Architecture writer and critic Alexandra Lange’s recent New Yorker article, “Don’t Put a Bird On It: Saving ‘Craft’ from Cuteness,” seems to have caused a rift in the craft community. In the piece, Lange writes a response to her first viewing of Craft Wars, the “ultimate crafting competition” reality TV show. Contestants on the show decorate birdhouses and refashion sports equipment into bags — activities that left Lange feeling empty. ”What ‘craft’ mostly means on Craft Wars is the act of making things cuter,” explains Lange. While cute isn’t necessarily a bad word, by arguing that craft is backing itself into a corner of cuteness, Lange inspired angry comments from those who painted her as a snob.
For Lange, Craft Wars panders to a stereotype, portraying crafters and makers as shallow and wasteful hobbyists; she feels craft, as well as the slew of websites espousing it, deserves some consideration. “This is culture, it is not a hobby, and it deserves serious analysis, criticism and thought,” says Lange.
We’ve come a long way since the days of William Morris, the designer and leader who fostered the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 1800s. For Morris, craft was a serious endeavor that focused on putting handmade, functional objects in homes. “Rather than three sets of elaborately decorated transferware china, you would have one set of handmade and glazed plates,” explains Lange. The movement was consciously putting its foot down against the introduction of impersonal mass production.
Since Morris’s time, craft has lost its heady undertones, but we’re now seeing a return to the original tenets of the Arts and Crafts movement. Lange cites blogs like Unconsumption and Make It Do, which echo the founding sentiment of the Arts and Craft movement that Lange summarizes as “make it yourself, buy better quality items, think about each purchase, keep it for a long time.”
“I wonder if we are not in the dawn of another reform era,” says Lange. “William Morris felt that the products of the industrial revolution were wasteful and excessive, and that we should respect making and buy fewer, better things. To me, Morris’s ideas resonates with the sustainability agenda, and many other communities all along the socio-economic and political spectrums.” Craft can be cute, but it can be (and mean) so much more.
Chappell Ellison is a designer, writer and design writer. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York where she serves as a contributor for The Etsy Blog and design columnist for GOOD.