Monday, March 23, 2009

The Business of Craft?

This article in The Age on Sunday stirred up some major mixed emotions for me.

On the one hand it is great to see the continually growing profile of contemporary craft everywhere you look. As someone who has always loved craft it is wonderful to see it celebrated and embraced and receiving it's dues.

On the other hand it brings to the fore the contentious debate of what constitutes professional craft, and with it the potential to compartmentalise and divide a community that is forged (long before our time) on a foundation of unity, connectivity and respect.

Anyone who is passionate about craft knows that there is good and bad out there in the world. I'm not just talking about personal taste and opinions, but cold hard fact in relation to quality of materials, attention to detail and finish, packaging, customer service, etc, etc. Yes, like all things in life craft exists on a spectrum of exquisite to simply awful.

However, who is to say who of us should be out there trying to make a living from our craft and who should not? The response to your work (customers, feedback, sales) will tell everything you need to know (and some things you didn't want to) about your work. You own creative voice and that of a trusted network of other crafters will also provide invaluable information if you're prepared to listen. Sometimes the best way to learn is by giving it a go and taking the step. There's nothing wrong with it. No-one is forced to buy your product. No-one is forced to like it. I think you're allowed to give it a go. I think you're even allowed to fail, to learn from mistakes, to change direction, try new things and completely evolve as a crafter.

To me craft is so much about the process as well as the end result. By process I mean so many things. The process of designing, conceptualising and creating an end result. The process of coming together as part of a community of like minded and passionate individuals. Perhaps most importantly to me though is the process of standing up, taking a risk and putting yourself out there.

The current revival of the craft movement is surely thanks to both those who have worked hard to have it recognised at the higher end and those who, despite trends and fads, are truly inspired and passionate about craft in all its forms. In fact I imagine that the craft community probably is and will continue to be the greatest advocate and strongest supporter of the growth of contemporary craft. Long after the media have lost interest and the trendsetters have moved on to the next trend crafty people will still love craft. Crafty people will still buy, make and sell craft.

I hate to think of the potential for some aspiring crafter on the verge of taking an enormous step into selling their creative wares to read that article and feel completely intimidated, unwelcome and not good enough.

I think there's room for everyone in this renaissance.


  1. I will paddle the Wonky Craft canoe to both Camps and stay longest at which ever is nicer. But I may throw the lacy teddies with earrings overboard on the way.

  2. Thanks for the link to this article - interesting. The old art vs craft chestnut will always be around, but I think you're right abt the customer being the judge in the end. And, really, who cares if it is high art or high-craft or whatever anyone calls it. As long as the crafter enjoys making it - that's the power in crafting...

    oh, and yay to Liz and her wonky canoe throwing lacy teddies overboard. What a hilarious image I have in my mind now LOL

  3. Yeah, me too! (The wonky image that is) I read that article this morning and was interested but also very frustrated by it. I too believe that we should just have a go and do what we do. You said it so well.

    I was amused when folks pointed the article out to me and said - 'Hey, look, apparently crafting is cool now!' with that note of amazement that shows that clearly they assume that I have been living the life of an irredeemable dork.

    I feel like saying a big 'So What?' to the dectractors and YAY to the kids giving it a go.

  4. hmmm, the article certainly did nothing to enliven my sunday breakfast.
    I think I am with Liz on this one - although I am not fond of water so I shall stay on a little island in the middle and every single person who wants to make something, anything is welcome to paddle their wonky or otherwise canoe over and join in.

  5. Of course, all high-end crafters had to start somewhere, too....
    Having a go and seeing what works and what doesn't is DEFINITELY what it's all about. Skills don't improve without practise.

    Funny - when I read the article I only took the positive aspects from it. I just disregarded any comments about comparisons between high-end and amateur/newbie/craft-for-fun. There's a place for all types of craft.

  6. I wish that I hadn't read that article 6 days before my first ever foray into trying to sell my wares at a craft market.
    I'm usually really positive about getting out and having a go, but I'm feeling a bit like my stuff now isn't good enough.
    I think I need some sleep!

  7. At times it does seem like there is a 'club' of a few. I would hope however that the crafting community is a supportive one. Some have got the ability to market themselves well with great business sense. Maybe the professional crafters make what sells well rather than make what they actually love to make? Either way, the article made me a bit uncomfortable. I don't sew straight but I love doing it! Great post Cath. x

  8. I thought the article was quite good until I got to the middle section.

    I really dislike the high art vs craft debate.

    Really... isn't it about the making? If you enjoy making then that's the best thing to get out of it. Not everyone is going to like what you make, the same as I don't like all of those "fancy schmancy" high art pieces - doesn't mean I'm going to be an arse, just means their work doesn't suit my tastes.



  9. fantastic post lady!isnt art in the eye of the beholder?i read the article and felt bad for feeling negative doing so.I want to live on the island that jodie lives on and betty jo visits!viva la wonk!

  10. I suppose the article focused on the high end people because they're perceived as being the only ones worthy of attention, which is a bit sad but the way it is. We all know differently - that the big names, the high end crafters are great, but so, dammit, are the rest of us!

  11. I had mixed feelings about that article too! Love what Betty Jo has to say!

    It's not all about in the selling either! Why not just craft to enjoy!

  12. Great response, you've been getting me to thinking. Like Nikki I just saw the positive of the article and glossed over that I find challenging. I have been thru these kind of debates before and feel they do little for me and my creativity and joy so now I just do what I do. Like all things including craft popularity, these arguments do seem to go in cycles, and in the meantime many of us just continue to make and create for a whole number of reasons.

  13. Keep on Crafting!

    There's a lot of debate going on out there, huh - don't let it get you down, though. How dull if we were all the same.

    Keep in mind that people often (usually?!) get misquoted or have words pulled out of context - so don't get too furious without knowing exactly what was asked/said. I have personally been misquoted MANY times (but not on this occasion).

    Plus - do note that Pene Durston and Cathy Hope are HUGE supporters of craftspeople - and surely they deserve support too.

    However - I don't agree with what was said in the final points attributed to Cathy and Pene in The Age article! (But I respect their right to voice their opinions.)

    Keep in mind the following points:
    We all 'own' craft - it's part of all of our lives and we don't have to prove ourselves to anyone.

    Craft is as natural as gardening and cooking - and although some people elevate it to it's highest form, others do it just for fun - and either is just great!

    It's no one's business if you sell your things, except your own - just be sure you are not selling yourself short and YOU are happy with your work.

    Don't let craft be a way for women to judge other women. Craft is a way for us to come together - and girls OUR craft community is NOT like this. It's not divided - we all get along and support each other and we'll continue to do that. A couple of sentences do not change the fact that in a short time a HUGE community has found new ways of coming together, making things, learning new skills, improving and making real friendships. That was what the article was really about. Yay us!

    xx Pip

  14. Ooh yes I totally agree! Good to read this perspective on the article as I felt similarly.

    I couldn't help but think that those who made the somewhat discouraging comments might have been doing so to protect their own financial stake in the market (eg your namesake) - I imagine they would feel rather threatened when once they had the niche to themselves!

    But I agree with what Pip says too :)

  15. im going to read it and have a think...will be back!

  16. It reminds me of when I was in art school and feeling unsure how to bridge what I thought to be two separate worlds - that of my painting and that of my fiber art. I finally realized that the two worlds were one because it was me creating them. LOL

    What I think is that the act of making things is the act of making art. I've been around people who've made things my entire life - from my great Aunts all the way to myself and now my son. (He sews a button on really well now and he's just 4!)

    My grandmother made incredible wool quilts that were very abstract due to her economic use of leftover fabric. I consider these creations art - it's like a wool Kandinski or something. The randomness was part of her process as well as the restriction to use only scraps. Her use of colour was amazing. That is art.

    Also, perfecting skills is not finite, it is infinite. I intend to continue perfecting and examining my skills and process for my life - it's how I live. I think anyone who makes things does this. Part of the thrill is in attaining the skills. :-)

    I think one of the things that makes the crafting community unique is the close knit connections. I've felt a renewed vigor in what I do because of blogging along with you all.

  17. It's so great to read all the comments and viewpoints being expressed. Keep them coming.

    I think that one of the strengths of our community is the ability to listen to and consider new ideas, to be innovative in our thinking and to truly embrace diversity.

    It is wonderful to be a part of such an amazing community.

  18. interesting article..........I do think some people only do some things as they see it trendy.......doesn't matter what your craft/art so long as you do your best wrok................
    mind you I have been to a "well known" craft shop and found some goods excellent quality and others total C*&%^%p charging way to much money.....hope the bad does not reflect on others who do excellent work......I am sure people are no confident enough to point out the rubbish as they are portrayed as cool etc........
    for me having just spent a weekend with a large group of women of various ages coming together to share the one love........that is soooo special.........goodluck with your craft.......enjoy it not matter what.........

  19. HHHmmmm, this is an interesting a professionally trained designer I "get" some of the comments that are making people uncomfortable and frustrated. They were the same sort of arguments that surrounded us as we did our design degrees alongside fine artists who painted. BUT as a woman who turned to craft at a time of great stress in my life I totally get the other side of the story. If I hadn't started crafting I don't know what state I would be in. I think that craft should be for everyone, with no judgements. However, when one starts to sell their craft output, that's unfortunately when judgement is applied. Pip is right, we should NOT use our craft to judge or compete, we should support each other in our crafty endeavours.
    And great post tinnie girl!

  20. This has been a great discussion and I have enjoyed reading it and seeing all veiws. Craft is often a touchy subject for me because the way my mum uses the word makes it sound dirty, second rate, quaint but not fit for her home. yet it was her who taught me to sew, knit and tinker, only thing is I expanded on it and made it part of my life, much like breathing. I guess she is like a lot of people. They just dont get it and I had to come to terms with this and realize that all that matters is I "get it" and thank the crafty goddess that theres 10000s of guys like you that get it too.

  21. on ya tinniegirl, if i knew how to type a really load round of applause i would. It's like people complaining about bad quality dramas on TV, if you dont like it change channels. Same with craft if you dont like it dont buy it, it's called personal taste - those comments in the paper only give fuel to the outsiders perception that the craft world is a clicky group and others are not really welcome. Not to be nasty but thats just how i perceived it, guess thats just personal opinion too. Your words and thoughts to me are spot on. lots of good karma comming your way - nomes (you know who x)

  22. I was firstly excited by the article to see quotes from people I knew (yay for Rayna and Gemma!) then a big annoyed. I think it's the comments from the person on the board from Craft Victoria were interesting. I sell at their Craft Hatch regularly and the staff have all been absolutely lovely. I've also viewed some of the exhibitions they presents (Chicks on Speed being a notable example)which really go against some of the comments she was making....

    It's just two crafters protecting their businesses and a newspaper trying to make a controversy out of it to sell papers.

    I liken it to my experience with the Enviro community. My husband and I are regular volunteers, he works at CERES, we work at the MSF, run a Green Renters website etc etc. Yet whenever I try sell my recycled crafts at enviro type events I get lots of disdain from people who make tie dye, hemp or candle products (or don't make and simply import goods made in the third world). There's always lots of weird little divides in any creative communities but most of us are lovely, I promise!

  23. whoops i mucked up my comment...i was going to add to it but i lost it....never mind, best i get back to sewing! shelley

  24. i can relate to your feeling a little upset about this - i think the comments about 'people selling crappy stuff' were uncalled for !
    when people make something by hand they put a lot of thought and love into it, its not something done just to make money and defientely
    there is no way to compete with mass produced items so even though some people feel snotty about certain items there is definetely others out there who appreciate and would buy them

  25. The art vs craft debate is way too big and will probably never be resolved. Who gives a toss anyway as long as people (creators, viewers and users) are enjoying it and being challenged by it.

    I found those comments in the article quite negative and unsupportive of the crafting movement as a whole. My day job is in the 'visual art' industry and there is a huge gap between high end/conceptual art and hobbyists but in general the high end are supportive of grassroots and vice versa. Without grassroots there is no high end/conceptual and all are working toward the same ideals of creating an audience and appreciation for art anyway.

    I don't really understand why a spokesperson for high end/ conceptual craft would have such a negative viewpoint about what is good or ‘bad’ craft. This attitude won’t do the future of the sector any favours.

  26. I just read the article that you linked. I didn't come away from it feeling that I should not sell my handknits or other craft items. I think you can pretty much sell anything you want. If someone likes it, they'll buy it. If not, then not (obviously).

    I have been a craft person all my life. I like to go to stores and look at things and say "I can make that" and then go and do it. I have done all matter of crafts except maybe wood/metal things. I leave that to my husband. There is something so intrinsically satisfying about taking raw materials and making something beautiful.

  27. Wow, this really got me to thinking. Craft is such a learning journey, and there are so many ways to go about it. You've just gotta do what feels true to you. A wise person told me that if you are crafting just to get rich you have got it all wrong. If craft is your passion, you are on the right path.

  28. lovely post Cath :)

    no matter how we interpret this article, what i love about it is how it has stimulated such a fascinating discussion and how it's bringing everyones ideas about crafting toghether...

    i've only been part of this online crafting community for a few months but i'm amazed at how frindly, supportive and inspiring it is... i love how fellow crafters are eager to share and develop ideas together...

    crafting, designing and making is certainly not exclusive to any one person or style and no ones creativity should ever be underestimated or undervalued... we all have different tastes and our own ideas of what is beautiful or well made. i have always tried to remind myself that if i don't like something i should leave my thoughts at that, it doesn't mean that it is bad it just means that i don't like it or i would have done it another way...

    i totally agree with Pip's comment btw... craft is a natural expression and one of the nicer things that makes us human...


  29. Hmm ..'intimidated, unwelcome and not good enough' ... are you talking about what the RMIT lady said? In my experience (bachelor of classical violin playing; postgrad work at VCA) universities can be the very worst places to learn to be creative. In my opinion, Professors at Universities are experts only about what happens inside university. Outside in the sunshine, we can all do whatever we want to do, and if we want to try to sell our wares, our buyers and customers will let us know if they like what we do.

    And anyone who has to look in a newspaper to find out what's cool ... well. Nuff said.

  30. such a wonderful post Cathy, thank you! Only some weekends we by The Age so I hadn't read it, I could go on about it for pages but I won't but it did upset me a little as it just enforces this whole thing where some people have an almost celebrity status amoungst crafting and the community, everyone is surely equal and should have a go and do what they love. There are some blogs that a person may comment on for a couple of years even, but you never get any sort of reply or comment back, EVER. So then I don't bother anymore and get annoyed by the fuss made about a certain few who are doing nothing differently to thousands of other people, but the others do it quietly and still can either do it for love and/or make a living from it and certainly don't need a select few commenting about whether they should be trying to sell it ot not. Boy I certainly am grumpy this wek!!! :O