artist whose exhibition of paintings it is, it is more common in craft to identify where a
product comes from as this is usually what makes the product identifiable. For example a
Scottish tartan is unique when compared with Welsh tweed – both are instantly
recognisable. If we are to accept this shift in the perception of craft where the designer
/entrepreneur prototypes his product here and has it made elsewhere, what happens when
all the Welsh woollen mills close and all the tweed is made in China ? Will we be so
happy to buy it as Welsh tweed? Will it be sold as Welsh? I believe authenticity is going
to play a much larger role in the future in our determination of what is real.
What is certain is that craft in the true sense of the word remains skilled work towards
practical ends. It is habitual skilled practice with particular tools, materials, or media, for
the purpose of making well executed artefacts, it is the application of personal knowledge
to the giving of form. It is not about standardized artefacts, and is not industrial design. It
remains about the individual prepared artefact-the original idea. I also consider it
essential to the craft process for the designer /maker to be in full control of his artefact at
all stages of its production rather than outsourcing it. Otherwise there is no difference to
the designer of a large corporation who designs a product in the design studio who then
out source‘s its production and retains little contact with the artefact from thereon. Craft
will probably always be an open ended term but for those of us who take it seriously
there is a growing need to promote it properly.

Abstracting Craft by Malcolm McCullough
Crafts Councils Annual Report 2004
A Dictionary of Art and Artists by Peter and Linda Murray
Craft Wars by Lesley Jackson
Baudrillard and Simulation by Byron Hawk
Wikipedia the free encyclopedia
Knowledge Work as Craft Work by Jim McGee
The Culture Industry by Theodor Adorno


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