To Craft or Not To Craft

To Craft or Not To Craft Robyn LeRoy-Evans, Form(ed), 2012–2014

With an unstable economy, shifting job market and rapid changes in technology, it is more crucial than ever to think seriously about the future of craft education

The Crafts Council have taken to the road to discuss their report 'Studying craft: trends in craft education and training' across the country. In March, I went along to their joint seminar with CHEAD (Council for Higher Education in Art & Design) in Manchester.

The report systematically explores what has happened in formal craft education and training over the last five years. The statistics reveal an increasingly disengaged audience at key stages 4, 5 and in Further Education (FE). Worryingly, there’s a 19% drop in the take-up of craft-related GCSE subjects and the Cultural Learning Alliance suggests this is continuing to fall. The report also reveals a decline in the provision of craft education in Higher Education (HE).

With an unstable economy, shifting job market and rapid changes in technology, it is more crucial than ever to think seriously about the future of craft education. Unfortunately the educational reforms we have seen in recent years support very little long-term investment in providing individuals with vital craft skills.

Perhaps the problem is the word 'craft'. It evokes in many the idea of redundant skills, traditional tools, something to turn to later in life (57% of community learners are aged 50 and over) and the perception of a field in which there are few job opportunities.

The perceived value of creative courses appears to be at an all-time low: many teachers at the seminar talked about the need for a drastic change in the promotion of their courses in order to convince parents of the benefits. People tend to forget that craft has always been about innovation. The industrial revolution was just as much about small-scale production and craft-skill as it was about large-scale industry.

At the seminar, the founders of Crafts Council Netherlands profiled three makers:

  • Piet Hein Eek, a designer who creates unique products out of seemingly worthless materials, working to the philosophy of treating waste as gold.
  • Claudy Jongstra, an artist and designer working with natural materials and traditional techniques, has developed a unique way of transforming material.
  • Dann Roosegaarde, who declares himself half preacher and half entrepreneur and merchant. Stuidio Roosegaarde creates interactive designs that address space, people and technology in a world shifting between analogue and digital.

All three practitioners are successfully using craft skills in new and innovative ways.

It is a misconception that in an increasingly digitised world craft skills are no longer needed. Not only is it important to our wider learning and wellbeing to develop these skills in a digitised world, but there is an even higher demand on the quality of making. With the development of high definition video, for example, props, costumes, prosthetics and sets have had to become flawless.

Katherine Johnson, I Feel Craft Shame
Katherine Johnson, I feel Craft Shame, 2008

An education that involves problem-solving and development of cognitive and haptic (based on the sense of touch) skills will become increasingly necessary as we adapt to a changing world and prepare for the jobs of the future. Geoffrey Crossik, Chair of the Crafts Council, talked about the introduction of ceramics classes for surgeons in training to re-engage their sense of touch - ironic when the number of ceramics and glass courses at HE level has fallen by a drastic 67%.

The fall in students taking up craft-related GCSEs, the huge decrease in the provision of HNCs (Higher National Diploma), HNDs (Higher National Certificate) and courses available at HE and the closure of 230 craft-related degrees in just five years is very worrying, and we are yet to see the devastating repercussions this will have. The general feeling at the seminar was that we need to change people’s perception of craft and encourage them to associate the word with an attitude rather than a material process. We need to move away from the word being seen as symbolic of tools. Craft is no longer a material process, but more an approach and something very much worth investing in for long-term social and economic benefit.

Download the Crafts Councils full report or executive summary > 

You may also be interested in;

Championing craft and makers in the South East >
Craft and Social Change: conference report >
Craft Collectives >
Summer of craft twitter debate > 
Alec Clegg and the case for arts education >
engage – The National Association for Gallery Education comes to Cardiff >