Crafts aren't creative – they're, well, erm...

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Earlier this month, there was widespread consternation and outrage that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is going to exclude the 'crafts' as a category under the banner of 'creative industries'. Having done some work on a 40,000-word report about heritage crafts for Creative & Cultural Skills – the licensed Sector Skills Council for the UK's creative and cultural industries – I have a reasonable understanding of the challenges that face these craftspeople, and the quite incredible range of job titles 'crafts' encompasses. Don't think for a second it's all about throwing pots and carving little wooden figures for fairs in town halls. It covers dozens and dozens of areas – from engraving to picture restoration to jewellery making to calligraphy, and many, many more.

And yet the DCMS wants to exclude 'crafts', which has been under the banner of creative industries since year dot, on the grounds that although “craft occupations contain a creative element...the view is that, in the main, these roles are more concerned with the manufacturing process, rather than the creative process”.

Did anyone else have to reread this quote – the second time with more of a furrowed brow and more of a loose bottom jaw? Because to me (and to rather a lot of outraged craftspeople) this seems to make no sense at all...not least because it's suggesting that the manufacturing process isn't a creative one.

How can that possibly be the case? The quote does rather smack of someone shuffling papers around their desk while imagining that the crafts are something that people only do in posh barns in the Cotswolds. In any case, it can take years and years to become adept at the manufacturing process involved in, say, glass blowing. And, crucially, it's often during the manufacturing process that the creativity takes place in any case. Not only that, but (and I mean no disrespect in the least to digital designers here), why is someone sitting at a computer all day deemed to be more creative than someone who designs and constructs using more basic tools?

The problem, apparently, is not being able to measure the output of the crafts industry accurately enough. Nearly 90% of people in this sector are sole traders and are not VAT registered because they earn less than £79,000 per annum – meaning that the government doesn't collect business data about them. But then excluding them from the 'creative industries' umbrella seems to be a rather harsh punishment for something which isn't exactly avoidable.

And where does this leave creative geniuses like Grayson Perry? The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman at the British Museum was one of the most original and creatively inspiring exhibitions I've ever seen – and yet the resplendent tapestry shown in the header at the top of this blog (and which I spent a good 15 minutes looking at when I saw it live) wouldn't be classified under the 'creative industries'. But one of his paintings would – even though, historically, tapestry making was once much more highly valued, artistically. Oh, those poor Bayeux workers...

As one would expect, there has been outrage among the creative community. Hardly surprising when it includes about 88,000 people who contribute over £3 billion to the UK economy. One commentator on The Guardian's Culture Professionals Network page says:

“To distinguish artists on the grounds that one group (the 'artists') create work based on concepts often requiring next to no technique and time to execute while another group (the 'craftspeople') work with materials such as clay and glass requiring often highly advanced skills and lengthy working hours in addition to high levels of creativity is utterly ludicrous to begin with. It's patently obvious to anyone with a bit of knowledge of contemporary art that a significant proportion of the most interesting and creative work in the visual arts is taking place at present in the so-called 'crafts'.”

Another commentator suggests that the problem might lie in the title of her job:

“I've always struggled with the appropriate terminology to describe my creative work process. The phrase 'designer maker' worked well, though. We are multi-talented and able to apply a plethora of skills to create an end product. Scary stuff for the single minded, unimaginative, box ticking report writers at the DCMS.”

If you'd like to sign the e-petition to stop the government reclassifying craft as non-creative, click here. You have until 8th August to do so. And if you'd like to join the Facebook support page, click here.


by Ashley Morrison

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