When was the last time you purchased an item at a big box retailer, brought it home and marvelled at the item like it was a piece of art as if someone had spent a LOT of time constructing it with care and attention to detail? Chances are you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times this has happened.
Several hundred years ago, before the advent of the industrial revolution everything was made by hand, more or less. Skilled people, from blacksmiths to shoemakers to bakers to woodworkers, were called craftsmen or artisans. Their product was what we would call custom work today. Each and every piece was individually made.
Fast forward to the 20th century and virtually every household item, from what was worn to what was eaten, was made in a factory with very little skill required. The art in making goods was lost to high output assembly lines. Craftsman became a casualty of modern day industrial processes. And the ones that survived the transition were renamed tradesman because whatever artistic leanings they had were lost in the onslaught of technical efficiency.
Today, cabinet makers, door installers, painters and metal workers have been forced to productive ends only, with the craft of their work being put aside due to the rush towards productivity and economic efficiency.
So we now have an interesting divide between the trades and art. If tradesmen were paid more by how their work looks and craftspeople were paid more by how their work functions you would once again see a merging of function and form. There are indeed small signs of just that happening.
There appears to be a resurgence in Farmers Markets, crafts vendors and home made products. Despite the fact that these people are going “against the grain” economically, the transition is important to our cultural evolution. We need to transition towards a civilization that can harmoniously live on the planet in a sustainable, nurturing and yes, artistic way.
If the system we are familiar with crashes or becomes in some way crippled - an oil price shock or climate disruption could do that - we will see the backbone of local economies become those very people who are returning to those “lost” crafts. I say, let's just move in that direction anyways, it makes our purchases that much more interesting. Support your local artisan.
Gilles Leclair is the founder of GeoStudios. Somewhat eccentric, fairly environmentalist, politically aware, he believes the world should have more off-grid communities... many more.