Paul Harper

Studio 22: The Value of Making - Craft, Materiality and Meaning

Image: Harper, P.W.H. (2013) Tim Parry-Williams [film still]

Studio Outline

This studio will consider the value of making - in itself, independent of the product or outcome, exploring the idea of craft as meaningful work. Craft will be considered not as a category of object, or a discrete set of practices, but as a particular approach to making things and a kind of experience. Craft will be examined as a form of meaning-making in which meaning is understood as situated, embodied and evolving.

These ideas will be given an historical context relating to the theoretical and ideological basis for the nineteenth century Arts and Crafts Movement in the writings of William Morris and his followers who celebrated craft making as socially useful and individually fulfilling creative work, a politicized form of work which was proposed as part of an alternative to industrial capitalism. Students will also be introduced to contemporary discourses that examine the nature of craft knowledge and that support an understanding of making as a fundamental human activity which is both intrinsically rewarding and outwardly directed.

As well as drawing on key texts the studio will make use of the tutor’s own video archive of artists and craftspeople at work.

First seven weeks of study

Weeks 1-7:

  • An introductory lecture
  • Seminars based on discussion of selected readings
  • A study visit to the William Morris Gallery
  • A study visit to a makers studio (tbc)
  • A group tutorial on developing related research proposals
  • Individual tutorials

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 Biography

Paul Harper has a background in furniture design and making but he now combines writing, research and teaching with freelance work in arts management. His PhD thesis examined problems with researching and theorizing about ‘craft’ and explored digital video as a methodological tool to aid the understanding of craft practice. His research interests include: theories of craft practice and knowledge; reflective practice; the social value of art and craft; research methods.

He was a founding director of Alias Arts, which provides advice and support to artist-led organizations and is vice-chair of the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trust.

Recent published writing includes The Twenty-first Century Art Book.