The Death of Craft

February 18th, 2005 by Bob Bly

We live in a society that, for the most part, seems to value speed, efficiency, service, economy, and technology over quality and craftsmanship.

Therefore, those who are true craftsmen or masters of a particular trade are rapidly becoming obsolete or unable to compete in business ? because consumers are not willing to pay a premium for the level of craftsmanship they bring to their product or service.

Example: a local resident in my county has spent his professional life becoming a master at tuning pianos by ear and hand.

But new technology allows far less skilled technicians to tune pianos adequately, using electronic monitors, faster and more efficiently ? and these untrained tuners charge much less.

Photography is another great example of ?the death of craft,? according to BD.

?I am a professional photographer,? says BD. ?I got my skills to a world-class level and realized that ? for the most part ? people no longer cared enough to support my business.?

He blames it, in part, on the frenzied pace of modern society: ?As you know, it follows that the fast pace erodes appreciation for craft in our young.

?If I could produce quality at the speed, price, and efficiency, I?m not sure the young buyers would recognize the quality of craft.?

Another example is graphic design ? and it?s a sad story.

In the early 1980s, when I was an advertising manager for a manufacturing company in New York City, I used SB, a freelance graphic artist, to design our sales brochures.

He was such a meticulous craftsman that, when he got galleys from the typesetter, he would literally cut the text apart word by word ? even letter by letter, at times ? to make it just right.

?Will anyone know the difference?? I asked him.

?I?ll know the difference,? SB replied.

But with the advent of desktop publishing, doing layouts manually faded away, and no one was willing to pay SB?s rates for his level of skill and caring. Clients wanted jobs delivered electronically as Mac files; no one wanted the old-fashioned boards that SB did by hand. And today SB is a doorman in New York City.

How about you? Are you a craftsperson? And do you ever worry about your craft dying out or being rendered obsolete by either technology or changing times?

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This entry was posted on Friday, February 18th, 2005 at 8:15 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

18 responses about “The Death of Craft”

  1. Danny said:

    I try to be as much of a craftsman as pushy, impatient clients will allow. I take my work seriously and won’t “just throw something together real quick” for a client.

    I think the problem is more general, though. We’ve become a discount-instant-gratification society.

    People would rather have it done now, than done well. And this is as true of corporate executives determining the wages for desk clerks and sales associates as it is of consumers buying DIY particleboard furniture instead of heirloom pieces.

    We’re more “Wal-mart and McDonald’s” than “General Store and Sunday Dinner.” Welcome to the United States of Generica. No line, no waiting.

  2. reptile_k said:

    United States of Generica has its cultural roots, Paul Graham provided good observation in this article Made in USA
    ( http://www.changethis.com/12.MadeInUSA )

    Not appricating craftsmanship is not a bad thing, nor a good thing, it’s just the culture.

  3. Bruce DeBoer said:

    Thanks for posting this Bob. I want to throw another thought your way since you mentioned cutting type.

    Mediocrity emerged from the disappearance of typesetters because we could do it ourselves. “Good enough” is something easier said when accountability falls on us alone as it did once we could set our own type on the desktop. What we would have once returned to a typesetter because of poor quality, we may tend to accept if it was done on the desktop.

    This was my first recollection of the downturn in quality, but I’m sure there were earlier examples if I had paid attention.

    What do you suppose the future affect on society will be?

  4. Joel said:

    You might want to look at http://www.englishcut.com to see how a craftsman is doing very well these days making custom made suits for men. Craftsmanship must also go along with supply and demand. Those things that are in demand will sell. For example, the folks who sell Wisner (www.wisner.com) wooden view cameras had their best year, in spite of the fact that most people are turning to digital cameras. You can also get special edition (numbered) fountain pens for several thousands of dollars from the Fountain Pen Hospital (www.fountainpenhospital.com).

  5. Bruce DeBoer said:

    Joel,
    I think the point is that demand for craft is declining. Supply has outstripped demand for craft continually for the last 20 at least. Still, I too can sight countless examples of jawdropping craftsmanship in business. It’s the decline that concerns me.

    -bruce

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