Do you really need a book of writing on craft on your bookshelf? Is craft not about doing rather than reading? Do things not speak for themselves? Is this the real thing?


If we glance sideways at the art world we see that whilst artists make, and at art college they learn to speak and write well about their making, the work of the art critic, the gallery owner and curator are equally if not more important in forming opinion about what is good, what is important and what is not. Critical writing is a difficult thing to do well. It requires a deep understanding of the field, of what is happening, what is current, what is new and important. To do a field justice a commentator needs to put the legwork in to see the shows, to visit the workshops, to read what everyone else is saying, to have an understanding of what is going on. Perhaps if we could use a music analogy we would look to the late great John Peel who simply listened to more music than anyone else, he loved music and always had something interesting to share. His knowledge was comprehensive yet he was also incredibly humble and simply wanted to share his excitement about whatever new band he had just found.

To me this is how I feel when I read Tanya Harrod’s writing. There is a feeling of discovery, of understanding the field I work in in a much deeper way as I glimpse it through the eyes of someone who has studied it closely and passionately for many years. The Real Thing is an anthology of Tanya’s writings in various quality newspapers and magazines from the past 30 years. I find it to be a total delight to dip into at random, to enjoy a couple of pages on such diverse subjects as “What is Folk Art?” “Why shouldn’t a pot be as beautiful as a painting?”, “The flourish of wood and iron”, Quaryman’s vernacular”, “Our past remade in China”, “Craft without politics” or “Why don’t we hate Etsy?”

I used to subscribe to Crafts Magazine and the highlight was always Tanya’s column inside the back cover. Now here are some of the best of them from 30 years collated together, simply fantastic. The final section of the book is a collection of writings about people, here I have to declare an interest and abandon objectivity since the section starts with “William Morris in our time” and ends with “Robin Wood, traditional radical” along the way amongst many others we have “Eric Gill, workman”, “Le Corbusier, craft lover”, Lucie Rie and reticence”, and “Svend Bayer and the aesthetics of denial”

This new book is a wonderful record of Tanya’s championing of the field of craft and providing it with the best critical writing for 30 years. It stands as a great work on it’s own and should be essential reading for all craftspeople to better understand the complexities of what it means to make things in the 21st century, it tells the story behind the things, I would highly recommend it. RRP £20

On amazon here

Author Robin Wood

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