Monday, October 15, 2012

Crafters- A Call to Arms

Making personal, deeply embedded drawings on the Masters pots has affected the way I make tableware, this in turn has developed my social and political ideas about the role of the handmade and the part a maker plays in society.  I have listened to and read Garth Clark’s interconnected addresses that given to the American Crafts Council in 2008 and 2009 “How Envy killed the Crafts” and the follow up “Palace and Cottage”.  One issue that Clark addresses is the ubiquity of crafts in rural areas and the role this plays in rural regeneration and economy.  Clark points out that rural crafters rely upon studio sales, bring money into the local economy and are part (In the US ) of a billion dollar industry.  The positive affirmation given to working artists by referring to their jobs as an industry is something that has not received any attention in Australia.  When we in Australia refer to the “Arts Industry” we are referring to a large range of people working as bureaucrats to distribute art dollars and display art.  I think artists could empower themselves by taking back to the term industry for the makers.  Using industrial terms such as “small businesses” and “manufacturers” positions artists within the mainstream economic model that is the dominant discourse of government in our country.  Emphasizing the economic input from artists to communities quantifies the value that artists have in contemporary Australia.  Arts discourse has been dominated by talk of grants and handouts when in reality working artists are taxpayers.  Artists manufacture, export, import, employ and spend within our economy.

In focussing almost completely on university Fine Arts courses with an emphasis on concept over material skill craft education leads to graduates who see themselves as “artists” and buy into the hackneyed, romantic notion of an artist starving and working mainly for love, needing “inspiration” before they are able to create anything. The recent decimation of the TAFE system and the reluctance of universities to commit to the teaching hours needed in the studio for comprehensive skills development within the crafts has led to a dearth of graduates with practical skills.   For crafters to gestate and survive after university there has to be a renewed focus on the studio crafts as an industry. Skill, knowledge of materials, and economic necessity can easily overcome neurotic ditherings about “inspiration”.  I personally, am inspired to make several dozen well designed, fast selling, pieces of tableware when my electricity bill comes in.  I don’t need to wait anxiously for the muse to appear. Confidence in my skills as a result of repetition and deep familiarity with my materials makes this robust, economically driven approach to making into a sustainable business.  

The etomology of the word “amateur” stems from the Latin root ama-re meaning “to love”.  Originally used without the disparaging connotations associated with the word today, an amateur was someone pursuing a pastime for love without any thought of pecuniary advantage. This has become the modern definition of an artist in popular imagination.  We must position the crafts as an industry and crafters must take back the primary position within the debate over advocacy and funding.  We need to be treated like a professional body of taxpayers, manufacturers and part of the mainstream economy.  Give us tax breaks, money for advocates and developing markets and for God’s sake buy our work.  Every government office in Australia should have a cupboard full of locally made coffee mugs. Government department budgets for entertainment and catering expenses should be spent on Australian tableware, Australian furniture and Australian textiles.  An appointment with an elected representative should take place in a room furnished completely with products of our own crafting industry.  This would create demand and supporting local industry is the least we can expect from our governments. 

Pottery music fusion performance at a local food festival.  Trumpet, djembe, and wheel! 

It is artist's responsibility to speak up.   Appear locally, and convince our towns that handmade bowls, crafted object are something everyone can own.   Write to your local member of parliament and ask why visitors to the council chambers are being served coffee out of mugs manufactured thousands of miles away.  Don’t donate your work.  Point out the economic sense and political mileage and sheer pleasure to be gained by supporting the craft industry in a completely practical way, by buying and using craft.