Paul Harper

Studio 22: Meaningful work

Studio 22: Meaningful work

Studio brief

"The aim of art is to destroy the curse of labour by making work the pleasurable satisfaction of our impulse towards energy, and giving to that energy the hope of producing something worth the exercise."
William Morris

This studio will consider the value of making – in itself, independent of the product or outcome, exploring the idea of craft as meaningful work. Art and craft will be considered not as categories of commodity, luxury and expressive objects or a discrete set of practices, but as a particular approach to making things and a humanising creative experience. Craft making will be examined as a form of meaning, in which meaning is understood as contingent, embodied and evolving.

The studio will introduce contemporary writers who examine the nature of craft knowledge and whose ideas support an understanding of making as a human activity which is both intrinsically rewarding to the maker and outwardly directed or socially engaged. These ideas will be given a historical context in the theoretical and ideological writings of William Morris, who celebrated art and craft as socially useful and individually fulfilling creative work – a politicised form of work which was proposed as part of an alternative to industrial capitalism.

Summer preparation:

As an introduction to some of the themes that we will be exploring, please watch the following films over the summer:

  1. Matthew Collings – Civilisation
  2. Sennett: “The Craftsman made the ideal citizen of the republic…” and mp3.
  3. Matthew Crawford
  4. Paul Harper

Outline the first seven weeks of study

  • Week 1: Introductory lecture and seminar: introducing and outlining the main themes, course structure and readings. We'll also look more generally at the dissertation – choosing your subject, researching and writing it.
  • Week 2: William Morris: The studio theme will be given a historical context in the work of Morris’s ideas regarding the organisation and ownership of labour, the moral and social purpose of art, creativity and given expression through the making process.
  • Week 3: Museum visit: a visit to the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow.
  • Week 4: Craft as intrinsically rewarding work: this seminar will look at the concepts of flow and self-determination in order to understand how making might facilitate a sense of personal satisfaction, human agency and connectedness.
  • Week 5: The nature of craft knowledge: this seminar will discuss craft knowledge as something that is embodied, situated and performed. Something that is shared and passed on from individual to individual and from generation to generation. Craft requires submission to externally determined standards and values, but it is not fixed. It evolves as it is practised.
  • Week 6: Craft and society: this seminar will consider craft as something that is outwardly directed, forming a link between the self and the surrounding material and social world. Craft knowledge is something that we internalise, but it also involves shared techniques, standards and learning. It doesn’t take place in isolation, but within a network of relationships involving suppliers, clients, fellow practitioners, other employment, family, friends and the wider society.
  • Week 7 Review: We will review the ideas discussed over the previous weeks and think about how those ideas relate to your own emergent practices as artists, designers and craftspeople.

    * The seminars will be informed by readings, which will be set each week.
    * Each week there will be an opportunity to discuss your proposals and research as they develop.

Reading list

  1. Adamson, Glenn (ed), The Craft Reader (Oxford: Berg, 2010)
  2. Crawford, Matthew, The Case For Working With Your Hands (London: Penguin Group, 2009)
  3. Dormer, Peter (ed), The Culture of Craft (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997)
  4. Gauntlett, David, Making is Connecting (London: Polity Press, 2011)
  5. Harper, Paul, Doing and talking: the value of video interviewing for researching and theorizing craft (PhD thesis, London Metropolitan University, 2013)
  6. Morris, William, Useful Work versus Useless Toil (London: Penguin, 2008)
  7. Sennett, Richard, The Craftsman (London: Allan Lane, 2008)


Tutor Paul Harper

Tutor biography

Paul Harper

Leads Dissertation Studio 22: Meaningful work

Paul Harper combines writing, teaching, research and consultancy in the visual arts and crafts.

Dissertation Studios

Studio 1: Another India

Harriet McKay

Studio 1: Another India will examine, reflect upon and critique the historic use of "exotic" motifs in design.

Studio 2: Contemporary Ecology

Nabil Ahmed

In Studio 2 we will explore environmental topics through the lens of art, architecture, spatial practice, media and design disciplines.

Studio 3: Music is the Weapon: Performance, Culture and the Music Industry

Christina Paine

Studio 3: Music is the Weapon: Performance, Culture and the Music Industry is an exploration of race, gender, class and more in music.

Studio 4: Not allowed

Emma Davenport

Studio 4: What Not to Wear? will investigate the roles that dress and fashion play in our workplaces.

Studio 5: Imperfect Theories

Ektoras Arkomanis

Studio 5: Imperfect Theories allows you to critically examine any work that can be seen as theory or presents an interesting relationship with theory.

Studio 6: Curating as a Spatial Practice: From the Wunderkammer to Installation art

Nico de Oliveira

Studio 6: This dissertation studio is designed to help students who are interested in curating as a broad subject, as well as those who wish to contextualise their own practice within the scope of displaying art.

Studio 7: Souvenir

Dr Lesley Stevenson

Studio 7: This studio is concerned with those objects that are lent a particular enchantment because of their relationship with the past.

Studio 8: Post – card

Edwina Attlee

Studio 8 will look at one element of that system – the picture postcard – from a number of different perspectives.

Studio 9: ‘The Form of the Text’

Danielle Hewitt

Studio 9: Together we will explore the space of criticism; acknowledging our point of encounter with objects, places, sites and processes and the relationship between text, writer and reader.

Studio 10: Constellating

Sinead Evans

As creative practitioners we digest and produce images every day – as citizens of the digital age we consume between hundreds and thousands of images each day. This dissertation studio will slim down your daily diet to one image.

Studio 11: Science Fiction Futurity

Luke Jones

Speculative descriptions of the future reveal a magnified — or distorted — reflection of the fears and desires of the present.

Studio 12: Alternative Fashioned Modernities

Lezley George

Much is happening in the world today that foregrounds questions pertinent to our identities in a globalised world.

Studio 13: Desire, Trauma, History

Jonathan Whitehall

How does the relationship of memory to fantasy affect history? What are the links between desire, sexuality and trauma? How are these relationships played out or negotiated in visual and written practice? These questions will form the beginning of our enquiries into artworks, films and literature.

Studio 14: Design and Nature: Forms of an Entanglement

Gabriele Oropallo

We will look at how the idea of nature has been constructed over time and place, and study its impact on design practice in an age marked by the sustainability imperative.

Studio 15: Music, Technology and Ideas

Lewis Jones

Studio 15: Music, Technology and Ideas encourages you to explore how and why we make music, including its origin, relationship to technology and more.

Studio 16: Narrative and Storytelling

Jon Baldwin

Studio 16: Narrative and Storytelling will see you produce storygraphs, storyboards and various forms of narrative analysis in the seminars.

Studio 17: Knowing Audiences

Jeremy Collins

Studio 17: Knowing Audiences will encourage you to study an audience group using qualitative research methods in your investigations.

Studio 18: Time and the Image

David Howells

This workshop will address some perennial problems of writing in the field of visual culture.

Studio 19: Material in Motion

Heidi Yeo

Studio 19: This studio will explore a reading of objects focusing on the interplay between materials, the objects they form and their context.

Studio 20: The Liminal

Andrew Hewish

This Dissertation Studio examines instances of the liminal as they occur in critical theory and culture, and is open to any topic and students from all disciplines.

Studio 21: Reading the library (and nothing but the library)

Joseph Kohlmaier

This year, Studio 21 will stage an unusual experiment. It will move, unpack, catalogue, and perform readings from one private library; and make this library, without exception, the single resource for all the research and writing in the studio.

Studio 22: Meaningful work

Paul Harper

Studio 22: Meaningful work explores the value of making and the idea of craft as meaningful work.

Studio 23: A Common Thread

Gina Pierce

Studio 23: In A Common Thread, we unpick and examine the importance of textiles and how they underpin culture, industry, and global connections.

Cass Studios archive by year