June 3, 2023
How many times have you seen a maker depicted as hands without a head? A discussion of making in craft opens a Pandora’s box of issues that have been debated for centuries and yet still elicit strong and differing opinions. What differentiates art and craft? How do we perceive makers? Who can be called an artist and who must be called an artisan or craftsperson? Why does the nomenclature matter? Where does a designer fit into art or craft and today, as a new term emerges, who is an Artisan Designer? What is the relationship between imagination and skill, concept and execution? Many of these divisions did not exist in traditional crafts and many of the concepts and terms do not exist in the native languages of makers in India. Once when I protested an artisan using a design our organization had given him, he answered, “You didn’t give me a design; you gave me an idea.” What exactly then is a design?
Much of the debate is actually about value, hierarchy, and status. What is the worth of a maker performing skilled labor, and of one creating his cultural heritage? If a maker creates in brass or gold, polyester or silk, does the value of her work change? Is a handmade leather bag more valuable than a handmade leather shoe?
Our perceptions of art, craft and design impact the livelihoods and shape the quality of life of makers. Photo: Mark Tuschman