Craft (Workmanship of Risk)

"Craftsmanship is defined simply as workmanship using any kind of technique or appara­tus, in which the quality of the result is not predetermined, but depends on the judgment, dexterity and care which the maker exercises as he works. The essential idea is that the quality of the result is continually at risk during the process of making; and so I shall call this kind of workmanship [the workmanship of risk]: an uncouth phrase, but at least descriptive."3

Craft is a time-honored tradition. It takes patience to craft a piece of furniture. Craft is the human skill involved in making, but recognition should never be the motivation. Motivation should be inwardly focused, having to do with passion and the satisfaction generated by craftwork. Traditional approaches to the subject of craft often emphasize the finished piece. However, the essence of craft lies in the human skill contributing to the workmanship, not in the finished product.

Craft is rooted in the nature of workmanship and refers to the human skill in making. David Pye writes about craft in his book The Nature and Art of Workmanship, stating that human technique has value but that quality workmanship is not dependent upon human technique.4

For a craftsperson or artist, furniture design is about the process of making and is con­sidered an art. For many individuals, it is an applied craft, as evidenced in the work of Antonio Gaudi or the unique, one-of-a-kind pieces of Wendell Castle, or a matter of design, as in the work of the Danish furniture designer Poul Kjsrholm. It is difficult to draw a line between handcrafted furniture, fine art, and design, but it is important to try and do so because the effort can help clarify distinctions of one’s own work. If furniture is hand­crafted, signed, and original, can it be considered fine art? On the other hand, if art func­tions as furniture, can art be considered design? Can art be conceived by one person and made by another? In actuality, the polemic between art and design is of minimal interest to many furniture designers, but the notions and positions of the two terms can fuel a body of work and help maintain clarity and focus on why one does what one does as a furniture designer. This, at least, is helpful in placing one’s work in the context of the work of others.

An industrial designer can engage a broad range of workmanship. Joe Colombo, Bruce Hannah, and Bill Stumpf have had other people produce their furniture designs. This is not to say that they don’t have the desire or skill to make furniture; rather, it is a reflection upon the nature of engineered works conceived and intended for mass production. For the industrial designer, craft focusing on an individual work of art may be less important than the realiza­tion of standardized mass production. For most industrial designers, the goal is to generate exact replications through repeatable processes. The furniture designs of Achille Castiglioni, Antonio Citterio, and Ettore Sottsass fall within the category of design rather than the cat­egory of art. One is not better than the other, but the distinction between the two is impor­tant to realize.

Furniture produced at the highest levels of craft and furniture produced as contempo­rary or social art are generally considered art pieces. Craft is conceived and executed as a process-driven activity dependent on human skill, regardless of the quality of the workman­ship in the final product.

Updated: October 8, 2015 — 1:17 am