Off the grid

topoware

There’s an excellent article in American Craft Magazine about the rise of DIY design and craft but one aspect of the article is bugging me and it cuts to the heart of the strategy for Folksy. The article (for those of you who can’t be bothered to read it) posits that DIY craft and design has been a political movement, the very fact that it is “off the grid” means that to be involved is a statement. However, in the closing sections it goes further and argues that craft is essentially a ‘uncommercial’ activity and that the commercialism of say, Etsy runs counter to the anti-factory ethic of craft. Now, this seems wrong to me for three reasons:

  • Craft (and design) can be undertaken as a labour of love but ultimately, unless you’re living off a trust fund you need to earn some money. If you’re stuff is good, it will sell. And I don’t buy the argument of “art for art’s sake”. Lucien Freud sells. Period. Sure he hasn’t got a huge market, in fact his market is quite niche but it’s a good niche.
  • It creates a false opposition which reifies craft above ‘exchange value’. If something has exchange value it has commercial value.
  • Commercial projects do not have to be ‘unethical’. Commerce often provides the basis for a lot of good. Malaria vaccines saving millions of lives a year would not have been produced without commerce. Without factories we would not have affordable food, clothing and products that we rely on. Sure aspects of a supply chain, of the process of production can be unethical (sweat shops for example) but let’s not demonise the whole shebang (and good services like Etsy and Folksy etc.) for the sake of some (conspicuous) consumption and unpleasant production practices.

Some craft / design that is primarily made with non-industrial processes is “off the grid” but it would be naive to suggest that it is in some way ‘better’ for ethical reasons. The rise of DIY taps into the same consumerist desires that have helped capitalism to adapt, such as personalisation and often draws on similar production supply chain issues, such as just-in-time processes. In bracketing craft as an essentially polictical activity the article, in my opinion, starts to create a moral straightjacket for what is and is not ‘right’. And this brings me on to Folksy.

Folksy is commercial, people set a value for the things they create and the market dictates whether that ‘value’ is appropriate. The process by which things get made is un-factory on the whole, although we do allow items that are the result of short production runs on industrial processes, such as these gorgeous plates by Alex and Karola. Alex designed the plates from scratch but needed an industrial process to get the quality of the product right (she is not a ceramacist). Is this unethical? I don’t think so. It supports design talent and the sharing of new ideas with a market that can actually ‘vote’ for that idea in the most base way, through sales. The best way for any form of radicalism to sustain itself is to have a vibrant economy, economy of ideas and (financial) ‘value’.

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