Whilst I was busy building my replica bronze age boat in the spring I heard of a very interesting conference at the British Museum.
Good title and the full details with the call for papers sounded right up my street. It takes place at the BM on 1st and 2nd November.
The conference flyer said “academic approaches to craft are often far removed from the practical knowledge and embodied practice of craft and skill in ancient societies, and biases towards ‘head’ over ‘hands’ need to be critically evaluated and acknowledged in the study of craft production.”
Yes I thought, perfect for a paper from a working craftsman having spent 16 years making replicas of medieval artifacts and 3 months replicating one of the most technologically advanced surviving bronze age artifacts.
I pitched my abstract using the title “Whatever people say I am, that’s what I am not” but sadly was not accepted, they had 120 submissions for 40 or so slots but I feel it is rather sad they did not find a single place for a working craftsperson. To me this is symptomatic of a society which does not recognise that craftspeople are intelligent and capable of engaging with, even contributing to serious academic debate.
I was rather looking forward to engaging, I would have opened with the title “Whatever people say I am, that’s what I am not”and asked who recognised it. I doubt if many folk at the conference would yet it is the title of the UKs fastest ever selling album, the debut album of the Arctic Monkeys. There is nothing wrong with folk not being up to date with knowledge outside their particular field but I would argue that the world of craft is as distant, complex and hard to understand for an archaeological academic as the world of pop music. How frustrating to see so many folk discussing craft from so many different angles without a single craftsperson present.
In the world of archaeology it is common for academics to dabble in craft, to undertake a few small reconstructions and write about their experiences. I would suggest this can give good insights, as working for a day or two with archaeologists gives me an insight into their world. We the craftspeople however have an incredibly deep knowledge of our work, the materials and techniques and how they respond. This is based on thousands of repetitions each of which is a learning experience. The craftsperson is an intelligent problem solver bringing all this knowledge to each new challenge each day. There is knowledge and intelligence in our hands and our heads we simply choose to express it three dimensionally and seemingly in today’s society that is not yet as easily recognised as words, we need to change that.