Friday, February 22, 2008

The Revolution will be Handmade: Use Value vs. Economic Value

First, a few things about me. I'm happiest when I've got a project going. I'm making something. I studied art and then art history. I worked in a museum, for universities, and now at an art gallery. My master's thesis covered the intersection of handcraft, design, biography, methodology, and feminism. I was a curatorial assistant in a large decorative arts collection. I say all this to give some context to the following - I am thrilled and challenged by the current and continued surge in craft and DIY. 

The more I read, the more it all seems to be coming together, even compared to a year ago.
Handmade 2.0, published in the NY Times, is an excellent summary of the state of craft. I agree completely that it is, at least for me, a work revolution. I've lost my job before and experienced extreme uncertainty and lack of control about my future. The idea that I could literally MAKE my way out is something I dream about everyday. I'll work harder, I'll think more creatively, I'll trade or gift my way out. But it stops there, for me, for now. 

As much as I have created, I still see myself as a gifter. I reason out the exchange by thinking about how much time I spent on the object, how much I spent on materials, and how much thought I put in to design something just for that person vs. the price of buying a gift at the store. Same with things I make for myself. The time/materials vs. buying it. This form of exchange cannot generate income; it can only be bartered with time and only given to those I feel close enough to give a handmade good. 

When I was doing research for my thesis I read quite a bit about use value vs. economic value. What women traditionally make tends to be used. Quilts cover beds, clothes are worn, ceramics are used. They are handmade and not sold, but used. Of course there are many traditional handcrafts that have no function at all, but the author was trying to draw a distinction between quilts by women (used) and portrait paintings by men (sold). I've felt safe staying in a use value and exchange system. 

I am ready now to move forward. 
The Revolution will be Handmade, Etsy Storque's article following up on Morgan Spurlock's new film on anti-consumerism and the NYT story listed above, confirms the canonization of these ideas about craft, use vs. economic value, and the work revolution. It's a great read, but my favorite part was reading the comments after the story. No offense, but most comments to stories on most websites are useless drivel and thoughtless insults - knee jerk taunts. This was different; people really wrote what they thought, what this means to them, what they are struggling with. Ultimately, it was very balanced. No one was too radical, everyone was very practical and thoughtful. Societies exchange goods, always have. We don't need to move towards making everything ourselves, but we can add value by making something really well and it's okay to sell it, basically following a cottage industry model expanded by new technology and networking. 

There is also a strong trend towards the local. I'm still figuring this out. I've joined a few groups, but I haven't made it out to see anyone in person yet. I think it is an important part of the equation, but so far my real-world craft presence is only confirmed by those I have over for crochet/knit night or the recipients of my never-ending gifts. I plan to... well, I plan to do lots of things, but I'll write about that later. 

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