The Intrinstic Value of Handcraft

April 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

We live in a world where we can buy so many inexpensive and efficient things that function so well. Why bother to make anything by hand today, much less something ubiquitous like jewelry?

The Ark Collection by Jenne Rayburn

Every Spring I look forward to Craft Boston, hosted by the Society of Arts and Crafts, where I am annually exhilarated by conversations with artists who speak passionately about why craft matters. This year, my husband Josh and I met ceramicist Rob Sieminski, who spoke about the importance of the handmade in our daily lives. Our discussion was both inspiring and provoking, and here are some thoughts I took from our conversation.

Most of our daily interactions are with mass-produced goods, created by the thousands. Some may have been made partly by hand, but any evidence of handwork is usually absent. Most goods are made completely by machine. As a result, these products are relentlessly uniform and anonymous.

Although many of the mass-produced objects that surround us have meanings and stories attached to them, the stories often have little or no relevance to the object itself. Brand names, designer labels and celebrity endorsements, for example, create associations of quality and exclusiveness and connect with personal beliefs and interests; however, this is value through association, not inherent value. Once we lose interest in the meaning of and the identies behind the products, they are frequently discarded and can be easily replaced.

In contrast, handmade objects are nuanced. They express the skill involved in making; exclusivity due to the cost of production; authenticity because of human workmanship and materiality linked to a specific historical and cultural lineage. The intrinsic value of handmade objects is that the handmade object reflects its maker and references meanings or values that are part of a rich narrative that genuinely connect to the ideals and culture of the consumer.

Take, for example, a typical drinking glass. No matter how you hold it, the experience is the same. Every time you use the glass, the experience is the same. There is no nuance, no complexity, no authenticity, and we are not challenged to appreciate, or even consider the glass – how it feels in the hand, its weight, texture or any other quality. On the other hand, to contemplate and admire the complexity of a hand blown glass or a hand thrown clay cup, can bring a sense of wonder, appreciation, and even a new perspective.

Handmade objects can be more durable and more enduring than those of mass-production because their value is centered on their materiality; the object is as important as the stories and meaning behind it. It is not just a monetary investment. It is an investment in your values and your culture that supports a local way of life, environmental stewardship and craft heritage.

Beyond the personal satisfaction derived from interacting with things handcrafted, there is a larger issue, something our contemporary lives are lacking. You know that saying about food, that “you are what you eat”? Well, the same principle applies to your mind. We become more like whatever we put into our head, more like the experiences we have everyday. Things handcrafted repeatedly challenge our preconceived ideas, stimulate our senses and enrich our lives. If we do not have the opportunity to experience this in our personal lives, how can we hope to meet and engage with people and ideas different then ours, with tolerance and respect?

Thank you Rob for taking time to chat with us at Craft Boston. It was a wonderful reminder that, the more and diverse experiences you have, the more opportunities there are to make connections between seemingly unrelated ideas – which, regardless of your occupation or aspiration, is critical to creativity, innovation and collaboration. Why not add the power of handmade to your daily routine?


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