During the course of the last few months, we have set sail to discover beautiful businesses. Many have been small scale craft producers often ascribed the nomenclature of craftspeople and artisans. Its a hard life, a tough market fraught with economic challenges. Choppy waters indeed. But is it a good time to be an artisan? On one hand, time, trends, seasons and fashion are cruel masters, maybe one the creative artisan psyche tries to ignore. Time isn’t a suitable determinant of artisan production factors, perhaps preferring achronologous behaviours as a more appropriate value. I would have thought however that their contribution to design, inspiration, sustainable and ethical practices put them on the top step of this beautiful business college. Market trends, however, are hard to ignore when they impact upon the integrity of what you do and who you are. The craftsman-artisan concept, once associated with authenticity and skilled endeavour, has been appropriated by dark forces: the sharp suits of Madison avenue, the admen, the marketers and the unfortunately, the opportunistic. The misuse of the word has drawn the ire of many, even the Huffington Post, gets irritated with headlines like …When ‘Artisan’ Means ‘Industrial’: How One Word’s Definition Has Been Overused And Abused!
Pretty much in the same way that cool, green, natural, fresh and eco fell victim to hipness and popularity, artisanal has gone the same way with your artisan chocolate, artisan sprinkles, artisan bread, artisan pastry, artisan wine, Burger King artisan bun, artisan cheese, artisan coffee, artisan hairdressers, artisan furniture, artisan biscuits, artisan bacon, artisan smokes, artisan water colours, artisan restraints, artisan craft shops, artisan pizza, artisan guitars, artisan hotels, artisan party organisers….face it most of this crap is made by machines and not by humans. Most of it is the outcome of a scientifically rationalised process separating maker from product. Those trained and practiced in craft and are able to manage the skills of hand and eye, rarely, if ever make burger buns and cake top sprinkles. Who knows what an artisan hotel might look like. Maybe it’s rustic looking rude mechanicals or cliched character throwbacks to the preindustrial period in workshops making bedding, soaps, woven towels and beds by hand!
This is culture theft. This is the reworking and manipulation of heritage skills, process, training and values, to sell and/or promote inferior mass pap. The appropriation phenomenon or culture theft stirred the feelings of a New York bagel maker Marc Fintz, who was watching a TV commercial for Dunkin’s Donuts new bagel range and was struck by the recurrent and emphatic use of the word ‘artisan’. A few days later he filed a set of complaints with the Federal Trade Commission, New York State Attorney General, and the Better Business Bureau against Dunkin’ Donuts alleging that the descriptor “artisan” is false advertising. Though some have suggested a clever bit of self promotion by Fintz, his role as the Director of Business Development of Davidovich Bakery, a company in Queens, NY, which, like Dunkin, Donuts also makes “artisan” bagels, meant he seemed to have a genuine reason to be upset.
I’m an Artisan…Who the Hell are You?
The artisan, artizan or artigiano is generally conceived of as a skilled manual worker who makes items that may be functional or strictly decorative, including furniture, sculpture, clothing, jewellery, household items and tools or even machines such as the handmade devices of a watchmaker. An artisan is therefore a person engaged in or occupied by the practice of a craft, who, unlike the burger bun processor, may through experience and talent reach the expressive levels of an artist using his hands, mind and heart in his work and what he creates. Unfortunately, much of what has traditionally been handmade, rural or pastoral goods are now commonly made on a larger scale with automated mechanisation in factories and other industrial areas. Being an artisan is in danger of becoming part memory, part history, part novelty an idealistic state.
The wise man novelist L.P Hartley once said …”The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”. This has become almost proverbial; the past is a foreign place. Not so for the artisan, the curator of heritage skills and the source of different values in a mass manufactured world.
The appropriation of the artisan nomenclature by businesses big and small, is a vindication of its power. It actually suggests significant value in the artisanal brand and surely implies that artisanal, handmade, rurally conceived is in some way better. The desperate rush to appropriate the term is proof of the desirability of artisan goods over mass produced, and artisanal skill over machine processing. Trying to take something positive from this, maybe the debate about being artisan and the use of the concept is a good thing, raising its profile, dragging the work of true artisans out of the shadows and into the daylight.
For the consumer concerned by the perpetual torrent of miss selling, the way to go with words like artisan, pastoral, handmade, etc may be similar to that of the use of organic. Regulate it and prove it? It’s a harsh path to follow but it might avoid the bandwagon hoppers looking for the next best thing to appropriate. Artisan…keep it for beautiful businesses.
For more real artisans and craftspeople see hoadd.wordpress.com