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what / why

As a graduate student at Tyler, I have investigated the use of the computer as an environment for the design and creation of craft objects.

I see the use of these new technologies as a natural, and necessary, progression for the field of metalsmithing and for the crafts in general. The metalsmithing revival of the 1960’s and 70’s was fed by the investigations of individuals during the 1940's and 50’s. Their research and experimentation formed the technical foundation that allowed so many people to turn to a vital, expanding field of crafts in the decades that followed.

Initially, the technologies presented were re-discoveries of ancient processes, like granulation, and traditional processes imported from Europe, like silversmithing. During the 1960’s and on into the 1970’s, these re-discovered techniques were refined and have since become commonplace. At the same time, processes and materials that were truly new to the history of metalsmithing were being imported from heavy industry. Techniques like electroforming, photo-etching and anodizing were introduced. New materials like plastics and titanium were added to the metalsmith’s growing palette. The work that resulted from the introduction of these new items refreshed the field and helped maintain a healthy progression.

There has been little of this technical innovation since the early 1970’s.

For a field endangered by stagnation and homogenized design, I see CAD-CAM/RPT as a potential source of new blood. This technology is a fresh means to, hopefully, a fresh end. I am not looking to re-invent or re-define craft, but to be a part of its re-vitalization. New technology, new techniques, encourage new aesthetics.

Craft was once the creation of everything, now it's a Kosy Korner at the mall. Craft survives (barely) as the creation of, not things in general, but things in particular. Craft, once the production of the necessary, is now the production of the accessory. Yet this new role does not call for the cessation of technological advancement. While craft is certainly associated with its traditional materials and processes, it is not wholly defined nor limited by those traditional qualities. Furthermore, it is difficult at best to classify craft as simply hand work. How close does the hand of the maker need to be to the work to qualify it as craft? Is the proximity of a body part to the work really what defines it as a craft object? I would suggest that it has far more to do with the intent of the maker.

This can also be phrased as a craft vs. industrial design debate. So often it is craft vs. art, but the introduction of such obviously industrial technology as CAD-CAM/RPT has shifted the focus in some minds to crafts vs. industrial design. I believe that what distinguishes the two approaches is the intent of the maker. Why is the object being made, and for whom? In simple terms, the craftsperson designs and creates a particular object for an individual. While the industrial designer has many of the same concerns as the craftsperson, they're also concerned with efficient production for a mass audience. The industrial designer designs an object and its manufacture to create one of general appeal to a general consumer.

Craft was once the pinnacle of production technology, a position that industrial design and manufacturing now holds. Why should a craftsperson avoid advanced technology now? Among the general crafts population, it seems there is a regressive fear of this progressive technology.

A large segment of society fears computers. The fear and the distrust that people have for these beige boxes (now available in smoky grey) seems to be centered around the dehumanization of our lives. So much daily interaction that once occurred face to face, hand to hand, or voice to voice now is handled by magnetic stripes, touch pads, voicemail, e-mail, and various sensors. I am concerned with showing another possibility. To engage these new tools in ways that humanize and individualize the products of that engagement. Hopefully some of the fear and distrust can be countered by evoking a more humanistic, and individualistic, potential of these technologies.

These methods of design and production are becoming commonplace and the idea of mass-customization is being adopted by more and more industries. It seems logical, and important, that craftspeople, long-time purveyors of customized goods, should take an active part in this new industrial revolution. Who better than a craftsperson to attempt to impart a more humanistic sensibility to computers and the machines they seemingly control? Computers touch so much of our lives, wouldn't you want some of that touch to be guided by a craftsperson?

Our culture is in a constant state of flux. For the crafts to maintain a sense of modernity, to be valid and valued members of society, there is a periodic need for the introduction of new approaches, like the efforts of the innovators of the 50's, 60' and 70's.

I would not be so bold as to suggest that the work that I am presenting here is the paragon of these ideals. This is in many ways a new direction for my colleagues and me, and for the crafts as a whole, but it is also simply a continuation of natural exploration and discovery. We are all moving toward a goal that is constantly being re-defined, and so we'll never get there. Happily, getting there is half the fun.

CAD-CAM/RPT: computer-aided-design and manufacture / rapid prototyping technologies [return]

re-vitalization: It's perhaps important to note that this new technology is to be an addition to the field of crafts, not a total replacement for more traditional processes. Some early responses to the use this new technology seem to expose a fear that the proponents of computer-aided-craft intend to absolutely replace hand-made-craft (both terms are misleading). The incorrect assumption is that the field can choose only one or the other, and not both. Crafts is a very open and diversified field. It has room for many approaches, and depends on the introduction of new approaches to remain healthy. [return]

what / why