Thursday, December 18, 2008

First define, then discuss.

This is a response to a blog post written by meganauman and featured on Hello Craft.

I would like to preface all of this, for those that don't know me, with the facts: I come from a long line of crafty women, I am a crafter, I have an Etsy shop, I've been in a craft mafia, I am a founding member of a craft collective, I support crafters locally and on Etsy and I also love making crafts with kids, especially my honorary Goddaughter.

As a crafter who makes things, but doesn't MAKE things, I appreciate what the author is saying, but I don't wholeheartedly agree. I take particular issue with the "ripping off" section of her argument. There is a certain responsibility asked of crafters to be creative, but often creativity is taking a good idea and making it better or cheaper. I would argue that there is very little that is 100% original, especially in a market where we are constantly striving to create something that feeds our soul as well as bring in a little cash. I studied art history for a semester in community college, so I am by no means a well-versed student or patron of the arts. But I do know that throughout time, the evolution of art has been fueled by borrowing.

I have argued in my blog, on more than one occasion, that there ARE crafters (and more accurately, artists posing as crafters), charging an arm and a leg for their handmade wares. I should clarify that there is an enormous distinction between artists and crafters, in my mind, and too often there is a blurred line, especially as it relates to successful businesses and access to selling markets. I do not argue that there is time and effort, nevermind creative vision, required to make something deeply beautiful and unique. However, I do take issue with the amount of wool being pulled over our collective eyes. I am as much a consumer of handmade as I am a participant in its creation. And I get tired of people posing as high-end designers when many of their materials (in my most relevant example, WoolEase acrylic/wool blend super bulky yarn) cost less than $10. And why would that preclude me, or anyone, from teaching myself how to make what they are making using the same yarn for less...and even charging less? Doesn't that make craft more accessible? Isn't that what the DIY culture supposedly encourages? Conversely, I've grown tired of artists posing as crafters and causing the median price point to dramatically increase every year at craft shows and markets.

I come from a long line of crafters. My great-grandmother worked in the Garment District of New York City making hats for women who didn't quite care how much time and creative energy she dedicated to the millinery process. She would walk by high-end department stores and see dresses and accessories in windows, and go home and make them for herself and her children because she couldn't afford to pay the prices arbitrarily slapped on merchandise by money hungry corporations. I don't really see how this is different in the handmade movement. My grandmother was also an amazing crafter. There wasn’t anything she couldn’t make; everything from intricate lacey doilies to dioramas in eggs to pompom hair ties and aprons for me. She even sold things locally now and then, and I don’t imagine she charged more than cost. My mother, too, is a crafter. She’s currently an avid scrapbooker and paper-crafter, but she can crochet expertly, she decorates cakes like a pro, and can also sew with great skill. Many ideas were garnered from craft books, tutorials and their peers. I call that inspiration.

I've taken the time to self-educate on techniques and eagerly wish to learn more about jewelry making. I never went to any sort of design school nor have I spent a second in anything that could be considered a "studio". I didn't have teachers, professors and colleagues telling me the value of my creations, and I don't have a degree to place next to my wares as justification of my hard work and creative vision. Neither did my great-grandmother, my grandmother, or my mother. We just make to make, because my family never had the means to buy things that other people made. I was enamored with the felt creations on Etsy recently, so I went home and bought some felt, taught myself embroidery stitches, and have filled the homes of friends, loved ones and even work associates with delightful felt ornaments.

As far as my crafting and business is concerned, I am 100% committed to making everything affordable. Always. And by affordable I mean less than $50. I refuse to buy any materials I feel are too expensive, I shop around for good and fair prices, and I reuse, recycle and upcycle. I try to buy in bulk whenever I can to cut costs, and I also take into consideration the price of an item before I make it. I do not assume that anyone can readily afford what I make, but I do make sure that it won't cost them a hefty percentage of their paycheck. I've worked full time for $8/hour. And I know that I deserved to feel and look pretty, while contributing to the crafty movement, without having to sacrifice a meal or warm clothing. Sometimes I want to ask high-priced crafters and artisans...to whom do you think you are catering? It is certainly not people like me.

Is paying for supplies, plus labor, plus creative vision acceptable? Absolutely. Are the only reputable crafting businesses those that have been vetted by some arbitrary crafting authority and deemed 100% original? Absolutely not. I'm sure there are excellent examples, even just on Etsy, of people who are less than concerned about "ripping off" a fellow seller's idea. Sadly, this is business too, and a cutthroat one at that. In order to avoid everything we've escaped by finding our place in the DIY movement...specifically legal entanglements, copyrights, patents and succumbing to the mainstream machine, we must accept that there will always be design thieves and we have to hope that karmic retribution will take responsibility for any sort of lesson that they need to learn. And there will always be people who snub you because what you are selling costs as much as their weekly grocery bill, despite how lovely and expertly crafted it is.

1 comment:

  1. I am so with you on the point of nobody's work being 100% original. What does Tyler Durden say in Fight Club? Something about how we're not all unique little snowflakes... there are billions of people in this world and half of them are selling jewelry on Etsy.

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