Friday, October 09, 2009

rules, production, ignorance and competing with the Chinese

This morning I am sanding some boxes to fill an order with one of the few galleries continuing to handle my work. The order is smaller than usual for this time of year. Its the economy. But I am grateful that as my attentions have been turned to teaching and writing, there are still a few galleries that care about what I make and that they have customers who care about what I make.

The boxes that I make when I teach are never exactly the same, but when I make boxes for selling through small craft galleries, I follow very specific rules. The types of wood and sizes and types of inlay are set, as are the various steps followed to get consistent results, so that when the gallery places the order, they know exactly what they will receive. It is never a mindless enterprise, as I am always paying careful attention to make certain that my standards are met. Being tight with the rules is part of what it takes to build a business. If I were to ship my materials to China and teach someone my set-ups, rules, and standards, they could produce what I make for a fraction of the cost... Provided there was a large enough demand for the product for them to justify making gadzillions.

In actual fact, I'm not really competing with the Chinese in the most direct sense... The value of my work is in its relationships to our beautiful forests and to the notion that the work is made by a real human being. Its qualities are not simply the result of tooling and precision machinery, but also arise from care and human attention to detail. I do compete with the Chinese in a less direct sense, in that the value of Chinese made goods impacts the perceived value of other things, and so many people do not really know what goes into the making of a human crafted object, and thus we have been taught to place little value in things.

I was reading in Elliot Eisner's book the Arts and the Creation of Mind about primary and secondary ignorance. Primary ignorance is what you know you don't know. Secondary ignorance is a far more difficult challenge in that it is what we don't know we don't know. For example most of the people in the US don't really know how little they know about how things are made, and consequently, they have little sense of the values invested in their making. Joe Barry told me that in the PBS broadcast of Craft in America, "a college weaving teacher noted that all his American students came to him not only never having made anything themselves but, not having seen anyone else make something!" People in America know very little about making things, and also don't even know how little they know about making things, so we have a striking example of secondary ignorance.

But there is a simple fix. Return crafts to the center of primary and secondary education. Make, fix, cook, sew, plant, create. Renew education.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:12 AM

    Whether one of a kind or production runs, your work shows thought and care that mass-produced work from Asian sweatshops never will. And thank goodness there are still people who appreciate craft.