MEANING of CRAFT – 4

Post 625 –by Gautam Shah

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Electric Kettles by Peter Behrens --Industrial Craft

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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STYLING the STYLE – Part 1

Post 592 by Gautam Shah

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A style is a distinctive involvement by an individual. This approach is perceived by others to have diverse potential for application, in the same or different practices. The expression, in the physical work or the discourse, results from the local environment, such as the climate, geography, the society and the times. This gets also reflected in many other aspects of innovators’ personal lifestyle, and in some form dissipates in the society. So a personal style becomes universal by emulative confirmation. Some elements of the original style seem to persist in spite of the new environment, such as culture, technology, field of application and mode of expression.

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Tribuna of Uffizi > Wikipedia image by Johann Zoffany (1733-1810)

Mannerism spreads in a different locality, time period, different forms and fields. This shifting of emulation by individuals could be for a while, sporadic, but a group coalesces to propound it vigorously as cultural heritage or innovative approach. The select components include colour, pattern, form, emphasis, representation or construction, perceptive likeness and abstract or unknown conveyance of meaning.

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Pictorial brick depicting a Chinese Courtyard Wikipedia image by Editor at Large

The first art-form to be emulated were the uttered sounds. A community impresses other ‘neighbours’ by the arrangement, succinct meaning and the ‘manner’ of conveyance. These were intricately connected to universal conditions like postures, gestures, tools, foods, and rituals like hunting, caring for children, birth, death etc. The local character to the utterances was endowed by the spatial acoustics (of terrain and built spaces) and environmental affectations. The next art forms were the personalization of the body, tools, utilities and habitable environs. These patterns and colours were regional and tribe-based, due to local material resources and used for ‘universal conditions’.

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BaKongo masks Kongo, Africa > Ethnicity of manners > Wikipedia image by Ndoto ya Afrika

These forms were initially representations of the ‘culture’ but not stylized expressions. But few individuals were proficient in it. These were the mannerist of the society, appreciated for the skill and copied by others. But the mannerisms spread from local to regional segments. The spread was slow in time, and became diffused with distance. The operative distance was what one could travel, and recall the practice. The mannerists were not classicists to be discussed or commented upon by the critics. And wherever these practices, were fortified by terrestrial seclusion or political isolation, became ethnic traditions.

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Arrest of St Mark in Synagogue with Muslim dress influences > Wikipedia image by Giovanni di Niccolo Mansueti (1485-1527)

No one had qualms about adapting, converting and mixing influences like Gods, fables, heroes, religious rights, drama characters, dogmas, recipes, motifs, festivals, dresses and adornments. This was part of personal creativity, but was also used for convincing a sponsor or buyer for it. Roman art is influenced by neighbouring cultures but was also used for the rulers. ‘Roman art periods are branded with rulers or dynasties’ and not by the art-creators. Roman arts and crafts in spite of adaptations from others, and after being ‘emulated by other across times and territories, maintains its own essence.

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Cross regional influences Philae Columns Egypt > Wikipedia image by Mohammed Moussa

Any art-form, be it a personal statement or representation of ‘manner’ can be analyzed, on hindsight, into various effects. It originates from time and space realities. Its components find justification or raison d’etre when distanced. Most styles are identified by critics or rivals more for deriding it rather than appreciating it. Historic art and architectural styles were identified after the relevant periods were nearly extinct, or its originators not in practice. This was perhaps due to lack of faster communication and wider dissemination. Lack of communication did not allow immediate coalescence of thoughts and dissemination was slow as image transmission was nearly nonexistent. The art-forms, such as art, architecture could only be visited or transmitted over longer duration. The essence of the style, however, spread through many crafts, artefacts, adornments, performing arts, literature, etc.

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Monkeys as Judges of Art > Wikipedia image by Gabriel von Max (1840-1915)

This spread became faster and intensive during the Industrial age for several reasons, publication of quality images through print media, faster and easier travel by steam-power over land and sea, weakening of the moneyed sponsorship by likes of church, industrial houses, political powers, etc. and greater distribution of arts and crafts. Creative people began to interact with others more frequently, who unlike the non-practicing critics were less derisive. The creators on their own were more conscious of meaning of expression and were self-critic.

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Shawls of 19th C France > Wikipedia image by Durin

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MEANING of CRAFT – 3

Post 542  by Gautam Shah

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Craft processes have been closely linked to exploration of materials with hands or manual operations. Use of tools as reach-extension of hands is considered nominal. Equipments where manually manipulable are accepted, but any process operative on auto corrective feed-forward or feedback is challenged [1]. The skill of making things by hands (including with tools) evolves with experience. And as a result the product is continuously improvised. Every item crafted with hand and (non automatic) tools, is a unique piece. So are the intentions for good design and material manipulation with hand, sufficient to deliver a ‘craft’?

Lijiang, Yunnan, China: Exhibition of copper smith works Wikipedia image Attribution (required by the license) © CEphoto, Uwe Aranas / CC-BY-SA-3.0

If the crafts evolve with the exploration of materials, where does it start? Craft’s person has to procure materials that are substantially processed, and proceed from there on. In a modern world, craftspeople start their work with industrially re-composed and synthesized products. These materials till 1960s came along with specifications of quality and sometimes suggestive conditions for their use. But over the last few decades such specifications have been found to be very restrictive and futile. New modes by International standards Organization, ISO allows manufacturers to offer details on how the material-product is made, and the ‘quality culture’ the manufacturers follow. Further exploration of the same is left to the individual person, who may use it for a non traditional purpose.

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Craft was also considered a pastime or a hobby. The terms a crafts-man or a crafts-woman, were long replaced by term artisan or crafts-people. The craft products missed this personal expression when materials from unknown places and in substantially processed form began to be used. The hands on materials, approach which was considered to be the basis of creative human expression began to be irrelevant. Craft was considered a reflection of a localized tradition, matured over a period. This was seen through the motifs, patterns other abstractions. The personalized expression when unique in content and high in abstractions became an art form. An artefact (Early 19th : from Latin arte by or using art‘ + factumsomething made‘) is a crafted item that has the essence of art.

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Crafts have been called handiwork or handicrafts. This raises the question, Are products created using hands but by automated tools and equipments really crafts? Products whose formation is not exclusively dependent on fixed dies, jigs, fixtures, and other standard devices, has a greater scope of being continuously improvised. This cannot happen in a continuous line-production but in a single item production or a batch-based system. Line production does not allow human expression as reflected in some course corrections. This began to be seen when factories sponsored by royalties and big business group began to produce crafts-works. These sponsors established production centres that have produced some excellent crafted works.

Wedgewood pottery Wikipedia image by Author Kpjas

Craftsmen till about middle ages were tied to a location and the guild. The guilds, protected as well as encouraged the crafts, by restricting new entrants, conditions of practicing the crafts and in few instances facilitating the raw materials. Factories of later periods enticed the protected crafts persons to move out of the restrictive and monopolistic guild environment. Craft products were not known by the craftsperson, the town or region, but by the production factories. The craftspeople were distanced from the user-clients and social connoisseurs of their skills.

Wood Block printing William Morris 1873 Wikipedia image

The factories supported innovative production processes that included partial automation. The factories subscribed to new designs for inclusion into now their standardized products. They offered large number of identical items like ceramics, vessels, utensils, tapestries, fabrics, furniture items, etc. with coordinated designs, patterns, or colour schemes. The crafts of the post middle ages began to reflect the style of the production centre.

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The detachment of craft from material handling processes had already emerged before the onset of industrial age. The practical involvement hand with the material had now terminated. The craft factories were overwhelming involved with design. The new class of designers were only perfunctorily connected to the artisans. The semblance of human expression in unique creations, began to diffuse when large number of products arrived from automated industrial production. The Arts and Crafts movement emerged from exposition of ornate and artificial artefacts that disrespected the materials, at the Great exhibition of 1851. It sought to reform the design.

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[1] In India Khadi (hand spun & hand woven) fabric is accepted as a craft product. The process is now being challenged by manual-machines as well powered machine spinning devices (called Amber Charkha). The raw material was mainly cotton (but occasionally silk, jute and wool). But now polyester fibres are being mixed with the raw material, resulting in better fiber strength, wear-ability, fineness and economics of costing. To complicate the scene further, since 1950s auto spun fibres are woven on hand-looms (manually operated weaving looms). So should these be a craft-product? Another variant, a Power-loom uses auto-machine spun fibres over automated looms (of simplistic design compared to air-jet and other weaving devices). The controversies of technological involvement occur for all types of products or artefacts.

Amber Charkha India, Automated spinning machine Wikipedia image by Author Sailee5

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MEANING of CRAFT – 2

Post 529  by Gautam Shah

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profession of thatching is learned through apprenticeship in Germany Wikipedia image by Author Joachim Müllerchen

Craft has been considered an activity involving skills of making things by hand. The use of hand and the output product have been collectively called the handiwork. Where the products reflect the creative crafting, it is called a handicraft. The process of doing things by hand has two essential facets, One: converting the raw material, and Two: processing (crafting) it into a product. Such distinctive identifications, perhaps in terms of persons handling it, have existed from very ancient times, One person’s product was another inspiration to intervene and innovate. The material producer and the object manufacturer, both used their hand-skills and experience for making things. With experience not only the materials but resultant products continued to evolve. The handicraft has been synonymous with an effort where the material and forming processes offer a seamless sense of creativity. This perception, over the years has grown stronger. And the Craft has been considered an activity involving skills of making things by hand. Purists have felt that craft cannot be but by hand.

Indus Priest/King Statue 175mm carved from steatite or soapstone from Mohenjo-daro Now in National Museum, Karachi, Pakistan Wikipedia image / Source world66.com by Author Mamoon Mengal

Since ancient times the craftsperson did not have time and resources to scout materials and further process it. Metal ores and other minerals need to be searched, collected, refined and sintered or smelted. Similarly stones require mining, dressing and transportation before could be used for construction. Fibres like cotton, hemp or linen, all need several different grades of processing, spinning before could be used for fabric-crafts. Material procuring and processing allowed production of raw materials that are used for different crafts. There were several layers of material processes, and each handled by different set of people in different regions. There was a time the material producer and the user or the craft’s people were directly linked, but soon the traders became the agents.

Leopold Reichling prehistoric collection Wikipedia image by Author PlayMistyForMe

The raw material processing is production, and was not qualified as craft work. Historically material processing was ‘hand-work’, but the output products though innovative as a range, was not necessarily creative at individual level. Craft has had many different interpretations over the ages and in instances across societies and cultures. A crafted item ends with the user or the connoisseur. This link remained very strong for several centuries, but somewhere the craftsmen began to rely on traders to market the craft-products. There were yet many ‘living-crafts’ that were useful as part of living, but not a deliverable product. These were life-style things that were important as the process of creation, such as the craft of building dwellings, public structures, farming cooking, building, painting, etc. Here the hand-skills of the creator, improvisations and deliverance were important.

Roman theatre of Scythopolis, Beit She’an, Israel. 2nd C BC Wikipedia image Author Tango7174

Crafts gained a sharper meaning with emergence of Guilds in medieval period. The guilds were formed to protect the tradition where the craftsmen designed, executed and traded the work. Guilds were able to do this by suppressing internal competition, but more by focussing on their regional exclusivity. The regional exclusivity of a guild gave rise to folk-craft of the place. A folk-craft had TWO strong characteristics, exclusive access to processed raw materials, and restricted training of skills within the family or clan through ‘close-door’ apprenticeship. Raw materials were supplied by traders across regions, but the secondary processing was local, in terms of the tools, techniques and materials used. This was ardently supported by local crafts-people, through their clan or guild.

Saint Eligius in his Gold-smithy workshop Wikipedia image by Master of Balaam (fl. circa 1440–1550)

During medieval period the consumers or the connoisseurs also knew the value of exclusivity of the crafted product. The monetary value and pride for the local but exclusive items were immense. Crafts became branded with regions, cities or towns of origin, as much as with the identity of the craftsperson and craft centre. The connoisseurs also established their production units. The production was designed for single commission for a specific user, or sometimes in batches with minor variations. The creations were ‘craft-products’ because it involved use of individual skills, had scope of improvisation and it did not use many “automated” processes.

Craftsman selling Cases by a teak wood building Ahmedabad Wikipedia image Painting by Edwin Lord Weeks (1849-1903)

In modern times we have access to many automated tools and equipments to do things far more efficiently and creatively. These facilities are used in two distinct ways. In pre industrial age the use was in batch processing. Each batch and tasks within it, were amenable to innovations. During industrial age and thereafter, continuous or on-line production set-ups emerged. These arrangements required jigs, dies and other fixed facilities with specific tooling. The continuous productions allow very minor changes or improvisations in production style. These were than not considered craft items. Such dialogues were occurring mainly due to the Arts and Crafts movement of the times. It was perceived that an industrial product or use of machines to format it, dilutes the essence of craft.

Chocolatier preparing Easter eggs and rabbits Wikipedia image by Author Oriel

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MEANING of CRAFT – 1

Post 516  -by Gautam Shah

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Craft is an activity involving skill of making things by hand. The skill of making things by hand evolves with experience. So in this sense not only the skill but resultant products continue to evolve. Craft-work could be a hobby to keep oneself engaged or a pursuit for personal satiation, and a profession for earning a livelihood. Craft activity is a personal engagement, in spite of family, clan or employees partnering it. All human activities have some element of craft-work, as some degrees of innovations are involved in routine work. The innovations relate primarily to productivity, or doing things in easier (lesser effort) manner, and in quicker way. Other efforts include efficient use of materials, working with better tools, devising superior forms, endowing new functions, safety, well being and security.

A handcraft shop Udupi India Wikipedia image by Author Vaikoovery

Elephants at Thrissur Pooram Festival Kerala, India Wikipedia image by Rajesh Kakkanatt

Craft-work allows growth of personal skills, development of physical fitness, body limb coordination, refinement of cognitive abilities, expression of thoughts and feelings, interpersonal relationships, and socio-cultural recognition. Craft is considered a stress buster activity. Craft-items, cumulatively represent both ethnicity and external influences. The craft products form a legacy of solutions that are local and time-tested, and so familiar and reliable.

: Wooden crafts for sale at the municipal market of Patzcuaro, Michoacan Wikipedia image by Author Thelmadatter

Indian stringed puppets Wikipedia image by Author Nicolás Pérez

Craft is an expression of human activity that relies on design, improvisation, enterprise, abstraction of the form, reality of functionality and compression of diverse meanings. Craft has a recognizable shape, size and existence. It persists without the creator, but has with it the flavour of the place and time of its origin. Crafts denote materials, processes and recognizing the ‘good’ (or aesthetics) things. The ‘good’ things are sought to be recreated and improved upon through new materials and processes. Routine production processes output products of consistent form and quality, like bricks, ceramic pots, etc., and are not craft’s endeavours. This means craft items are substantially varied versions of the earlier products.

Old men making handicrafts in Naqsh-e Jahan Square

Agra India artisan producing marble stone inlays wikipedia image by Author David Castor (dcastor)

Craft-items are real products where there is an intensive exploration of materials, processes and the meaning. It is not just intellectual and physical activity of making a tangible object, but also the discovery of meaning. Craft making is devoid of any absolute result or exact definitions, but rather an approximation and realization of essence. A complete piece of craft becomes an art. It is contingent, so one moves on to something else, without certainty or expectancy. It is an experience that inculcates a desire, to do something different.

Mata Ortiz pottery from Chihuahua FONART exhibition 2010 in Mexico City Wikipedia image by Author AlejandroLinaresGarcia

There are indistinct differences between the work of art and pieces of craft. The works of Art are exclusively centred on the meaning, often subjugating the materials and the processes of manipulation. The craft item is an embodiment of manipulated materials. The applied arts though manifest the materials, but do not reflect the processes of materials’ conversions. Since industrial age massive manufacturing capacities have distinguished handicrafts. Craft-items can be produced by using automated tools and other machine-based processes. This has created some categorizations of folk-crafts, country-crafts and tribal crafts.

Basket weaving Cameroon Wikipedia image by Author ymea Permission (Reusing this file) CC-BY-SA. Autorization by OTRS (ticket n° 2006062110007771).

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