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Etsy dilemmas- from handmade to ‘one size fits all’?

September 29, 2012

some of my little craft products

I just read an excellent article about Etsty on the latest BrushBuzz newsletter. I won’t go into the details (it is long but worth a read), but the gist is that as sellers get more successful, they outgrow the Etsy profile- ‘independent handmade’. And some leave to develop their product for production-  letting others do the making.

Etsy is therefore looking at reforming their policy to allow people to be designers only and farm out the production work.
Obviously there are inherent dangers in finding others to produce your product – once profit becomes a motive, the jump to employing third world sweatshops isn’t a large one.

Additionally, Etsy wares will soon be available in shopping malls and other brick and mortar stores.  Interesting……..

Actually the issue I want to address here isn’t about Etsy policy as much as it is about the intent of creators. I’m not against having a successful business selling your art, I know that for many this is rewarding. I’m mainly concerned about what happens to the transformative power of art when business values take over.

What I see happening with Etsy saddens me, because I thought Etsy was part of a wider movement to democratise art by eliminating the gatekeepers; and to make handmade goods carrying the qualities of care, craftsmanship, community and honest values available to as many people as possible. The values any honest craftsman or woman’s life stand for are about the dedication and discipline it takes to make things that take time, that invest each object with  a story, that are individual, made with attention to detail, to high standards of workmanship, are sustainable, are unique, are authentic. There is a transformative  process that goes on when you follow through an idea from start to finish by yourself. Anyone involved with hands-on creative work will attest to its healing qualities, and it starts with the maker and ripples out with the object as it passes hands.

Etsy was founded as a model of the small scale ‘making and doing’ culture, the antidote to the ‘sit back and be told’ culture. David Gauntlett, in his book, ‘Making is connecting’, introduces this idea of the makers and doers who reject sitting passively in front of TV consuming mass produced media. They think for themselves, seek opportunities for creativity, social connections and personal growth. He says that the resurgence of interest in the crafts culture is a product of this. Creativity isn’t just about knitted hats and sweet videos, but it is an absolutely critical and political issue. People are choosing to make something themselves (or look at online art markets like Etsy for one of a kind objects made by independent craftspeople)  rather than just consume what is on offer from the big suppliers. He feels that this leads to a whole new perspective and potentially a political shift in how we deal with the world.  Industrial tools are predictable, planned , trivial and conservative. In speaking about alternatives to the industrial commercial complex, he said,

A future happier society will emerge though diverse, non-centralized creative acts.

We need to develop small local approaches focused on people’s needs rather than big bureaucratic operations which end up feeding themselves.

Will Etsy go the way of many small businesses that started with ideals and end up ‘feeding itself’? These are my thoughts as Etsy, which could have been a powerful model for alternatives to impersonally consuming mass produced stuff,  contemplates jumping in to the existing commercial mindset.
What a pity.

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2 Responses to “Etsy dilemmas- from handmade to ‘one size fits all’?”

  1. Laura Hughes Says:

    Hi Sarah,

    My sentiments exactly. I closed my Etsy account a couple of years ago for those very reasons. I have stopped trying to force/sell my art as it was akin to trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

    Personal, transformative art is where I started and I ended up trying to be saleable (Schiller’s quote used by Klimt springs to mind). This made me miserable and question what on earth I was doing. So I stopped making myself miserable and anxious and have returned to making expressive art that comes from my inner self, as messy, visceral and thought provoking as that often is, and in so doing explore, contemplate and transform. I choose who to show it to and if they like it or even want a print of it, that’s fine but it isn’t WHY I create.

    • szoutewelle Says:

      Hi Laura, thanks for dropping by. I think I know how you feel, I sensed all this while considering setting up an Etsy store, an decided in teh end not to. There are some people not cut out for approaching art as a business venture. That should be fine, but in the present society, this group is heckled for numerous supposed character faults such as ‘not trying hard enough, not being practical, not going for it, being too passive, not taking advantage of the tools available, etc etc.’ That is because we’ve finally come to a point as a society where the quality of the art says less than the savvy spent on marketing it.

      I’m glad you’ve come back to what feels right for you to do. I feel that if one stays rooted in one’s local environment, keeps following their art/craft and heart consistently, that eventually something will come back. Sometimes it is someone buying a piece, or it could be a teaching opportunity, a commission, or simply a respected place in the community. And so often the making of art is its own reward, as you have described.


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