ACC Conference - the lectures begin.
ACC Conference: Elissa Auther lecture - "Lifestyle and Livelihood in Craft Culture"

ACC Conference: Richard Sennett - "The Craftsman in Society"


A quote from Richard Sennett from ACC Blog Beat:

“Our modern economy privileges pure profit, momentary transactions, and rapid fluidity. Part of craft’s anchoring role is that it helps to objectify experience and also to slow down labor. It is not about quick transactions or easy victories. That slow tempo of craftwork, of taking the time you need to do something well, is profoundly stabilizing to individuals.”

Richard_SennettRichard Sennett is a sociologist and writer who divides his time between NYU and the London School of Economics. Sennett’s book The Craftsman describes the "desire to do a job well for its own sake" as a basic human impulse.

The website for Yale University Press offers multiple podcast interviews with Sennett. 41ADdc3EzyL._SL160_Additional information can be found in American Craft Magazine, October/November 2009 where Richard Sennett is interviewed by Suzanne Ramjlak (editor of Metalsmith Magazine). This issue is available at your local bookstore.

Richard Sennett delivered the Opening Keynote at the conference, entitled “The Craftsman in Society.”

The lecture was delivered without images so you didn't miss anything visual. The information was quite dense and thought-provoking.  Actually, it was a little overwhelming and essentially a precursor to the level of presentations for the entire day.

I am going to summarize this briefly here and come back to the lecture in the next couple of weeks when I have had more time to digest the topic. 

In short, Sennett feels that rewards for the quality of work are disappearing in our modern society. The academic environment sets the stage with standardized testing which asks for quick, fast, and standard answers. Creativity is not rewarded.  It continues in manufacturing which dumb downs each job into menial tasks.  White-collar corporations value group co-operation, community, and teamwork to come up with quick, good enough solutions rather than a highly-skilled, deliberative, and slow solution.  In Sennett's words, "Quality is less important than results."

Unfortunately, Sennett used Open Source Code as an example of mediocre solutions. This metaphor ran through his lecture continuously. It was very hard for me as a maker/artist to think that writing computer code is the same as making an artwork.  As far as I'm concerned it sounds like he never made any artwork ever.  For me, it seemed a very irritating and clueless comparison.

Yes, I agree that our modern society is inundated with cheap, low-quality merchandise, but I refuse to accept that there is no market for quality as a blanket statement. 

WHAT QUESTIONS WERE ASKED AND ANSWERED? I can't even remember the questions. People got up to speak but spoke for so long that I never heard a question if there was one.  Whatever question that may have been there got lost in the verbiage.

WHAT DID I LEARN? That I am not interested in reading his book. If you read the book, let me know.

LIFESTYLE OR LIVELIHOOD? Well, this question may not apply directly to Richard Sennett since it doesn't seem he actually makes anything himself.  He did not address the issue in a direct sense.   Who is going to pay for slow and deliberate work, in a market-driven society?  The harsh reality (for most artists) is that it takes a tremendous amount of personal conviction and a couple of other jobs to subsidize the making of the best work with slow, careful, and thoughtful effort.

Going back to Sennett's theories, it seems that he is advocating for a lifestyle more than a livelihood.  If going slow and thinking carefully about how to produce work (which I endorse personally) provides a personal value to the maker, perhaps it is not a marketable value to potential buyers.  If that value can not be recognized in the marketplace, it is much less likely to be able to make a livelihood from your work.


This post was updated on December 28, 2021.