Studio 07: Meaningful Work

Paul Harper

"Both the difficulties and the possibilities of making things well apply to making human relationships. Material challenges like working with resistance or managing ambiguity are instructive in understanding the resistances people harbour to one another or the uncertain boundaries between people. I’ve stressed the positive open role routine and practicing play in the work of crafting physical things; so too do people need to practice their relations with one another, learn the skills of anticipation and revision in order to improve these relations..."
— Richard Sennett

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 or luxury objects, as a discrete set of practices or as expressive objects, but as a particular approach to making things and a kind of humanizing creative experience. Craft-making will be examined as a form of meaning-making in which meaning is understood as contingent, embodied and evolving.

Meaningful invites you think about creative work as a uniquely satisfying way of being in the world; about how our individual practices can develop and promote socially responsible maker practices? How can these singular enterprises cluster into ‘place-based’ creative maker-ecologies capable of producing value through the enhancement of community life in ways that encourage progressive circuits of engagement, production and consumption?

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 that is both intrinsically rewarding to the maker and outwardly directed or socially engaged, simultaneously promoting more subtle understandings of relational interdependence, empathy, equanimity, humility, and a certain generosity of spirit.

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 politicized form of work which was proposed as part of an alternative to industrial capitalism.

Rather than seeing craft as antithetical to contemporary society, part of an escapist refusal of modern life, we will discuss ways in which maker cultures might help us to re-imagine a sustainable late Modernity.

Suggested reading

  • Adamson, Glenn (ed.), The Craft Reader (Oxford: Berg, 2010)
  • Crawford, Matthew, The Case For Working With Your Hands (London: Penguin Group, 2009)
  • Gauntlett, David, Making is Connecting (London: Polity Press, 2011)
  • Harper, Paul, Doing and talking: the value of video interviewing for researching and theorizing craft PhD thesis (London Metropolitan University, 2013)
  • Howes, Philip and Laughlin, Zoe, Material Matters: New Materials in Design (London: Black Dog, 2012)
  • Johnston, Lucy, Digital Handmade: Craftsmanship and the New Industrial Revolution (London: Thames & Hudson, 2015)
  • Knott, Stephen, Amateur Craft: History and Theory (London: Bloomsbury, 2015)
  • Morris, William, Useful Work versus Useless Toil (London: Penguin, 2008)
  • Sennett, Richard, The Craftsman (London: Allan Lane, 2008)
  • Sennett, Richard, Together: the rituals, pleasures and politics of co-operation (London: Penguin, 2012)

Videos to watch

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Studio Image by Paul Harper. Banner image: Hans Op de Beeck, Staging Silence (3), video still (detail), 2019

Frau Fibre working in an arts studio

Details

Tutor Paul Harper

Dissertation studios

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