ACC Conference: Richard Sennett - "The Craftsman in Society"
ACC Conference: Craft in the 21st Century: Identity, Choice, Meaning

ACC Conference: Elissa Auther lecture - "Lifestyle and Livelihood in Craft Culture"


Elissa Auther spoke about  “Lifestyle and Livelihood in Craft Culture”

The presentation was a well-articulated history of craft focusing on the lifestyle vs livelihood issues through the decades. The lecture contained no surprises if you are familiar with the history of craft.

To summarize this briefly:

The romanticized image of the 19th-century craftsman intertwined life and lifestyle to restore the dignity of labor.  William Morris and John Ruskin both considered craft as meaningful work.

Skipping forward to the mid-20th century, the 1950's again integrated work and lifestyle.
Elissa also mentioned the photography of craft from the 1950s and '60s where craft was photographed in nature. This analogy is very strong with George Nakashima's work where he used large slabs of wood with the form of the tree still evident.

Craft shifted toward representing an alternative lifestyle with Marguerite Wildenhain whereby craft was an expression of a way of life.  The process and experience of making along with honest labor were considered paramount, while the finished work was an object but much less important as to meaning.

The 1960s brought the new generation of freedom, anti-establishment, "counter-culture", and the flower child. This independence and new thinking were separate from the marketplace and craft fit right in as a lifestyle.  Examples of the communal craft philosophy were the Baulines Craft GuildCosanti, and  Arcosanti.  (All of these organizations still exist today.)

In a similar tone, the current D.I.Y. movement of the 21st century is a similar resistance to the mainstream economy.  Crafts once again become a political, anti-establishment, rejection of the elitist art world and consumption of manufactured items.  Yet at the same time, this D.I.Y. movement along with Etsy is marketing their craftwork by developing their own marketing strategies.

While Auther offered many facts, I was not surprised by the information. Most of the lecture seemed to suggest that craft was a lifestyle or identity within a group or community. There was little evidence with the exception of Cosanti, and  Arcosanti that craft can be a livelihood.  The D.I.Y. movement and the Etsy phenomenon, in my opinion, are simply another sales channel selling "stuff" in our consumer society. 

WHAT QUESTIONS WERE ASKED AND ANSWERED? The best question was a comment from the curator of the Oakland Museum.  She suggested that the craft lifestyle was only a product of California or of the western United States. 

WHAT DID I LEARN? Nothing new, but maybe others less well versed in the History of Craft left with more information.


SUMMARY: Very nice presentation with great images. Clear voice, easy to understand.  My only criticism is that this lecture could have been improved with a strong conclusion reviewing her key points and revealing her educated opinion about lifestyle or livelihood.

Centering in Pottery, Poetry and the Person by M.C. Richards

This post was updated on December 28, 2021.