MEANING of CRAFT – 4

Post 625 –by Gautam Shah

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Craft derives from cræft or -creft meaning something to do or execute with physical strength, might, and prowess (a talent of mental and physical power). Other usage versions (include krab, kraf, kreft, chraft, Kraft, kraptr) relate to something built, made or devised using skill, virtue, dexterity and art. Before the Industrial revolution, the personal strength and prowess (mental talent) were key requirements for creative effort. The crafts were called handicrafts.

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Apprentice of Shoe maker 1914 > Wikipedia image

The physical strength required to make things were reduced with the leverage provided by better tools, use of animal power, and rational use of materials. In the First case, tools had calibrated arm lengths, functional shape for handles, harder (or softer) surfaces for desired impact, specific versions tailored for tasks, and rational composition of materials. Over a time, crafts were articulated not by sheer strength, but by mental prowess. Handicrafts became artefacts. The hand and the mind remained the basis for craft for long time. In the Second instance labourious jobs like lifting, pushing and transporting, were done with animal power and pulleys. The animal power offered rudimentary sense of automation to many production processes. In the Third instance, the capacity to search around for quality raw materials and expertise to refine and upgrade the raw materials, crafts offered the objects that were thin, light weight, enduring and better crafting capacity.

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Spinning machine which initiated Industrial Revolution at Museum of early Industrialization in Wuppertal (Germany) > Wikipedia image by Markus Schweib

The crafts have been known by the terrain, culture, and artisan. The craft products substantially rely on local materials, and so have regional or local flavour of materials. The terrain also reflects the nature, flora, fauna and climate of the place. The culture with its varying levels of sociopolitical affectations creates local values. These get reflected in the form, fables, symbols and metaphors used in crafts. The culture is also seen in the ethnicity, and what transpires as heritage. An artisan can produce things that are mundane, but if gets opportunity and exposure, in spite of all other factors remaining consistent, new forms arrive. The successful crafts’ products are emulated by other locals, and in this sense craft become regional.

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Brother knitting machine – example of Industrial craft > Wikipedia image by Gudde Fog, Denmark

Crafts’ processes have seen substantial redefinition during the period of industrial revolution. The redefinition occurred on two counts, easier movement of goods and people, and industrialized production facilities. Both were based on steam as the efficient source of power. Easier movement of goods allowed massive imports of traditional and exotic raw materials that were cheaper and better. The industrialized production processes were batch and continuous type, faster, non-personal and sharper in precision. The mass-produced items offered cheaper alternative to highly individualized and region specific items. The items were produced with greater use of ‘machine skills’ than ‘human skills’. The craft-person began to migrate to industrial production centres as designers, craft facilitators and as skilled workers. The crafted products of the Industrial era were not handicrafts.

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The dilution of craft, as a product of tradition, heritage, individualized skills and regional ethnicity occurred due to the massive production of industrial goods. People appreciated the stark simplicity with neat functionality, variety, reliability and consistency of quality of industrial products. Unlike these, the crafted products were connoisseurs items. The rarity of a crafted products, however, encouraged, better appreciation of other things of beauty. A debate on physical versus nonphysical heritage revived. The non physical heritages were traditions of story telling, fables, learning and teaching, dance, drama and other form of performing arts, rituals, fairs and festivals, knowledge base and practices concerning nature and living. These cultural heritages were fragile and intangible, and so were, now keenly sought, reenacted and documented. The intangible heritage brought back the mass of inherited knowledge and skills that existed in every culture. The debates created inter-cultural dialogue, and respect for diverse ways of life. Most importantly the cultural heritages were now anchored to places, buildings and artefacts and these reinforced the interest in crafts, craft centres and the artisans.

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It was realized that when people migrate to other lands they carry the intangible legacy with them, and find a comfort through the metaphoric link to the place of origin, distanced culture and past. The intangible legacy offered an assurance that these ‘things’ worked in certain environments. To the immigrants it gives strength, a sense of identity and purpose.

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