Rant: Craftsmanship devalued

I have a few pet peeves, and I have a hard time explaining exactly what bugs me about them so much… let me try to explain this one.

I hate crafty stuff.

As a culture, we have lost the sense that every one of us has the ability to hand-craft items of quality.  We’ve also largely lost the appreciation for hand-crafted things below the level of masterworks.  In essence, either something is a work of art, or it’s just another piece of flotsam.  The well-made but not as flashy item is… unknown, nearly.  And we are the poorer for it, in so many ways.

Frankly, it’s hard to find anything that’s well-made, from good materials, that will last – made at home or in a factory.  Well.  Unless you buy vintage or from an individual.  But if you go to the mall, you’re not going to see it.   And because we encounter items that can last so seldom, we get used to an insane amount of waste in our lives.   We take no thought to the materials needed to produce the things, we don’t think about the environmental cost, and we don’t think about the labor.  Because we see none of this.  (This is also one of the reasons I hate that we have exported so much of our manufacturing.  I think it is good to see and feel the costs of production, rather than sending them somewhere else.  It keeps us mindful of our consumption).

But what does that have to do with crafty stuff?  Shouldn’t I *love* crafty stuff if I appreciate craftsmanship?  NO.  Because most crafty stuff is designed to take perfectly good materials and reduce their value.  I worked at a craft store for two years… what did I see?  Endless perfectly good t-shirts, ruined with sloppy paint.  Piles and drifts and oceans of plastic … made into not-especially-attractive shapes, destined to be glue-gunned to some other piece of plastic.  Dust catchers galore.  Almost nothing designed for use, and very little that could withstand use once it was “decorated”.

Instead of learning how to do useful and beautiful things with their hands, and suffering through the beginning stages of learning, making things that could be used up (aprons, potholders, pots, scarves, rugs…) until their hands became smarter… they buy kits, spending hundreds of dollars on… flotsam.   I will never forget the woman who said that learning to cross-stitch pillows was too taxing … she’d just puff-paint them, and if they weren’t usable as pillows because of the paint, oh well.  WASTE.

And so society becomes divided, between the people who can use their hands to make things of utility and/or beauty, and the people who choose to make things just to keep their hands busy.

You know – that pipe cleaner and tissue flower has a place.  It has a place in an elementary school classroom, and it has a place where the only materials available are a pipe cleaner and a bit of tissue.  It’s not that all these skills are horrible, it is that there is no thought to adding value, adding beauty… just endless acquisition.  Endless waste.

If everyone who walked into a craft store was willing to learn a craft, and wanted to make beauty from humble materials… ah, we’d see something then.  Maybe we’d see a re-valuing of human labor.  Maybe we’d have a little more self-respect.  Maybe we’d think more carefully about our consumption habits.

So.  I’m all for the crafts, but I hate “crafty”.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s a symptom of a culture totally divorced from reality – from the feel of the soil, the smell of fresh bread, the sound of a children’s choir.  Sure, everyone has to start somewhere – but there’s no reason to stay at stage one forever.  Learn, grow… learn another thing.  You’ll be the better for it.

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8 thoughts on “Rant: Craftsmanship devalued

  1. superslaviswife

    I think the fine line is the mentality. After all, we don’t really shear our own ship or spin our own wool any more, so it’s not just about simplification or removal of steps. And if someone dresses punk, what to another person is an ugly ruined denim jacket, to them is a wearable, attractive item of clothing.

    But when crafting and art becomes a merit-badge matter it starts looking callous. I agree with you on the painted pillows, as she couldn’t use them. But if she got decent fabric paints and learned to use them to their best advantages, making useful pillows she enjoyed, then there wouldn’t be a concern. But, alas, most people just want their merit badges and kudos, not to actually own something practical and attractive.

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    1. fiberaddict

      Um…actually, some of us DO shear sheep and spin yarn, as well as weave cloth. 🙂

      I demo spinning…and the questions I get are hilarious and sad at the same time. I’ve been told I’m: weaving, sewing, threading – I guess the large wheel that is SPINNING isn’t a good enough clue……I’ve been told I can BUY yarn at Wal-Mart (I haven’t been snarky – yet – but my normal response is a surprised “what? walMart sells Alpaca/Silk yarn???? Where????”…..which usually makes them stop and THINK. It’s worse when they find out I will be knitting Socks…..because socks are $7/6 pair, don’t ya know. :sigh: it’s an uphill battle…..

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      1. superslaviswife

        Wow! I’m actually quite impressed. I know so few people who go back to their roots like that. 🙂

        And yes, people undervalue what’s in their own yards. When I go picking berries I get told I can get all sorts of berries in the supermarket. As if I want to walk an hour to the supermarket and get a kilo of raspberries for £17 when I can literally step outside my door and gather 2kg of raspberries, 1kg of blackberries, some currants, some sloes and soon upwards of 7kg of elderberries and hazelnuts for free, in only a couple of hours within minutes of my house. Apparently that’s too much work for some, even if they are essentially saving £289 (£17x17kg) So I hear you.

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      2. hearthie Post author

        She also makes some amazing soap from the milk from those goats… 🙂 Yeah, leave the “get it from the grocery store” for those of us who are on water restriction and have adobe in the back yard. Y’all with good soil (looks at SSW) should be growing things!

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      3. superslaviswife

        And finding things that grow on their own. :p My raspberries are taking forever, but the wild ones are plentiful and neglected. Made around 800g of raspberry jam yesterday and the foraging was the shortest part of the process. They’re everywhere.

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      4. superslaviswife

        Those things were everywhere when I was in Spain! We got resourceful. Tried prickly pear jams? Oooh, prickly pear chutney! THAT was lovely. You could plant them all around your yard and make chutney to sell to NY culinary snobs who want to eat something new and interesting. :p

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