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 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.

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 politicized 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 outlining the main themes, course structure, readings etc. We will also look more generally at the dissertation – choosing your subject, researching and writing etc.
  • 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, and creativity, 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; it is shared, passed on from individual to individual and from generation to generation; it 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 internalize, but it also involves shared techniques and 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)
A man holding a model of a navy ship


Tutor Paul Harper

Cass Studios archive by year