Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The NYTimes and Handmade 2.0

(edited from the article on BlogHer)
Last week, spurred on my too many holiday parties, I started trying to explain what my job is: I write about very hands-on activities (crafts and gardening) and how the people involved in these represent themselves and their work in a Web 2.0 world. Two seemingly opposite activities that in truth work together well. So I was immediately intrigued when Jill of Writes Like She Talks left a comment on BlogHer mentioning a NYT magazine article called Handmade 2.0. by Rob Walker. Walker regularly writes the Consumed column for the magazine, where he occasionally discusses craft. It was his research for those columns and his soon to be published book that gave him the access to research this article.

Handmade 2.0 is primarily a deep look into Etsy from its origins through its major support of the HandMade Pledge. In explaining Etsy, Walker says:
Browsing Etsy is both exhilarating and exhausting. There is enough here to mount an astonishing museum exhibition. There is also plenty of junk. Most of all there is a dizzying amount of stuff, and it is similarly difficult to figure out how to characterize what it all represents: an art movement, a craft phenomenon or shopping trend. Whatever this is, it’s not something that Etsy created but rather something that it is trying to make bigger, more visible and more accessible — partly by mixing high-minded ideas about consumer responsibility with the unsentimental notion of the profit motive.
Walker gives us a brief history of the indie-craft movement, pointing out such touch-points as GetCrafty, Craftster and the Church of Craft; places where the craft is a DIY mash-up of original thought and recycled goods. GetCrafty founder Jean Railla was used as the icon of "craft as a political movement" where handmade objects stand as political statements against the mass-produced, all-the-same big box store commodities that are dominating the American landscape.

Walker goes on to how this indie-craft-as-political-statement philosophy happened to give rise to Etsy. He profiles the websites creator, Robert Kalin, and gives an inside-the-box view of the business.
the luck or genius of the site is that Kalin and the other founders encountered in the D.I.Y./craft scene something that was already social, community-minded, supportive and aggressively using the Web.
In the third part of his story, Walker fit Etsy into the DIY-Indie Craft culture as a whole:
It’s still tempting to characterize anything that looks edgy and has an online component as somehow a function of youth culture. But the age of the average Etsy seller turns out to be 34. Many crafters no doubt feel passionately about the ideals suggested by the Handmade Pledge a horror of sweatshop labor and corporate conformity, concern about the environment and would be pleased to see the broader consumer culture embrace them too. Meanwhile there is also the more salient matter of how to make a rewarding, meaningful and satisfying living without having to give up on those ideals. The women who have led the craft movement don’t want to work for the Man. But many are also motivated by having reached adulthood at a time when the Man is slashing benefits, reneging on pensions, laying people off and, if hiring, is looking for customer-service reps and baristas. This is not a utopian alt-youth framework; it’s a very real-world, alt-grown-up framework.
Overall, I found the article informative and balanced. Initially, I sensed a lack skepticism by the author; however, after a deeper read I felt Walker was less unsure about the values and philosophies typically associated with the indie-craft movement, and more in tune with the real making-it-work-for-us ideas that I've witnessed by following indie-crafters on the web for these past 2 years. If you have any interest in craft, this is an article worth reading.

What are the bloggers saying?

First on his own blog, Rob Walker posts many of the links that the Times strips from article. Even better, he shares his links for Etsy, DIYism and reactions to this article! And shares with the reader:
[ PS: In answer to the question: Why does the online version of the story on the Times site not actually link to Etsy? Or to Getcrafty, or any of other things it might link to? My answer is: I have no idea. Please ask someone who works at the Times! ]
The author is particularly interested in the new technologically enabled “new craft movement” as a social commentary on consumer culture, but has not explored what the possibilities might be if these objects themselves would become carriers of information.
Ulla Maaria at Hobby Princess talking generally about the "new craft movement":
The emerging new craft movement is not about outspoken leaders or violent controversy. Instead, it’s about regular people following their passion and connecting with their friends.

Still, it’d be a mistake to shrug crafters off as clueless. Below the innocent appearance they are planting the seeds of change. Without making a big deal about boycotting big brands or saving the environment, crafting changes the way we consume. It exposes us to the original ideals of William Morris: the preference of creativity, sincerity, good materials and sound workmanship over wasteful mass-production. It’s just that this time the movement is not limited to a group of professional craftsmen. Instead, it’s spreading much further and broader than Morris could have imagined in his wildest dreams.

Shannon from knitgrrl reacted:
This article is the first one I’ve read in a long while about crafty topics in a major, non-craft publication that hasn’t completely squicked me out in some way. At least it didn’t go for either side of the usual “hipsters do crafts!” / “it’s not your grandma’s [x]” dichotomy most reporters choose.
Lainie of Red Thread Studio (parenthetical editing is mine):
(begins)Hot on the heels of our discussion of Slow Cloth, the New York Times Magazine offers Handmade 2.0, by author Rob Walker, deconstructing and the craft resurgence. (and later continues):Though Walker sounds a bit unconvinced in his article, it is revolutionary to make things, and if the whole world is built on buying things made anonymously far away, it may indeed be subversive.

So what's your take on this? IS the current DIY Craft movement subversive?

It reminds me of when my generation was in their 20s and early 30s. Energy was expensive, don't even talk about interest rates (hello? The spouser's first house had an 18% interest rate, I think!). So we all purchased olders houses and remodeled them. This gave rise to This Old House on PBS.. and a tons of other shows and gadgets and an entirely new industry for the power tool folks.

It was about Doing It Ourselves and Doing It Our Way. It was a bit anti-consumerism even before Big-Box-Nation.

I think we taught our children our values and they are simply carrying on in their own best way. But that's just me.

I also blog at: Deb's Daily Distractions and BlogHer on Mondays and Saturdays.

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