EXERCISE : HAND CRAFTS VS INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION
Q – Is it elitist to design for a relatively small section of the population?
We tend to consider the word elitist as a negative thing, something we associate with those that perceive themselves to be better than others in terms of social standing and intellect but I’m wondering if elitist, in the design context, may be the same as specialised, prestigious or even just for a selective audience. If so, those words don’t carry negative meanings.
As an artist, when selling your work rather than just creating it to satisfy your own wishes, you consider who you work may appeal to. If you intentionally narrow your audience and produce your items for the higher end of the market then yes this could be considered elitist as you would expect only those that can afford such luxuries to be in a position to buy it – it’s a conscious decision to sell to the higher echelons of society therefore you have made a decision to be elitist. It may be that the artwork naturally appeals to a selective audience because of subject matter, design technique, style of work etc rather than the price tag so as these are factors that have occurred by themselves rather by choice so perhaps elitist is not the word but specialised might be more appropriate.
At the highest end of the market is bespoke – having an item made specifically to your wishes, a commission being its correct term in the creative industry or being personalised in some way therefore making it the only one of its kind in existence. This is, I believe is true elitism, appealing to those who wish to demonstrate their social standing by choosing bespoke.
All that being said I do believe that there is a growing trend for the general public to seek out artisan products as we become more and more exposed to “good value” items being sold everywhere, including our supermarkets, and our awareness of manufacturing methods is being raised. We like to buy something that is a bit different and we will pay a little bit more for something special that no one else has to stand out amongst our friends and family. So perhaps the answer is not that designers are being elitist in designing for a small section of the population but s small section of the population stills like to be elitist, or aspire to be elitist and so buy handmade as a marker of social standing?
Q – Are hand-crafted artefacts simply a luxury for those that can afford them?
No I don’t believe they are only for those that can afford them as I have seen plenty of evidence at craft fairs, galleries and exhibitions etc where artists produce scaled down and more financially accessible creations. Products that are still hand crafted but in different price ranges – this makes good business sense as sales are maximised by appealing to different markets. It may only be handmade cards with smaller versions of their larger scale work or perhaps brooches, journal covers, book marks etc but they are offering a range of items that are accessible to a wider audience and not just the items that are at the higher end of the price scale. It is true to say, however, that hand crafted goods are considered a luxury in general as they usually have a higher price tag than a similar item that is mass produced but it is the quality, the crafters hand and the individual aspect of these creations that sets them apart.
Q – Do designers have a moral responsibility to make their designs available to a mass audience (for example, consider the mass production of versions of hand-made designer clothes for sale in high street chains)
I don’t believe that any designer has a moral responsibility to make their work available to a mass audience but it makes good business sense to make it as wide as possible, certainly in the early days when starting a business and then this can be adjusted in time. By making their work accessible to many they can assess what appeals. What’s really key is that an artist produces work that they are proud of and represents them as an artist rather than producing work with the sole intention of making money – they must be true to themselves and their work.
Q – Is industrial production incompatible with meaning?
Yes, when items are produced intensively out put and profitability are more important factors than quality and craftsmanship. Craftspeople take pride in the quality of their work investing time, talent, energy and consideration for design aesthetics into their creation to make each item perfect and fault free, although some slight imperfections have a charm all of their own and validate the hand crafted aspect. When buying handcrafted, customers are seeking craftsmanship so not only is it incompatible but it is not necessary as the whole idea of buying handmade is to expect and appreciate that each item is unique and differs from the next by some slight variation. There’s a time to buy mass produced and there’s a time to buy hand crafted and when we buy hand crafted we are buying something that defines us as individuals.