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On Crafts

Craft has long occupied the in-between: shuttling between function, ornament and conceptual critique. Debates in recent decades often get stuck on these points – attempting, with difficulty, to agree on a single identity or position. The illusiveness of this endeavour may point to the greatest assets of craft: resilience, malleability and even a Trojan-like ability to disguise itself and enter into other fields and discourses almost without notice. While this flexibility is commendable, it can leave us with the impression that craft thrives only in small specialist communities of practice and education.

The communities that explicitly teach craft practices are crucial. Internationally they are also increasingly rare. But that does not accurately reflect the real scale of craft. These practices appear in disguise all around us: in design that dwells on material concerns, in art that addresses the value of labour or our relationship to time, and even in literature and film in the guise of characters’ personal or cultural identities. The complexity of craft’s identity can be explained, at least in part, by its breadth. Under the name of craft the field is small. But counted in its values found across creative practices, its presence and impact are vast.

The graduating students exhibiting here have studied in communities at HDK that value the particular importance of craft in society today. But on leaving these specialist studies, it is also worth remembering that the meaning and contribution the crafts make to our lives appear in many more places than where craft is named. And if you feel craft is at work in corners of creativity that have not recognised the connection, this lesson is now yours to teach. We live in an era where unity is under threat, walls – both real and metaphorical – are hastily under construction, and regrettably great energy is being invested in defining difference. While breadth has troubled the identity of craft for decades, there may be no better time than the present to celebrate the resilience and malleability of contemporary craft as the discipline’s greatest assets.


Jessica Hemmings
Professor of Crafts, HDK

Page Manager: Carina Krantz|Last update: 5/15/2017
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