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 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: What Not to Wear?

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 Contemporary Art: From the Wunderkammer to Installation art

Nico de Oliveira

Studio 6: Curating Contemporary Art examines the impact of curatorial practice on art.

Studio 7: Fashioning culture: clothing and the shaping of identity

Dr Lesley Stevenson

Studio 7: Fashioning culture will examine critically the links between fashion, clothing and identity.

Studio 8: Pleasure, Excess and Dirt

Edwina Attlee

Studio 8 explores ideas of category, definition, identification and belonging through the examination of a series of objects and behaviours that appear to be in the wrong place instead of the right place.

Studio 9: The Continuing Lives of Objects

Danielle Hewitt

Studio 9: The Continuing Lives of Objects uses debates about change and preservation explore ideas within architecture.

Studio 10: Critical Theory and Critical Design. Artefacts, Images, Sites, Processes in Graphics and Illustration

Dipti Bhagat with Christopher Emmett

Studio 10 requires deep commitment and completion of critical theory and design for graphic design and illustration.

Studio 12: London Walking

Clare Qualmann

Studio 12: London Walking looks at walking as a mode of creatively appropriating the city, with particular attention to our own city, London.

Studio 14: All in the best possible Taste

Dr John Cross

Studio 14: 'All in the best possible Taste' examines the historical influencers of taste, style and fashion.

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 19: Material in Motion

Heidi Yeo

Studio 19: Material in Motion will explore why an audience will put time, money and thought into acquiring an object.

Studio 20: Image ethics: Form, meaning and context

Dr Nick Haeffner

Studio 20: Image ethics: Form, meaning and context explores the aesthetics of the image and its role within fantasy, desire and social memory.

Studio 21: The Nonsensical Realm III

Joseph Kohlmaier

Studio 21: The Nonsensical Realm is a cross-disciplinary studio. This year it will engage with the idea of metaphor in art, architecture, design and music.

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: A Common Thread examines the relationship between textiles and everyday life, including its design, trade, sustainability and more.

Studio 24: Words in Space

David Price

Studio 24: Words in Space reflects on the role that words play in our visual world, performative spaces and the urban environment.

Cass Studios archive by year