Sunday, July 18, 2010

If You Can't Love It, Don't Make It - some thoughts on care

It's a hard ask, especially if your craft is your living. Granny Funk was at the Wanneroo Art "N" About Markets recently, and in the lead-up there was the inevitable rush to get stock made in between the organisational scrambles that seem to make up a great deal of life. At the best of times, creating a piece of art of any sort is a pleasure. Giving my full attention to what I'm doing, thinking about what the best thing to do next will be - change colour? A button? A virtuoso pattern variation? - and letting the piece emerge with its own character. But creative enterprises are not immune to the stresses of time demands. And when time stress replaces attention and delight, the thing dies. Oh, you might make something wonderful - but if you don't love it while you make it, you probably won't love it afterwards, even if someone else does. And if you're an artist, that's not really how you want to feel about your work.

I think it's the case that the emphasis on efficiency in our industrial economy has marginalised care as a benchmark against which the quality of work is measured. We can make a lot of things very quickly, and perhaps structurally soundly, too - but can we make them well? By what measure would we consider something well-made? Does it make a difference if something has been made by hand or by a machine in China? And if it does, what kind of difference? Is quality an exclusively technical measure (e.g. durability of a garment or accuracy of joinery in a piece of furniture), or does "quality" indicate something beyond the sum of technical measurements, something less measurable? Do we set some stock on care as well as on productivity?

Given the trend toward all things handmade, it would seem that increasingly, yes we do. But is this growing emphasis on handmade items a real appreciation for quality artistry, or is "handmade" simply becoming a selling catch-word as part of our quest for "authentic" buying experiences, regardless of the actual conditions of production? I want to believe that the current trend in fashion toward retro, vintage and handmade items is at least partially underpinned by a growing awareness that we need to recycle things; that there is quite a lot of fabric on the planet already; that a sweatshop-import economy is not morally or environmentally viable. And that - oh please! - if we are to survive the inevitable shifts that peak oil is going to mean for our society, we are going to need to start learning to do some things with our hands again. And learn to love the work we have palmed off.

Unfortunately I feel a little concerned that this may be, indeed, just another fad. And I am aware that, as with other fads with apparently good credentials, there is a lot of hyper-consumption going on. But I hope that in amongst that consumption the conversation about what we value and what constitutes quality can start in earnest, and that "handmade" can be valued in its connection to a just and environmentally sound future more than its trend-factor.

I do think there is a difference made by care - a difference which becomes visible in product and practice. When I get tired of crocheting, I repeat my little mantra, and I find a way to love it again.