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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