Saturday, December 13, 2008

Handmade Nation

Faythe Levine of Paper Boat Gallery has put togehter a book and documentary film that wonderfully introduces readers and viewers to the D I Y craft scene. The film isn't out yet, but the previews look great. I got myself a copy of the book and thoroughly enjoy it.

This book is really wonderful cuz the authors (Cortney Heimerl co-authors the book) leave the makers to speak for themselves. It offers glimpses into the variety of motives, methods and mediums being explored in this movement, as well as a handful of informative essays from various participants. There's also a great timeline that visually outlines the rapid growth of the "new wave of craft".

What this book might mean for the theory of "artist's revolution" i am attempting to develop:

1. Art vs Craft - The ideas and actions contained in this book indicate a new relationship between the individual 'maker' and the art world. Many of the interviewed subjects come from an art school background, often with regrets. These people are often hesitant to call themselves artists and almost uniformly skeptical of "fine art" and all it's institutional trappings. The fact that they've abandoned the word "artist" and replaced it with "crafter" or even "maker" amplifies my suspicion that the word "art" must be either eschewed or carefully redefined for use in my theory.

2. Economics of Craft - There is a hole in my theory. A major peice of my argument is that the growing arts and entertainment sector (especially experience based mediums) will empower the radical creative class in the same way that the growing importance of commodities empowered the early bourgeoisie. That this empowered creative class will usher in a new mode of production on the wave of A+E demand in the same way that the bourgeoisie ushered in capitalism on the wave of commodity exchange.

The hole in this theory comes from the difficulty of seeing how musicians and theatre producers might create innovative modes of production of find efficiencies that can transfer to other sectors in the same way the capitalism transferred from commodities to agriculture (feudalism's strong suit). How is what's going on today in the punk rock scene going to change the way that my kitchen utensils my meals, or my car are produced? In terms of agriculture, food coops and the rise of organic farming offer some support, but what about commodities?

Well, the craft movement isn't making cars, or flatware, but they are making clothes and various other utilitarian objects using something like the modes of production and exchange that started becoming popular in the punk rock and indie music scenes. I still think the new mode of production will be most thoroughly developed in mediums of live performance first, and then transfer to other areas, but when it does, Handmade Nation indicates that there's an army of people already trying to stitch a patch over this hole in the theory.

3. Craftivism - many makers are overt with their political motivations, and this has potential to bolster the poltical aspect of the revolution more than traditional political action. The medium is the message. A theatre peice, a painting or a song about sweatshop labor can't make a statement anywhere near as clear and complete as the maker who hand sews an alternative to the sweatshop product.

4. Technology and craft - the new wave of craft is held together by internet connections. Websites, message boards, emails, online shops, all establish the initial network (and generate many of the sales) that lay the groundwork for the huge explosion of craft starting in the late 90s. This is a wonderful example of creative people using the internet the right way: to coordinate and dissiminate real world physical objects. The internet as a platform or medium for content (you tube, video games, online stories, webcomix, and especially social networking sites like myspace) can only provide distractions, estrangement, and highly mediated entertainment or information. The internet as organizational tool to connect people trying to build something in real life, is immense and revolutionary.

5. The Church of Craft- I often neglect the "spiritual" component of a revolutionary change. I have huge problems with the terms used to talk about this level of human experience. But i have to admit that it is important. If the protestant work ethic and the capitalist mode of production were mutually reinforcing developments that helped birth capitalism, then the "artist revolution" needs it's own mutually reinforcing spiritual component. There are many examples and articulations of this kind of thing, but Handmade Nation includes an essay by Callie Janoff, founder of "The Church of Craft" which is a full blown religious institution that meets regularly, builds things together, and even officiates crafty weddings. There is no doctrine, no moral code, just people who feel the most divine when they're creating something.

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