The thing about craft

Almost 3 years ago I wrote an article on my idea of craft (or traditional crafts) and now that I’m starting a craft shop, I think it is good to revisit it. I thought my perspectives towards craftsmanship would have changed or “evolved” over the last 2 years but am surprised that I still believe and stand by what I wrote. Here’s the article –

These days I cringed when I hear the word ‘craft’ spoken or written in a way like a fashionable term. Crafted leather wallets, crafted coffee, crafted this and that… I prefer it old school. The image of an elderly man behind a potter’s wheel is still the most authentic and I’ll never allow some punks to erode this. Let me tell you why.

I had a pretty profound experience some time ago in my trip to Takaoka, Toyama when I paid a visit to the atelier of a 71 years old metal polisher. He has been in this trade for more than 50 years. Many thoughts (about craft) triggered after a pretty heavy conversation with him –

1. Craft is not human automation. Simply doing something again and again ‘without thinking’ does not make you a master craftsman but a mindless machine. He accounted how one of his counterpart with 20 over years of experience in a certain method of metal polishing was kicked out of the industry when a machine took over. Brutal. If your works can be replaced by a machine that easily, it tells a lot about the work you are doing.

2. Craft involves your entire being. Your body, mind and soul. Can you sense what is wrong with a piece of artefact even before you pick it up? Can you tell the value of a porcelain vase without looking at the price tag? It is more than an intellectual study of a selected topic, it involves all of you.

3. Craft evolves. Machines can never adapt, it can only be replaced by newer models.

4. Craft is being. He asked me, ‘I can do this my entire life and am enjoying every moment of it. How about you?’ Being a city boy, I went quiet. I need the distraction of an iPhone…

5. Craft redefines your role in the society. While many of his peers travel to the city to pursue a career, he travelled out of the city in search for solitude where he can master his trade – something that he did mindfully, almost against logic.

6. Craft commands respect. It took me a full 20 minutes of observing him at work before he decided that I am a “worthy” person to talk to. It was only then he invited me into his back room, and shared with me unreservedly, over a drip brew and lit cigarette.