Sunday, March 01, 2009

craft is cool

not long ago, my sister said, "you're too educated for all those arts & crafts." she was making fun of me for my constant preoccupation with whether or not i'm being creative. and she was, of course, trying to be funny and perhaps a little bit trying to appeal to my inner snob (that would be the one who went to the U of C). but, her statement actually gets at a larger issue. it seems that a return to traditional ways of being and doing things is on the rise.

mmm, homemade schnapps

just a couple of years ago, i would not even have imagined myself knitting or quilting or embroidering (still having trouble on the knitting, tho' i'm only a mildly retarded monkey now, not a profoundly retarded one like before). it seems there is a whole community of people all over the world who are making these old-fashioned handicrafts fashionable and hip again. handmade is totally in--whether it's pickles, flavoring your own alcohol, making coffee cozies and coasters, crocheting covers for stones, knitting for your friend's baby, giving a quilt to someone special for christmas. it's not just for little old hunched over grannies anymore. craft is cool.

i wonder what these are going to be when they grow up?

and why is that? what is it in the zeitgeist that makes us want to remember how to DO things with our own hands? is it a reaction to the information age? to the fact that most of us work in some kind of service sector and don't actually MAKE anything anymore in our jobs (except a bunch of meaningless consultant speak fashionable words that say a lot without really saying anything)? are we driven by some kind of biological instinct to want to make things with our own two hands?

or is it, as denis dutton (editor of the fabulous arts & letters daily) suggests, that appreciation of art is the result of human evolution--sexual selection--to help us find the right mate. actually, he's talking more about the ability to appreciate beautiful, artistic things, rather than the ability to produce them, but this quick overview of his theory is worth a click and a bit of a think anyway.

my theory, and it's still under development, is that this desire to hold the fruits of our own labors in our hands is a reaction to the world having gotten so fast. information travels at light speed. i'm spending a lot of time hanging out in cyberspace with people from around the world, having what i can only term real friendships with people i've never met in person. so some part of the core of who i am desires to have something that's here and now with me, in my own two hands (and which isn't a pretty mac keyboard, which is often what's at least near, if not in my hands). there's so much information out there that our grasp of it is only fleeting, and by the time we might grasp it, it's already moved on to the next thing. therefore we feel a need to have something to hold onto.

free form embroidery by sabin

i think that's why i'm--despite two master's degrees, fulbright, an ABD Ph.D. that i probably won't ever finish, and a rather meaningful career in shipping that takes me around the world--spending all of my spare time doing arts and crafts (or thinking about doing them, as the case may be). it makes me feel in touch with my here and now. it's tangible. it brings beauty into my home and my very molecules into alignment (which usually only happens in the lobby of the manila pen). it feels meaningful to see sabin sewing around the edge of her cards for her swap or helping her thread a needle so she can embroider a flower that she drew onto some fabric with a chalk pencil. it makes me feel good to make gifts for the people i love. it feels like it was time well spent and yes, i also feel proud that i have the ability to make something with my own hands. so, i guess i'll keep doing it, despite being over-educated for it.

maybe it's a product of a childhood spent reading the laura ingalls wilder books over and over. i just want to homestead. homesteading in the 21st century, that's what this is. i really can't wait for spring so i can get started on the garden. i vow that we're gonna have enough tomatoes to can some next summer!


Tess Kincaid said...

It's your ancestors speaking! And I think it's wonderful!

My aunt and uncles told me recently that my dear grandmother would win the blue ribbon at the fair every year for her canned peaches. They said that she actually cheated, by buying store bought canned peaches, and filling her canning jars with them! I thought it was an adorable story.

Delwyn said...

Good morning Julochka,
I think you have described the whys and wherefores pretty well. This making process seems to absorb us - thats what appeals to me - the immersing of myself in the project, getting lost in it, unaware of time, that's what I find meditative and rewarding, not so much the end products but they are nice to have around too.

And the way that fresh new ideas seem to swell out of others like they are being born and they take you someplace else again.

Denis Dutton said...

Terrific little essay. Yes, I think we share a lot of pleasures and preferences with ancient ancestors, though we tend to credit mom, dad, and our fellows. You can read a lot more here:

The book actually talks at one point about *hand* crafts, and their importance to us.

Denis Dutton

julochka said...

denis--how cool you stopped by!!! i will definitely check out your book (it's in my shopping basket on amazon already, just have to check out)..all i had seen was the newsweek synopsis!! thanks for the comment!!

beth said...

I think for all us....making just a little bit of something with our own hands is all we need to feel good about ourselves and to be able to call ourselves creative.

Char said...

For me, it's about creating something that makes me happy. Some of my photography never sees the light of day beyond my computer - but it makes me happy to create with my eyes. Like you, I would have something crafted in love than anything you could pick up without thinking at the local department store.

hele said...

your crafty photos always makes me feel so warm and hopeful.

Relyn Lawson said...

My childhood was filled with Laura's books, too. My favorites were the taffy pulling and the balloon out of a pig's bladder. Now I read at least one of her books to my class each year. We always make a button string, too. I think you'd be surprised how much fun modern children of the Wii generation enjoy a simple button string. Willow's right - it's the pull of our ancestors.

Bee said...

Very interested in your theories; will add that I have made chutney, marmalade and pickled onions this year . . . for the first time ever. And I've put in a garden - newest project, raspberry canes. And I'm seriously contemplating learning to knit - partly because my youngest daughter is fascinated by it.

AND we have been reading the Little House books for the past year -- which were childhood favorites of mine, too.

AND I also have two Master's degrees. Go figure.