Supporting Handmade However It’s Made

It’s that time of year when I’ve been thinking about my direction again. As some visitors to my Facebook page will know, autumn seems to do this to me. The chaos of life undoing itself before my eyes makes me look to my own life and question, question, question. It can be unsettling but is part of a natural process and I trust that the other side of this seasonal transition will bring a certain peace. However, this year some of my internal leaf-wrenching is amplified because I am reflecting and trying to make a decision about my own position within a situation that has brought a lot of anguish to a lot of people. It seems the autumn storm has been howling loudly over at a certain art & crafting marketplace recently and while I have held back from getting involved with the heated debate in the forum, I have been watching, incredulously, at some of what has been going on.

autumn leaves close up

For those of you who are reading this with a blank expression on your face, the debate has centred around the marketplace’s definition of the term ‘handmade’ as opposed to ‘assembled’ and the consequent decision, having made that definition in a way that at times has seemed rather inconsistent and arbitrary, to ask certain sellers to either remove items, or in some cases to pack up shop and move on.

I had promised myself I would not get into the rights and wrongs of this – not through lack of feeling for those who have been asked to leave, quite the opposite in fact, I was more worried about how much ranting I might do – but my personal feeling is that quite apart from the apparent randomness of some of these decisions; the fact that fees have been retained despite the recognition that the guidelines had previously been insufficiently clear; the fact that a lack of proactive monitoring had meant that there were clear precedents all over the site that would have encouraged people to think that they were not breaking any rules in their listings; the insensitivity and lack of professionalism of some communications released in relation to these issues, and the abysmal timing on the run up to a major sales period (pausing for breath)…apart from all that it seemed to me that the marketplace had kind of missed the point. While I completely accept and respect the site’s right to run by its own rules and definitions (where these are properly  and unambiguously made clear to people who can then decide whether they want to stick around to abide by them before they part with money and build businesses), it has really frustrated me, reminding me of the creative snobbery I witnessed as an art student, something that made me want to stay well away from the ‘art world’ for many years.

As I said, I have kept out of the debate and have no desire to keep hammering the points that have been made a million times elsewhere, but I do feel a need to express what I have been thinking and feeling about this, the debate that has been going on in my own head, the questions it has provoked in me.  My own opinion is that saying something is not handmade because the maker didn’t personally make every component of an object is ludicrous. To me, if someone makes an object which has demanded creative decisions and judgements to be made, by hand, on a small scale production, then it is hand made. Otherwise, where do we draw the line? I have heard of people having items turned away because they did not make the materials they were working with such as cardboard. If we take this to its logical conclusion, does that mean that my ceramic work is not hand made because I don’t dig the clay from the earth and process it to be workable myself? Or that a woodturner should have to manage their own forest and act as lumberjack? The problem with this is that I am a clay worker, not a quarry owner, and the woodturner is a woodturner, not in the line of forest management. This might seem like I am being ridiculous now, but this is the problem with creating a wedge and sitting at the thin end of it saying that the rules apply to some materials and craft practices and not others.

china clay pit

old china clay workings

Mass produced components on hand made jewellery was one of the biggest areas to come under criticism and the debate raged on about what the phrases ‘handmade’ and ‘original design’ meant. Most people agreed I think that a single mass produced component such as a pendant or charm, threaded in isolation on a mass produced chain or other finding, was perhaps stretching the definition a little. People understood that there needed to be a distinction between this marketplace and more general market & auction sites. However, where something such as a mass produced charm is creatively combined with other beads, where there is consideration of colour, of shape, of placement, of size, of texture and surface; where you can’t find this exact piece with this exact combination in a hundred other stores (even though you might find similar pieces) then there is evidence of design.  Confusingly, the marketplace guidelines seem to recognise this too, though many of the decisions about individual items seem not to. A charm is simply another bead at the end of the day. Are we to say that people cannot use beads either because they are also mass produced?

beads

photo by R.Weller/Conchise College

Paints are mass produced too. If I create an abstract painting using blobs of coloured paint is the painting not hand made? Is that not my original design? If someone uses coloured beads to create a necklace, choosing the placement of them, the way they are joined, the interaction of different surfaces and materials, is this not simply an abstract colour painting in another medium?  Are we actually back to the ‘art versus craft’ debate under another guise, only with the roles divided out between different craft disciplines? I have been at a loss to understand this apparently random targeting of a single type of component and the apparent disregard at times of the piece that it forms a part of, especially when some of those pieces are so beautiful.

Looking at it from another angle, we can see that artists have been using mass produced items in their work for decades, and causing just as much disagreement!  Artists within the Dada movement in the early 20th century such as Marcel Duchamp produced a series of ‘readymades’, taking everyday ‘found’ objects and either simply signing them or working on them to create modifications and new objects.  Duchamp’s most famous (and controversial) readymade is ‘Fountain’ (1917) – the signed urinal which sparked fierce debate when he submitted it to his art society to include in their exhibition. While this was partly provocative humour on Duchamp’s part, it raised the question of what makes something ‘art’ and for this reason is now deemed to be one of the most important artworks of the 20th century.

Duchamp's Fountain 1917

Fountain by Marcel Duchamp (1917)

Is it art because an artist says it is? Because it is placed in a museum or gallery? Because it is mass produced or handmade? Because it is not ‘functional’? Because it meets a set of laid out ‘rules’? Because it is not of everyday life? Is it the idea behind the expression that makes it art or the expression itself?  Can a mundane object become art because we project a meaning onto it? The debate that Duchamp sparked, continues to the present day (as do the numbers of artists producing work that has grown from the seed that he planted), dividing camps of art lovers into fors and againsts. He and his colleagues created a new aesthetic where the mass produced item was assigned validity as a means and medium of expression. Whether or not we enjoy the expressions of this type of art, we cannot deny the debate and the question mark that it provokes about the use of mass produced components in creative works.

Duchamp’s thinking that the art is in the design or concept and not the physical production, was not a new idea. If we look back to the Italian Renaissance period we find masters who ran studios full of students who were taught to paint or sculpt like their teacher, and then were employed to prepare and/or paint parts of paintings or carve parts of sculptues that we commonly attribute to the master alone.  There have been many suggestions that Michaelangelo‘s students painted parts of the Sistine Chapel ceiling in Rome for example. The design is all Michaelangelo’s and yet he did not paint every part of it. This was the case for many artists throughout history to the modern day: Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol, among others, all handed over aspects of their artworks to others. We readily recognise these works as creative artworks and even if they are not to our taste we would not, for instance, question Michaelangelo’s being recognised as an artist even though he as an individual did not physically produce every last part of all of his works.

Campbell’s Soup Can by Andy Warhol (1968) – Warhol typically worked with assistants in the production of his screen-printed images.

Moving on a little, when I was a student I was trained to design, to do my research, to spend hours working in my sketchbook, striving to find the best possible expression of my ideas. I was told this was ‘design process’ and that it enabled me to justify my work, as if it somehow became an invalid expression if I didn’t create an academic context for it. It was only when I left college that I realised I didn’t have to ‘justify’ my work in this way and that this process was more about satisfying others than anything to do with my own sense of my creativity. I realised that the design process can happen in many different ways and should not be limited to a very narrow definition that might not work for some people. Though I learned how to present what I was taught, it didn’t work for me, I often used to find myself working backwards from my finished idea to try and identify the stages my subconscious had gone through to get from my inspiration to my final piece. I found that I was much more comfortable creating in a way that allowed me to work largely from intuition, maybe turning to a sketchbook if I got stuck. I didn’t need everything on paper before I started work and I often found it was the contact with the clay that helped to kick-start my imagination. Being inspired by the actual materials we work with is part and parcel of the process and sometimes can be the whole process. Whether that inspiration comes from clay or whether it comes from the colours and textures and shapes of beads and charms and clasps is no matter. To me they are just different mediums.

Clay workers will often take a traditional form such as a bowl or a plate or a bottle and make it their own, just as a jewellery maker will take a form such as a necklace or bracelet or earring and make it their own. If we wanted to get really pernickity about this we could say that none of these things can ever be an entirely original design because they use a traditional form. And if someone fails the ‘original design’ test because they used a mass produced charm or bead as part of their design does this mean that if I include a spiral or a dot or a star within the design of my clay piece that this is also unacceptable because these are traditional symbols that have been used on clay pieces and other artefacts for millenia? Of course that is actually why I use them… part of the reason I have such a love of clay is because I am proud to be part of such an ancient tradition. It gives me a sense of roots and a connection to a way of life that wasn’t about mass production.

Traditional potter in Chad

The first pots I remember falling in love with were African pots that had been hand built through the coiling technique, probably for storing grain, food, water or maybe beer, or perhaps for ritual use. They had been made in a home environment by people who were making in the same way that generations of people before them had made pots. They had learned the forms, the shapes, the patterns, some of which it might be important to preserve as they might identify a tribe or family group, others of which they might be at liberty to embellish through their own creative inspiration. The fact that these pieces drew so heavily on traditional forms and surface patterning did not make them any less ‘hand made’, did not make the skill of the crafts-person any less impressive, or the design any less original as part of an ancestral tradition. These pots have appeared in museums and galleries up and down the country to inspire new generations of clay workers and other artists.

This is one of those subjects I could expand upon for pages, there are so many points to pick up, but I won’t do that as I think I have splurged for long enough here and I’d quite like you all to come back lol :D! I guess this has been sitting in my head and in my heart for a few weeks and I have struggled with seeing a place I loved being part of, simply casting parts of itself to the wind, like discarded leaves. Hand made, as the debate has demonstrated, means many things to many people and that’s okay in my book. I have not presented my thoughts above to say ‘I am right’, or as part of an agenda to pick holes, simply to say there are many ways to look at this, many questions to be asked before laying down rules that are not fully thought through and that consequently have caused a great deal of distress. Of course any marketplace needs a focus, but in my experience, narrow, rigid vision counters growth. Perhaps my priorities are different. I simply love to see people being creative, using that human marvel that we were all born with, getting personal satisfaction from it and sharing that with others. That’s how our world becomes and stays beautiful.

To me, championing handmade crafts means valuing each person’s contribution to a creative community and encouraging them to keep developing and expressing their own unique voice; providing a space that gives people the right to create in the way that they are able, where they can build their confidence through exposure to people working at all levels of development, and where those with more experience share that experience to help others grow. That is what will keep the flame of creativity alive in our society, not the creation of elites. When we set people one against the other, creating hierarchies, it creates walls and defences and divisions. I have seen people say things to each other on forum posts recently that I know I would never have seen a few months ago. It makes me sad and uncertain of my future there. I guess the problem with always telling people what they should be is that it becomes incredibly difficult for them to become what they could be.

This time my gallery features work from craftspeople who have been affected by the changes and have listed at the Supporting Handmade However It’s Made website :

Teacup Candle Vintage- Old Willow – Rose fragrance by Kookie candles

The Matrix sofa throw-quilt by Chic Throws

Flower Beaded Bracelet by Hearts and Crafts UK

FUSED GLASS PENDANT FUNKY PINK RAINBOW by Snow Queen Trinkets

Birthday Card by Made With Love Designs

Trendy Tote Bag by Handmade in Heaven

Red & Black floral charm bracelet by Pirate Treasures

Card – Purple Dandelion by Lilly’s Night Garden

Round Glass Cabochon Pendant “Words in The Trees” by Bohemia Artful Glass

Spring Leaves Bracelet by Presto Beads

Long Raspberry Pink Glass Bead Necklace by Pretty Beautiful Designs

Beehive Egg Cosies by Lemonade & Lamingtons

Maisey’s Daisy by Lou Lou’s Luxuries

Owl Necklace – owl, glass bottle, charms and beads on bronze plated chain by Flo Nightingales

Turquoise Nugget and Onyx Necklace by Mystic Moon

Triple Fuschia Necklet by Little Dragon Jewellery

‘Earth’ Element Bracelet by KokoKelli

Fairy Card – Wishing you a Merry Christmas by Cards with a Difference

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23 thoughts on “Supporting Handmade However It’s Made

  1. SilviSherr on said:

    All I can say is that I am glad I left folksy after just a few month. I joined some time last year, support british sites and all that. I made a few sales but something just didn’t feel right. Can’t put my finger on it but I left and now I am glad I did. To be told that just because you use pre made components that what you are creating with them is not Handmade!!??? They are biting the Hand that feeds them I think.

  2. Thanks for reading :). I think that’s the thing so many people just can’t get their heads round, the idea that if the component is not handmade then the whole item is not hand made. The lines within that seem to be so vaguely drawn that the grey area is immense and it’s difficult for a lot of people to really know what they should or shouldn’t be listing.

  3. A thoughtful and insightful piece – very well-written as usual! – tackling what has been a sour episode. I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this, by a long shot, and it has undoubtedly undermined the ‘folksiness’ of Folksy…

    • Thanks Lesley :). I agree with you, I don’t think that what’s happening now will be the end of it either, the repercussions will be much longer term. This is simply the seed that is being planted in soils of understandable anger and confusion – I’m not sure what kind of plant will grow from it…

  4. thanks so much for featuring Kokokelli it really means alot :o) they are going to be losing alot of business on the run up to christmas but it’s going to be their loss! :o) xXx

    • You’re so welcome Kelly :), I really like those pieces that you have done on the elements, expressing them through colour and materials. They work so well. Yes, the decision to do all this on the run up to christmas was just crazy wasn’t it?! 🙂 x

  5. Thanks for including my spring leaves bracelet!

    Love the blog

    Sarah xx

  6. Hi, a wonderful read,really means alot that you took the time to express so much on this subject, Folksy will be the losers in all of this, I hope everyone has managed to find somewhere else to sell their wonderful items, You have picked out some of my favourites and thanks for including my necklace too! Debbs

    • Thanks Debbs, you’re welcome, I’m glad you enjoyed reading it :). All this work absolutely deserves to be seen and loved – I’m sure people won’t have any problems elsewhere x

  7. Hi,
    Such a well written & beautifully delivered summary of the ‘clarification’ saga & one that i fear will be around for a while to come, many thanks for including me in this blog.
    Joanna,
    Chic Throws

  8. Great blog post & thanks so much for featuring my bracelet. Maybe someone from Folksy will read it too, realise it was all a big mistake, apologise to eveyrone & we can all live happily ever after!

  9. Great, thought provoking post. We’ve tried to define handmade because of the reasons we mention here http://blog.folksy.com/2011/09/12/handmade You state that “Most people agreed I think that a single mass produced component such as a pendant or charm, threaded in isolation on a mass produced chain or other finding, was perhaps stretching the definition a little”. It’s important that there is therefore a definition that people understand and we can apply. I agree it isn’t perfect, but what we had before wasn’t working for so many people because it was too ambiguous, hence the clarification.
    We agree that championing creativity is paramount, but the definition we had wasn’t working to effectively do this. We had feedback from many people (makers, designers and buyers) put off by the amount of “assembled” jewellery which had little handmade effort in its production. So, we want to adapt and become a place where creativity is championed and where skills are valued and to do this we need clearer definitions around what constitutes “handmade”. Of course, following your logic, if open policy were the answer to creativity then eBay would be the definition of a creative platform.
    An active debate around this topic is something we think is healthy – we’re not always going to get it right and we’ll continue to listen to different communities to inform our opinion – it’s worth remembering that Duchamp was hugely controversial in his day and it is only over time that his oeuvre is now considered so important. Time, cultural change, will no doubt see definitions around art and craft further evolve – as we’ve seen with the recent turn against conceptual art.
    Finally, we don’t define handmade as having to be made with handmade materials as you suggest. This is wrong. If you are a painter then of course the artefact you produce is the output of your own artistry and not defined by the paint you use. A mass produced charm on a necklace in our opinion is not.

    • Thanks for your response James. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I agree that there should be a clear definition that people understand and that you can apply. I don’t think anyone is disputing the need to make things clear and unambiguous, and I am appreciative that Folksy has been making efforts to do that. I think the trouble is that people don’t understand the clarification where their work falls into a grey area, and this is where the perception of inconsistency is coming from. Despite the fact that the jewellery area was the main area that apparently provoked the clarification, it seems (and I accept that I base this opinion on what I have read of people sharing experiences in the forums) that this has also been the area where there has been some of the least sense of clarity. I do not, in any way, dispute the right of a business to run to its own policies and at times to introduce new policies where appropriate and necessary; businesses evolve and that is to be expected. I understand too that sometimes implementing new policies can be tricky where you have no precedents to work from and are having to make a lot of individual decisions. But perhaps that was a reason to more thoroughly question the clarification and build more in-depth definitions to work from before the change was implemented. It has the feeling of something rushed through without full consideration and people have suffered as a result. Whether or not I agree with all of the changes, I do respect your right to make them. However, if your definition of handmade is quite specific (I think we can all agree that there are many ways to define ‘handmade’ or there would have been no need to clarify!) and within that there are very specific things that are off-limits, such as the use of a mass-produced charm in a jewellery piece, then in my opinion that should have been clearly laid out in black and white in the original conditions if you then expected to retain the right to tell people they would have to remove items before the end of the listing without a return of the listing fee (for some, if what they make does not meet the specifications, then replacing it with a ‘handmade’ object may not be an option). That seems unjust. As it stood the existing guidance gave no explicit explanation of your particular definition of ‘handmade’ and the guidance on ‘original design’ is still, I think, unclear. Would it not have been fairer to at the very least allow people’s listings to run their natural course with the proviso of not relisting, or to make the cut-off January 1st rather than simply pull the rug out from under them on the run up to Christmas? These are people, some of whom have been your loyal customers for years – that is not how you treat customers, even if change must be driven through.

      To move on, if you re-read my post you will see that I did acknowledge that my ideas about championing crafts are my own priorities, “Perhaps my priorities are different… “. I come from a background where I have been involved in working creatively with people in disadvantaged situations, and it did shift my relationship with creativity, its role and benefits within society considerably. I put those thoughts forward as my own vision, one of co-existence, that is not focussed on business concerns. It’s my blog and so I talk about my own feelings and ideas, however idealistic they may sound lol :)! I understand that yours needs to be different, with different priorities and concerns and that’s fine.

      You will also note that I was quite specific in the post about recognising the need for Folksy to differentiate itself from sites such as Ebay and made a clear distinction “People understood that there needed to be a distinction between this marketplace and more general market & auction sites”, so no, by my logic I have not suggested ‘Ebay as the definition of a creative platform’ lol :)!! Though that is not to say that some quality art & craft work does not appear on Ebay, it does, but that is not the exclusive focus of that particular site. Other ‘handmade’ sites such as Etsy do manage to be very inclusive, housing a wide range of work, while being a very successful global business. Buyers are credited with being able to select what they wish to buy and to ignore what they don’t. Functionality within the Etsy website works well to facilitate this, allowing for searches not only on types of items but also price ranges enabling buyers looking only for top-end items to filter their searches. So it can work.

      I accept your point about the materials, that this is what it says in the clarification. However, I hope you can also accept that my comments arose from the confusion that there has been around this particular issue due to the notion that the reason for not allowing charms is because they are not made by the craftsperson, whereas other mass-produced components seem okay…in some instances but not others…and it can become difficult to know which is which. With regard to the paint analogy -I was simply musing on the fact that paint is a coloured, mass-produced material, just as coloured, mass-produced beads are. Whether we create an abstract painting or a beautiful arrangement of beads with our chosen material, to me it is still the ‘output of your own artistry’ (to use your words) and so I was asking why the painting should not be defined by the materials used, but the necklace should. To me the object exists in its own right. I respect your right to disagree with that.

  10. I can’t remember the last time I was totally riveted by a blog post. I love your choice of imagery, and it’ great to see visual references to some great artisans. Truly magnificent, well done!

    The Diddybear Maker / SHHIM

  11. Fantastic post, what a great read.
    It’s heartening to read that it’s NOT just those that have been affected that are finding the changes (because that is what they are, this is NOT a clarification, whatever is said) in some parts illogical.
    I can’t argue the right of a company to have whatever policy they see fit, but to do so by dismissing a lot of hard work, without the correct notice period, and to do so on the back of ‘having made enough money from you guys to move on’, is at best, insulting, and at worst, unethical, sly and downright unpleasant. Despite a certain amount of bravado and bolshiness, this hit me, and my confidence in what I do, very hard.

    Thank you for a great post. I wish James had taken time out to answer to some of the affected sellers, but that has been very thin on the ground. Of course, our financial input into his site is no longer a concern, so why waste valuable keyboard time on us?

    But thank you for this, and am very touched at the inclusion of my necklace here.

    Flo

    • Hi Flo :), glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for taking time to respond. I agree with you that much of this looks more like change than clarifcation, as specifics and limitations have now been introduced which did not previously exist. I think it is also suggested in the phrase ‘items that we no longer support’, which suggests that they were supported before…

      I agree too that while we may accept the right to create change, that does not, in my eyes at least, excuse the way this whole thing has been carried out. When making changes that affect others, I think any organisation has a responsibility to manage that change properly, to ensure that they behave in a respectful, just and fair way, to communicate effectively, to plan properly, to make full efforts to minimise any disadvantage to those affected. From what I have seen, this has not happened and people have been badly hurt by that on all kinds of levels. This is what I cannot stomach and is the reason I wrote the post. I can only imagine how difficult this whole period has been for you Flo, and hope that you will regain your confidence over time – so many people love what you do, myself included, and really want to see you carrying on and making a go of it. I think the quirkiness of your pieces are just brilliant, this owl necklace is a case in point and is one of my favourites 🙂 xx

  12. Hello Rowansong,
    “I think the trouble is that people don’t understand the clarification where their work falls into a grey area, and this is where the perception of inconsistency is coming from.” You are quite right, “original design” is the main area of ambiguity and we are working on ways to communicate this more effectively, particularly for jewellery makers (one widely used way of doing this is assessing what the defining characteristic of a piece of work is). We’re doing this to create a more distinct place for buyers, makers and designers, a place where skills are respected and aspired to. The UK has a remarkably talented craft and design sector, with thousands of graduates increasing that pool every year, and we feel they deserve a definition of handmade which has the integrity of their work at its core. Not easy, but nothing worth doing is ever easy.

  13. heartsandcraftsuk on said:

    Thank you for featuring my bracelet, and also for a riveting read.

    I understand their need for change, and I think most people would support the changes, but the way they were rushed through, the wording that was used, and the fact it is going to affect Christmas trading, I think is what tipped the balance for everyone. I for one am very angry over it, and to their credit, they have tried to clarify their position, and are e.mailing people back, which is good, but the clincher for me was when they said, if you haven’t ticked the box to received mailings from folksy, you won’t get the email regarding the changes!!!

    Glad my bank don’t do that, otherwise all the terms and condition changes would never get to me, and you know what, I’d challenge it in court…. just because someone doesn’t want the bumf off folksy, surely any changes to the t&c’s means they legally have to tell people about the change? Hmmm…..

  14. Wonderful blog post! I can’t believe I only just found it but better late than never. Thanks so much for including my card and I agree with everything you’ve said….

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