As someone who has failed miserably in the art of whittling, woodworking in shop class, knitting, crocheting, and anything that involves using a couple of what seem like unwieldy yet magic wands to spin yarn and textiles into spectacular ready-wear creations, I understand the ‘draw’ of digital tools. It’s easier. We use machines and computers for convenience. While often they can do the impossible–sometimes they are responsible also for transforming average talent into something truly impressive. And sometimes they mask it as well.
But handmade items? They are true art–and you know this if you’ve tried and failed, or if you do make handmade pieces, taking hours to complete beautiful things. Authentic, truly crafted wares made, spun, polished, and built by artisans never go out of style. They never become boring or routine. They are unique, often with flaws that make them more unique, sort of like that incredibly attractive person who has a tiny little chipped tooth, or the slightly imperfect piece of naturally grown fruit. Things made by hand are special in that they are not uniformly made in a factory or presented to us lickety split after we hit ‘send’ on the printer.
Now, in a true example of showing that you just never know what the next trend is going to be, numerous art students, preferring to rely on the true talent that is in their hands–rather than on the keyboard–are tossing all that fancy, hifalutin’ technology straight out the window. Kerplow! Take that CAD! Take that 3D printing! It’s back to basics, for those who in terms of skill, can actually afford to go there.
Tossing all this magnificent new technology on its ear seems to be a growing trend for ‘real’ artists in the UK. And consumers, if platforms like Etsy are any example, are eating it up. What about truly oldworld ‘crafts’ like silversmithing or carving earthen materials like stone and wood?
Karen Westland is currently in a silver-smithing residency at Bishopsland in the UK, which offers a one-year program. She explains that those who purchase handmade, truly crafted works are looking for the comprehensive artistic package, from the textiles to the way it was made by a specific person.
“People are buying a piece of you, rather than the work itself,” she says. “There’s something special about being able to make something unique that’s the only one in the world.”
Many students are, of course, becoming well-versed in CAD and are proud of their skill–which definitely takes effort and practice. That too is not altogether welcome in some of the crafting circles today.
“I have one rule in my classes,” says Hamish Dobbie, a second year teacher of CAD. “If you can make it by hand, then you’re not making it in CAD!”
Dobbie’s statement is a concise reflection on the growing movement among those enjoying working with more natural tools and putting forth more natural effort.
“No matter how far technology advances, people will always want to physically interact with objects to make them,” he says.
While many will enjoy working from the purest forms and taking this trend to what some may seem as a more extreme level, there are of course other artists bending toward a balance. With traditional and contemporary tools combined, everything has a place, and talent can be displayed on multiple levels, with multiple media.
“Craft has always been about connecting what’s in your brain to your hand. With digital technology, you can make shortcuts,” says Jryi Kermik, a design teacher at Brighton University. “You may not actually need to touch the material, you just make it directly from an image in your mind, to a 3D drawing – and then you print it.”
While we’ve followed numerous stories of art classes who were so excited to have 3D printers in their realm that they were fabricating items that would have been quicker to make otherwise, frustrating teachers who want the tools to be used within reason, this trend shows a wish to preserve history as well, especially with these types of crafts in the UK that have undeniably ancient roots.
“I think what makes craft ‘craft’ is the fact that people have spent more time thinking about what they’re going to make,” says Evan Reinhold, a student in Kermik’s class. “It’s a buzzword at the moment because there’s a reaction against post-modern globalisation, and the label means doing something with a bit more of a reasoned intention, rather than just because you can.”
And again, much of this discussion also involves using the typical artistic sensibility in changing everything up for effect, for reaction, and often–just to see what will happen. In Reinhold’s case, he also enjoys ‘deconstruction,’ in recreating the ways things are made digitally and by machines in more traditional form.
“It’s about realising that stuff doesn’t just turn by magic,” he says. “It’s made somewhere and by someone and I think that’s been forgotten.”
Many artists, like Jack Scott, are turned off by the obvious uniformity of machine-made work. He became a student of woodworking, enjoying the unique art and its materials.
“People may have fewer crafted objects in the house, but they have longer emotional durability, and actual durability because people take care of them better,” said Scott. “Already we’re at a stage where we could live without any hand crafted objects, but people value them more and I think they work well together.”
It is all about perspective and exploration–and obviously, who doesn’t enjoy something handmade by someone doing something many of us can’t? From the artistic point of view, there are certainly many different ways to look at a nearly infinite amount of processes, with no real right or wrong.
If you are an artist working to sell your work, you will probably think you’ve found the correct approach when items are selling. And ultimately, if you are an artist working only for your own sense of satisfaction, you also will know that inimitable warm glow and great feeling that occurs when you’ve produced something unusually wonderful, using just the right tools for that moment in time.