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We’ve forgotten what a hobby was.  It was sewing, crafting, drawing, for the pleasure of it alone.

Maybe once in awhile a friend or neighbour offered to buy our latest crochet project for a little money.  We made things in our spare time at our own tempo. We kept making stuff which got given away or sold for a charity or sold so we could buy more supplies. It was a natural cycle of enjoyment, energy invested and a kind of gentle return on that. Sometimes it involved money, but it was about appreciation as well, and exchanging new techniques or materials with others.

Now every human with two hands and a knitting needle has dollar signs in her eyes it seems. Our society’s obsession with business has invaded even this homely domain. Now our knitter makes a ‘product’. In order to sell, she needs a logo, a label, a website, an Etsy store. She needs to be a good photographer to take images of her work to promote it. She must work the social sites, keep up with her Etsy contacts to make sure her work gets featured on others’ blogs, keep up with her networking. She needs to fill orders, set up an online payment system. She needs to become a good postal worker and get her products in the mail on time. The administration has to be done well and regularly. And soon she has to face it- she isn’t a knitter anymore, she is a retailer or depending on the product, a wholesaler. Her arm is hurting from staying up doing all that knitting to fill orders. Should she hire someone to do the drudge work?

Good grief, people. Keep your hobbies hobbies!  Keep part of yourself off line and out of the marketplace.

Here is my latest creation from my hobby of crocheting- fully copied from delightful Lucie’s generously shared instructions.

And it is so not for sale.

Decorative birdie

Decorative birdie

Oh,  but if you are interested, let’s see, it took around 5 hours, at 35 euros an hour- that will be 175 euros, thanks.

And, no, I can’t make 12 more.

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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, Read the rest of this entry »

If everyone is an artist….?

December 15, 2011

There are several points of discussion ,’Making is Connecting’, brings up for me. The first one is:

if anyone can make and sell their work on (and off) line, is everyone, then an artist?

If everyone is an artist, then, of course, no one is.
Not in the same sense I’ve been brought up to believe; that an artist is someone with a calling who devotes his or her life to learning to express themselves in their chosen craft/discipline. This almost always involves a rigorous path of education and then the required 10,000 hours of practice before one can even begin to make work of stature and relevance.

I think, though, that the ways to discern people devoted to excellence in their calling from the dabbler have been blurred. James Krenov acknowledged this in the last century and suggested that keeping  professionalism and amateurs strictly separate was the best way to honour the artist and leave the hobbyist to putter in their own domain. I apologise for sounding harsh, but for many years this is how I felt about hobbyists, even though in some fields, I am one myself.

Pro-Ams

Things are radically changing, though. In his book, ‘The Element’, Sir Ken Robinson cites the rise of the so-called ‘Pro-Ams’.  (partially  paraphrased)

This is a kind of amateur who works at increasingly high standards…the Pro-Am pursues an activity as an amateur, mainly for the love of it, but sets a professional standard. The Pro-Am uses his leisure not for passive consumerism but is active and participatory involving knowledge built up over a long period of practice.

While no professional in any field enjoys being undercut by people offering lesser quality work at cheaper prices, I actually welcome this democratisation of art and creativity because it frees us all from some very confining boxes.  Creative people are finding channels, not previously available to non-professionals, for sharing their work.  And professionals,too, get a chance to let down their hair and try out some other areas without the constraints of having to be perfect first.

Real Artists

I think there will always be a place for excellence and authenticity. There are simply artists who either reach such high levels of their craft that it communicates to whoever is receptive to it. Or they touch a nerve which the whole society is poised to express but hasn’t yet realized. And  in so doing give it a voice and a face.

And reluctantly I must admit, that maybe the distinction of the Real Artist might be passé.  Or it is expanding to include various degrees of commitment and expertise.

There is to my eye definitely a distinction between the talented crafter who at this moment is flooding Etsy with (extremely popular) owls, birds and vintage. And the artist drawing from their own experience to give wings to a vision.

More about art vs craft another time.