British Museum blog

Craft in the information age

With Grayson Perry:The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman opening on 6 October 2011, the Museum has been asking contributors from the craft world including the Crafts Council and The Craftivist Collective to share their thoughts on the importance of craft today. In this special blog post, Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry gives us his opinion on craft in the digital age, one of the diverse themes he explores in his exhibition.

Tell us your views and debate with Grayson Perry live on Twitter at 13.00 BST on Friday 16 September 2011 – join the conversation using #craftdebate

I often feel I am under pressure to somehow represent the craft ‘community’, to be the poster boy for the handmade. I am a great lover of craft skill but I am not going to fetishise technique over artistry. The difference between craft and art I define as craft being something that can be taught, and art coming much more from the inspired individual. Many artists are extremely poor craftsmen, many crafts people are rubbish artists. I see many beautifully made things that I find pig ugly. What I will stand up for is the relevance of craft in the information age. Some people think that craft is a nostalgic activity like knitting with grandma or throwing medieval peasant pottery, I say craft is necessary and thriving more than ever in the age of the internet, Photoshop and rapid prototyping. There are some great examples in the current show at the V&A, The Power of Making.

The Walthamstow Tapestry (detail) by Grayson Perry

One of my pleasures now I have had a bit of success and a bit more money is commissioning and working with great crafts men and women. I like nothing more than designing a dress, some shoes or a motorcycle and collaborating with highly skilled individuals or teams to bring my ideas to life. I employ crafts people to assist me in casting my sculptures, printing my etchings or digitising my tapestries. None of these individuals would I describe as nostalgic or an anachronism in the digital age. In fact every one of them uses to a greater or lesser degree the wonderful technology now so woven into our lives.

My shoemaker very much depends on her website as a shop window, her footwear is for a niche market and she needs to be found by her far-flung international clientele. A rock star in L.A. can order a pair of lace thigh boots with seven-inch heels and my shoemaker can make them in an inexpensive studio in north London. I can email drawings of a detail of my motorcycle design to a custom bike builder on the south coast where he can skillfully convert them into CAD/CAM programme and the parts get milled to a standard that would be hugely time consuming and expensive if not impossible if made by hand. A friend alters photographs in Photoshop for me to get turned into ceramic transfers that I will fire onto a vase. These will be printed on a specially built inkjet printer which uses ceramic enamels making it possible to make full colour transfers much cheaper than with the old litho or silk screen method.

A pair of Grayson Perry's shoes

Digital technology brings to the craftsman and artist a range of tools that offer creative opportunities that before were too expensive for an individual making one offs, or too time consuming or just plain impossible. This technology is coming down in price all the time it won’t be long before 3D printers are as common as kilns. I think that to become skilful with these newer technologies is to be just as much of a craftsman as with a traditional weaver or potter. To get great results the user has to be just as sympathetic to the material effects of a particular digital technique. Tests have to be done and responded to just the same as I do with glazes in the kiln. The results of digital production often have a lifeless feeling that is because the machine will do exactly what is asked of it and no more, there are few ‘gifts of the fire’ as in pottery. Crafts people will become better at predicting and nuancing their instructions to the machines and digital manufacturing machines will become more refined. I look forward to an amazing era of craft and art using computers in various ways and in combination with the old techniques we know and love.

Tell us your views and debate with Grayson Perry live on Twitter at 13.00 BST on Friday 16 September 2011 – join the conversation using #craftdebate

Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman
is supported by AlixPartners, with Louis Vuitton. Book tickets now

Images © Grayson Perry

Filed under: Exhibitions, Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman

2 Responses - Comments are closed.

  1. bluedeva says:

    I really believe that there is a resurgence in crafts and arts in all it’s forms.
    People are sick of buying into the mass generated clothing, home wares etc that you can buy in most shops and are now looking into one off pieces that makes them feel unique.
    People are getting back into this due to the recession by making their money go further by up-cycling or recycling or by generally making things themselves.
    A lot of people are moving away from working in a cubicle or being tied down to the 9-5 jobs either through choice or through lack of available jobs and this is bringing out the creative ways to bring in extra pennies.
    The UK used to be well known for it’s cloth, lace arts and manufacturing, now all we do in import! Gone are our cloth, lace and most manufacturing industries and we need them back in order to make jobs and give much need skills back to this country and i also feel that this needs to be brought back into schools. Not every child is an academic genius but give them a skill and you give them back there true worth. Arts and crafts can do that in all it’s guises.
    With the power of the internet these people now join forces to create new ways and ideas and put them into practice. Bringing the skills into digital forms. They help and encourage each other to try new ways, using technology to make it work, almost like your very own teacher showing how to make it possible.

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  2. Anny Malama says:

    I think it’s all about consuming. In this case, consuming art on a different level. And sharing identities as well as exploring the possibilities of modernizing a society by connecting it with its “tradition”. As I am currently working on the Panhellenic Exhibitions of Popular Arts and Crafts (late 1920s to early 1950s) in Greece, I can’t help but notice that all the well known artists and architects of the period get involved and function as the mediums of connecting the “origins” with the modernist trends and movements in the country’s artistic production.

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Discover some of the amazing wearable treasures in our new #Waddesdon gallery on @Pinterest at pinterest.com/britishmuseum
The Grenville Jewel. Dating from about 1635–1640, this superb locket contains a portrait by David Des Granges of Sir Bevil Grenville, a Cornish Royalist General who died during the English Civil War in 1643. The case is a bravura demonstration of enamelling on gold. Minute pansies, marguerites and green leaves stand out against a black background. A large square sapphire adorns the centre, surrounded by rubies, opals and diamonds. A pendant pearl in an enamelled setting completes the piece.
Gold enamelled pendant jewel with a ruby-studded parrot. The top of the base is enamelled with shields and flowers. Two pendant pearls complete the jewel. The parrot itself may have 16th-century Spanish origins, but the rest of the jewel is largely a 19th-century construction by the French jeweller Alfred André (1839–1919). A similar parrot pendant is in the Museo Arqueológico Nacional, Madrid, where the bird is also modelled in the round and white enamel used to highlight the eyes. Here's another great photo from our instagramer event, a #tired_portrait in the Great Court by @zoecaldwell.
Check out #emptyBM to see all their amazing photos! US artist John Sloan was born #onthisday in 1871. 
John Sloan, painter, printmaker and teacher, first took up etching as a self-taught adolescent.  Moving to New York in 1904, he became part of a group of eight artists, better known as “The Ashcan School”, who focused on creating images of urban realism. Between 1891 and 1940 Sloan produced some 300 etchings. He was also one of the first chroniclers of the American scene and wrote about printmaking and the etching technique.
This etching comes from the series of 10 prints entitled 'New York City Life', recording the lives of the ordinary inhabitants in less affluent areas of Manhattan. The prints had a mixed reception at the time and a number were rejected from an exhibition of the American Watercolor Society as ‘vulgar’ and ‘indecent’. #August is named after the Roman emperor Augustus. Before 8 BC the Romans called it Sextilis! 
This head once formed part of a statue of the emperor Augustus (ruled 27 BC – AD 14). In 31 BC he defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the battle of Actium and took possession of Egypt, which became a Roman province. The writer Strabo tells us that statues of Augustus were erected in Egyptian towns near the first cataract of the Nile at Aswan and that an invading Kushite army looted many of them in 25 BC.
Although Roman counter-attackers reclaimed many of the statues, they did not reach Meroë, where this head was buried beneath the steps of a native temple dedicated to Victory. It seems likely that the head, having been cut from its statue, was placed there deliberately so as to be permanently below the feet of its Meroitic captors.
The head of Augustus appears larger than life, with perfect proportions based upon Classical Greek notions of ideal human form. His calm distant gaze, emphasised with inset eyes of glass and stone, give him an air of quiet, assured strength. Coins and statues were the main media for propagating the image of the Roman emperor. This statue, like many others throughout the Empire, was made as a continuous reminder of the all-embracing power of Rome and its emperor. English sculptor Henry Moore was born #onthisday in 1898.
Drawing played a major role in Henry Moore's work throughout his career. He used it to generate and develop ideas for sculpture, and to create independent works in their own right.
During the 1930s the range and variety of his drawing expanded considerably, starting with the 'Transformation Drawings' in which he explored the metamorphosis of natural, organic shapes into human forms. At the end of the decade he began to focus on the relationship between internal and external forms, his first sculpture of this nature being 'Helmet' (Tate Collections) of 1939.
This drawing titled ‘Two Women: Drawing for sculpture combining wood and metal’ was based on a pencil study entitled ‘Ideas for Lead Sculpture’. It reflects his awareness of surrealism and psychoanalytical theory as well his abiding interest in ethnographic material and non-European sculpture; the particular reference in this context is to a malangan figure (malangan is a funeral ritual cycle) from New Ireland province in Papua New Guinea, which had attracted his interest in the British Museum. 
Henry Moore, Two Women: Drawing for sculpture combining wood and metal. England, 1939. Here's another fabulous view of the Great Court captured by @whatinasees at our instagramer event #regram #repost
Check out all of the photos at #emptyBM
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