Craft connexity: developing a sustainable model for future craft education.
Malins, Julian Paul
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“Craft is an anachronism – discuss …” Some twenty-five years ago, on applying for a place at a college of art to study ceramics, Julian was asked to write an essay on the above topic. Naturally he was keen to impress so he responded to the question by declaring his enthusiasm for the craft of the potter. As far as he can remember, he expounded on the importance of striving for standards of fitness and beauty derived from tradition, quoting Bernard Leach. All his essay did was confirm his lack of contemporary knowledge and his anachronistic view of what ceramics could be. In the intervening years, critics of the crafts might well have responded to the question in the following terms … Today’s craft represents an unsustainable model of practice. Craft workers survive on poverty wages and indulge in unsafe working practices – often ecologically unsound, using potentially toxic materials and procedures, fundamentally inefficient, relying on extremely limited levels of output, unwilling to adopt new ways of working. Their designs are often lacking, using the excuse of a rustic aesthetic to justify poor levels of functionality. Modern craft workers are predominantly middle class individuals indulging in an expensive pastime producing vast amounts of unwanted objects d’art … This paper attempts to address the potentially damning criticism of contemporary craft expressed in the previous paragraph. If this criticism were correct it would be hard to justify continuing to educate new craft makers. The recent decline in single subject specialist craft courses in the UK may be explained if the perception of contemporary craft matches the criticism above. The paper defines craft connexity in terms of a networking of socially engaged contemporary craft practice. The concept of “intelligent making” is examined. It will propose new models of craft practice, operating through sustainable environmentally sensitive working methods and materials. The model describes craft makers who are aesthetically aware, IT literate, sometimes acting as social critics and capable of developing new design concepts. The paper sets out the essential ingredients for a modern craft curriculum, which includes research skills, sustainable design practice, collaborative design practice, critical awareness, IT skills and business management. The practice of craft has moved on since Julian’s first attempt to respond to the question of whether or not craft is an anachronism. It is now time to re-examine and challenge the value of craft education. The authors propose a more sustainable model of craft education and practice.