Just joined in the #craftdebate with @CraftsCouncilUK and @Alan_Measles (Grayson Perry). Must remember the hashtags - my replies keep falling off the raydar. This is my first online twitter debate and it's taking me a while to get the hang of things.
There's a special language that emerges from the 120-character limit. The unimportant words get viciously discarded - at least that's the idea. But it doesn't quite work. Really profound contributions may require more than a line or two of text, but they are forced into bite-sized chunks and then interspersed with rubbish from around the world. When a topic grows, how can you filter it to find the relevance for yourself?
Of course the great thing about twitter is that it isn't filtered. We are seeing real news, in real time. The truth comes out and cannot be hidden. Yet it doesn't feel right for a debate about craft - a thoughtful medium with a caring response to detail and slowness, both things that twitter lacks. Responses came thick and fast and I couldn't possibly keep up. Replies went unanswered as I lost all thread of meaning in the jumbled conversation. So I will take some time to re-read and think about it now...
The summation in my head was this:
Craft is about a sympathetic interaction between person and material. The tools we use to do this are irrelevant (the debate was about technology in craft). Hands, hammers or photoshop, they are all just different tools to aid our mastery of material.
The question came up of "skill". The "skill" side of craft I believe is essential, yet commonly misunderstood. Whilst a fluency with the tools you use is important, that is not what makes a skilled craftsperson. The craftsmanship comes through a kind of material understanding - knowing what the tools can do and using them appropriately. This is the difference between pure technical skill and well-made craft.
A craftsman will always know his materials, first and foremost. A designer can use 3D software to create a building/brooch/car/teapot, but these will fail without an understanding of the materials needed to create these works. The computer is just a tool, and the craft skill comes from material knowledge.
When we work together with a tool we are able to control it, yet it also directs us in some way. A craftsman will work together with his tools and materials in harmony, accepting their limitations and feedback, adjusting his design to suit. Listening to the world.
The problem with technology in a purely digital form is that it is missing that feedback loop. Grayson Perry remarked that "the results of digital production often have a lifeless feeling...because the machine will do exactly what is asked of it and no more".
We have seen this problem in the craft world before. Plastic as a material transformed manufacturing and craft as it's plasticity allowed us to create anything we wanted. No longer limited by a material's properties we were suddenly free from compromise and able to be the Director rather than a Partner in the making process. Today's 3D printers and augmented reality have thrown us into a similar debate. We can now create anything we want, yet something is lost from this. As a creative, an open brief is the hardest one to be given.
Designers think outside the box. They naturally look for unusual avenues, paths unfollowed, exotic places to explore that are outside the scope of 'normality' (the box). So, what if there is suddenly no box? In a world where anyone can make anything, where does the element of creativity come in?