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Written by Chloe Sjuberg 

Contemporary Craft


(Work Pictured by Yvonne Wakabayashi,  Illona Lindsay, Redroom Artglass Studio, Golem Designs,  and Neno Catania)

The Craft Council of BC has been working with the Canadian Craft Federation and the other provincial and territorial craft councils to open dialogue and find a consensus on a clearer definition of contemporary craft to fit today’s craft culture. I studied information from 19 craft councils in Canada, the US and the UK, such as their mission statements and their documentation on jurying processes and standards of quality, to find contrasts and common threads in their views on a few key topics.

a craft artist by any other name…

The first order of business was finding out just what to call someone who practices professional contemporary craft. The most common terms used to refer to such people are “craftsperson” or “maker”, which emphasizes the transformative, hands-on nature of craft. We also often hear “artisan” or “artist”, of course, but these refer less specifically to craft. Which is your preferred term?

the medium is the message

The five key mediums – ceramic, fibre, glass, metal and wood – are used by virtually all councils studied. The jury is out, though, on whether certain other mediums should be included. Take many two-dimensional arts, such as printmaking, photography or other paper-based practices. Some councils explicitly define these as NOT craft, but others may accept them if they’re incorporated into a more traditional medium – such as metal jewellery that incorporates paper.

The use of pre-manufactured, recycled, found or purchased materials came up often. Most agree that these may be acceptable only if they are subordinate to the overall design of the craft piece, or if they are substantively transformed. For example, Billy Would Designs, a new artist in the Crafthouse, makes jewellery using recycled and painted skateboard decks.

defining craft - billy would earrings

what is innovation?

Naturally, when talking about contemporary creative practice, innovation and related concepts surface constantly. Take a look at the usual suspects:

defining craft - innovation word cloud

What’s challenging is that these terms all evoke similar sentiments, but what they really mean can be quite vague. What, exactly, makes a maker’s work innovative, unique or distinctive? To an extent, of course, it’s something you know when you see – or touch, or hear the story of! The Alberta Craft Council and others stress that work must “not involve common or derivative processes and ideas.” The New Brunswick Craft Council says craft work should “show the hand of the maker” and their “clear personal vision.” Craft Ontario, in particular, highlights some unique details. They prize work that is “aesthetically powerful,” that involves “creativity and exchange” and the transformation of materials, and comes out of a process of “engaging with the world.”

celebrating craft culture

I’m preaching to the choir when I say that craft brings value to a region’s cultural life! Here are some key points from various craft councils that help express and define the cultural values that contemporary craft embodies.

Craft Ontario honours the collaborative spirit and “diversity” in the world of craft.

The PEI Crafts Council makes a unique point that craft should ensure that the “senses are educated,” and “[prioritize] the personal in a mechanized society.”

The Alberta Craft Council stresses that cultural values and personal or cultural expression should be a primary motivation behind craft work.

Perhaps we can unite these great ideas to create a stronger sense of how, exactly, contemporary craft may enrich culture. As the Manitoba Craft Council tells us — and their words are echoed by many of their peers — “From the functional to decorative, craft has always enriched [our] lives.” We’re excited for what will come of opening up this dialogue and collaborating with our fellow Canadian craft councils.

Stay tuned for further insights!