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Crafting Craft A Different Approach

Bhand, Vishal C. is Head and Associate Professor in Design at Silpa Sadana, School of Craft and Design at Visva Bharati University, Santiniketan. He has designed several courses on cultural practices and design process and closely worked with craftspeople in the area of wood, textiles, metal, ceramics and leather. He is a widely travelled scholar with keen interest in Indian art and craft.

April - May 2012, Craft Revival Trust

Craft practices are an integral part of any cultural setting. They provide an identity to the people belonging to a particular culture. India has a vast variety of cultural settings resulting in diverse craft practices.

At the beginning, craft items were produced by different cultural groups to serve specific purposes. Later, with time and changes in society, function of these products changed and at times they were used as items of household decoration; that is moving from function to aesthetic. And now is the time when craft is considered as ornamentation with high price for a particular class of the society.

Craft practices in most of the developed economies are almost stopped. Fortunately, in India, craft practices are still alive. However, the craft sector is facing a lot of challenges with new technologies and changing life styles.

Many steps are taken by the Government of India to support the craft sector but a lot is yet to be done at different levels of society.

Challenges faced by the Craft Sector:

There are many issues, however, all of them overlap with each other.
  1. Falling Demand of hand crafted products: With time our mindset changes resulting in changes in our surroundings and taste. After Industrial Revolution our life style has moved into a higher pace. Today we are so impatient that we find it difficult to wait for our computer to boot when we start it or we are much faster when using keys of our cell phone. Our taste has got faster and blunt. Today we find it much easier to maintain stainless steel utensils rather than earthenware.

  2. High Maintenance: Most of the craft items need somewhat higher maintenance; that is cleaning, placing, care and so on with less usability. Often craft items are made of natural material and require regular cleaning and care otherwise they look unkempt and attract lot of unwanted and negative attention in our house. Today we do not have time to put much effort in the maintenance of the craft items. This has resulted into craft items disappearing from middle class home. Hand Crafted lifestyle items are now seen in upper-class houses who can afford to hire a person to take care of these products hence craft has become an expensive proposition and the sole domain of a particular class.

  3. Time consuming and laborious production process increases the production cost. Also, craft items are handmade: lot of time and effort are required while producing them. All this make hand crafted products expensive. As a result result, there is less demand and craft has become class specific. This is also one of the reasons why many craftsmen do not wish to practice/ remain with their craft.

  4. Higher Production Cost: As mentioned above, craft items are made of natural materials and the production process is laborious and time consuming. This has bought up the cost of craft items which have resulted in a fall in demand. Ideally, low demand in market should bring down the cost, however, this has not happened in the craft sector because (again) craft items are made of natural materials and the production process is laborious and time consuming so production cost would never come down.

  5. Low cost copies: The textile sector sets a good example of this where impression of block print and batik is created with the help of screen printing to bring down the cost and labour. Indeed, Industrial Revolution has made our life much easier but on the other side it has put challenges for many craft practices.

  6. Lack of product diversification: Many craftsmen make products considering market demand. However, many are yet to diversify their products. As mentioned earlier, craft products were designed for a specific purpose and later they served a different propose in an increasingly urban setting. Often craftsmen are not aware of market demand hence a mismatch in demand and supply is evident.

  7. Young generation of traditional craftsmen is not keen to take up craft practices as it is less rewarding. These youth migrate to the big towns/cities in search of alternative lifestyle/career and end up doing odd jobs. These youth are also attracted towards the fast and glittering urban lifestyle and often craftsmen too do not want their children to continue their practice.

  8. Lack of consumer awareness is another factor that influences the craft market. Consumers are not aware of the fact that most of the craft products are hand-made of natural material. The common man often argues why craft products are more expensive then machine-produced ones and fail to appreciate the craftsmanship, effort and eco-friendly approach.

  9. There is a strong need of more Craft and Design Institutes in India. Design education in India is still not well known in the education sector. We would get shocking results if we calculate the number of institutes offering craft and design degrees against those offering engineering, management and medical courses/degrees.

Opportunities of improvement:

Following are some suggestions to improve the situation.
  1. Reform(s) in Art and Design Education

  2. Bringing traditional craftsmen into the main stream

  3. Design intervention in craft sector

  4. Promotion and public awareness of crafts

Reforms in Education:
Introduction of traditional culture studies as a mainstream course at the school level is urgently and immediately required. One strong reason for the young generation failing to recognise our roots and cultural practices is because culture practices are not taught and discussed in the schools and later in life they fail to appreciate craft. Introduction of such a course would help the young generation understand the previous generations a degree better while respecting and appreciating other cultural practices. We know how ‘much’ and ‘how’ craft is taught in the schools. One class a week is just not enough to learn and appreciate any craft practices. Not to mention the way craft is taught! It is really unfortunate that the school education system of such a big and great nation with an immensely rich craft sector is biased towards theory alone.

The skills-based subjects are completely ignored in schools. Also the fact that students are not exposed to the possibilities and opportunities in the craft sector. It would not be very difficult to find students who are willing to take-up craft as a profession. But the system and society is designed in such a way that a student who is good in craft is never taken seriously and is not encouraged at par with other mainstream subjects. There is a strong need to bridge these gaps and this calls for recognising craft as a mainstream subject.

Bringing traditional craftsmen to the main stream:
Traditional craftsmen can be hired as crafts teachers in schools. Present requirement to become a school teacher is B.Ed degree and none of the traditional craftsmen would possess B.Ed. This change in the qualification requirement for craft teacher would not only improve our school education but also provide opportunities of employment to the craftsmen and would inject a sense of pride into the crafts community. There can be an argument against this as craftsmen are not trained school teachers. But this issue can easily be addressed by providing a bridge course to these craftsmen.

Another way to bring craftsmen into the main stream is by providing scholarships to the children of craftsmen and rural youth to study crafts at school and degree level. Some day this would result into all the craftsmen having a degree and crafts becoming main stream subject. As we all know many crafts in India are not practiced any more. If we fail to attract young talent today, very soon many other crafts would be seen in museums only.

Design Intervention in Craft Sector:
Many craft practices are wiped out and many existing ones are facing stiff challenges due to low market demand. Craftsmen are often found complaining about less market demand resulting in their products not selling well. However, there is bit of difference between ’less market demand’ and ‘products not selling’. This can actually be read/seen to be the other way round. That is there is a constant demand but only for right (design) kind of products. Bad design would result into falling sales. Since we have a rich craft culture, (to start with) at least all the central universities should have a design department/faculty and all the design departments/faculties/institutes should have a dedicated craft design department working closely with the craftsmen. These institutes can provide craftsmen with technical inputs, knowledge of modern tools and equipments. Many craftsmen make products with high craftsmanship but these products have no market value because often such products are traditional ‘ritual’ objects which have absolutely no use/function in the modern urban society.

Skills upgradation can be done while developing products with functional approach without disturbing, and in turn actually utilizing, their traditional skills. Attractive designs, patterns and forms can be developed while keeping the price down. Products for common uses are to be designed understanding the demands of the market. This would promote craft in middle class homes and hearts and help craft rid itself of its exclusive tag. Craft designs can be developed for all users; that is, different age groups, end users and class by blending ‘traditional style and present need’. Chains of production(s) can be simplified by implementing a better supply chain and encouraging and promoting bulk orders, as this would also bring down the cost of production and other overhead and allied costs.

Public awareness:
Since craft-and-design education is yet to get the status it deserves in our society, the common-man fails to comprehend, analyse, utilise, and hence ultimately, appreciate craft. Unless this issue is addressed seriously at various levels of personal, communal and governmental levels, the situation is unlikely to improve. The Government of India has started many schemes for craftsmen and has provided platforms to present their skills. But just providing funds to the craftsmen is not enough unless the consumer appreciates/understands the value of the craftsmanship involved. A bigger advertisement campaign is required and use of ‘hand-made mark’ on crafts items should be started like ‘hand loom mark’. Marketing outlet can sell products with information tag; that is, how, where and who made the particular product concerned. And most importantly this awareness should start at the basic levels like schools. Craft should be taught in a better and serious manner in schools. Conclusion:
A nation like ours with such a wide variety of cultural practices should have a national policy on culture. And craft practices should be an integral and important part of it. Craft practices and promotions would help address many social issues our society is facing today. Issues like employment for rural youth, drugs, alcoholism, education, and so on can directly be addressed by crafts promotion.

We have a big rural population and just 20% of our population lives in the big cities. Hence if not all, then at least most, of our policies should address the remaining 80% of rural population. Measures should be taken to provide employment opportunities to this population. In today’s world of modernisation and globalization, even the urban youth is struggling to find a job as many companies are reducing their workforce. Given such a scenario, how can a rural youth with traditional skills be accommodated? Higher crime rate in big cities can be a result of this mismatch of demand and supply in the career/workforce ratio in India.

There is a huge scope for improvement in crafts-and-design education in India. Review of crafts course in schools should be made immediately with the introduction of traditional craftsmen teaching crafts in schools. National institutes, Universities including museums can organise regular design development workshop with designers, design students and craftsmen. Department of Anthropology can help in mapping and identification of craft practices.

Crafts should been seen as a site that would generate more employment opportunities without uprooting the practitioners from their roots. On one hand we can retain our craft culture and on the other hand improve socio-economic status of craftsmen.



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