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on January 27, 2012
Craft work (for example, ceramics and furniture) poses a dilemma for modern thinking about beauty and the arts. Because of its beauty, craft has more than mere functionality, yet because of its functionality it cannot be fine art. What should craftmakers do? Claim their work to be fine art and forget about functionality? Or remain loyal to functionality (you can eat noodles from the finest ceramic bowl) and face extinction competing with machine-made products of industrial design? Apparently, the tendency is to abandon functionality, though Risatti thinks that is a mistake. Craft is not craft without functionality; bowls too large to lift have become the useless art of sculpture. Function is important because it implies a relation to the hands that make and use the work, guaranteeing human scale and meaning. How much fine art can you say that about? The real threat to craft is not assimilation to fine art, however. The effect of industrial design and machine production is to divorce the way a thing looks from how it is made. Never has so little of our artifactual environment actually been made by hand, and it's a loss. A loss of connection. A thing made by and for the hands has a sense that transcends our differences and when beautifully made is an eloquent reminder of where ingenuity ultimately comes from.
This review originally appeared in Common Knowledge 15 (2009).