Craft observation – I

Craft observation – I


I spent much of my time split fairly evenly between teaching the Masterclasses, interviewing other artisans and observing people. In all three areas the single most significant reality was that there was a whole group of people absolutely missing. It was the unique group that, prior to the 1920s, would simply be referred to as young adults yet today we proffer the privileged and special social category title teenager.


It’s a strange phenomenon that those between the ages of 12-25 seemed abjectly absent from the weekend at the European Woodworking Show and this is something I have noticed as a general rule at most shows. Young adults between the ages of 12 and 25 seem disinterested in craft or handwork. It’s as if somehow what was once common and intrinsic and actually valuable to any man and women is now more alien than flying to the moon, and young people no longer consider craft or craft training as an option. It seemed to me that somehow the tap was turned to off 60 years ago and no new artisans would be forthcoming again.

I would like to say that I wondered why, but the truth is I feel more apt to say I know that it’s because educationalists that form young minds through systems of training program them to think narrow mindedly. In other words my question might be, are young adults between the ages of 12 and 25 so channelled (in the sense of funnelled) and narrow minded by educationalists and edupolitical providers to think only to remain in realms of unconscious immaturity. Such spheres of pubertal immaturity enables them to remain irresponsible for their lives at any age earlier than 25 years of age; an age that for most is ten years too late. It seems that we have a generation that has extended its sphere of maturing to adulthood into a 12 year span and that they are now hardwired to think only that good job = University degree course and in that equation success is assessed in monetary terms only: How much you make and how secure your job is are pivotal to career prospect success.

Now that I have that off my chest I would ask parents whether they would consider a son or daughter being a stone carver or a basket maker a possible option to gaining success if their child was to enter the realms of a nip-and-tuck existence working with their hands. I mean, to make it through life earning their living by using their hands as opposed to punching keys on a keyboard and looking at life on a two-dimensional flat screen. For most parents and indeed adults generally the line is drawn definitively between the critical thinkers of mind workers and the manual labourer working with pickaxes and shovels. It’s what we once referred to as blue or white collar workers, the intellectual and the non-intellectual, the academic and the non-academic, yet one thing for me is quite clear is that to be a crafting artisan demands critical thinking and decisive direction that further demands business skill, self discipline and something we rarely consider today, wisdom. It takes something to retain craft purity and avoid the pressure to design and develop products to develop a mass-manufacturable product so that people can then read and award your success. Apply for any local or government start up grant and say on your business plan that you only want to live a quiet life working on your own or with a couple of others making baskets or carving stone and see how much support you get.

I am working on Craft observation II for those who are interested and it will follow soon while it’s fresh in my mind.

I have several insights from craftsmen and women from my interviews at the show that will help everyone better understand some of the dilemma we face.