Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Handmade, Craft and a Generation Gap

This past weekend, one friend posted on Facebook about "Craftivism", another reminded me that the Renegade Fair had taken place in San Francisco, and I was sending out reminders about the upcoming American Craft Council show in San Francisco. All got me thinking about the role of craft in generations, and the generation gap that currently exists.

My grandmother, my daughter, and I all have made things by hand since we were first able to. Sewers, knitters, and designers alike, we always approached our making of things very differently. Of the three of us, I, alone, was the one schooled in craft, with a BFA in textiles attesting to my study of weaving, printing, knotting, sculpting, and otherwise manipulating textiles in the pursuit of art. For my generation of the 70's, having traditional craft media and techniques taken seriously as art was THE issue. Simultaneously, as we were in noble pursuit of recognition of the importance of craft, an entire generation was playing in the outer fringes with tie-dye, macrame' plant holders, and crocheted granny blankets. Today, there is a generation of artists, my contemporaries in age, making beautiful fine craft, getting recognition in museums, and with an audience at shows like the ACC which seem to be similarly aged, i.e. gray and mid-life.

And then, there is the world of Handmade Nation, Craftivism, Etsy, and the Renegade Fair. As I first watched this world from afar, I have to admit that I viewed it with everything from skepticism to snootiness. The principles that I believed in, principles of dedication to honed technique, dedication to art with meaning, dedication to art which lasts all seemed to be missing. What replaced these principles seemed to be not principles, but rather a "look what I just made" attitude, an "anyone can craft" attitude, a thumb-nosing at all that my peers had worked so hard to achieve. I just didn't get it, and, in fact, was scared and appalled.

And then I paid more attention. Attending the Renegade Fair and meeting some of the leading advocates of crafting caused me to realize that, just as with my generation, the new craft movement is as strong a lifestyle movement as had occurred in my youth. There is an embracing of the handmade, a celebration of experimentation, and an acceptance of imperfection. I had often wondered when attending some of the established craft fairs where all the young artists were, and what I found was that this generation is comfortable with labels of artist, crafter, and maker, and not out to prove that one is superior to the other.

Taken a step further, the use of craft as social activism, as evidenced by the AIDS quilt project started in the 1980's, is alive and active with the advent of "craftivism". Knitters, crocheters, quilters, and sewers have been banding together to create works to gather public attention, such as the "Tank Blankie" pictured above. Sometimes stealth and guerrilla in nature, like the Salty Knits group who embellish public places, sometime commercial as in Levi's wrapping of bicycles in corduroy and placing them all around San Francisco as part of a campaign, the use of craft by the current generation is its own, is refreshing, and is to be supported. I may not wear it or like what it looks like, but I certainly like that it is taking place!


  1. This story would make an interesting narrative essay. Reminded me of "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker. "Everyday Use" is about a quilt and how its viewed by two different people -- is it art meant to be hung and appreciated? Or is it for "everday use". One of my favorite short stories.

  2. Thanks for the tip about "Everyday Use". I don't know that story, but recently finished Walker's book of stories, "The Way Forward Is With a Broken Heart" and much resonated with me. I'll look for this one!