The Artisan Network
The importance of community
In the world of craft and design, there is a debate on whether someone can be a designer if they cannot make what they design. The answer is generally accepted as that they can, with the important proviso that they must work with those who understand them and can match their standards. (“On Craftsmanship”. Christopher Frayling, p106)
The argument for “maker-as-designer” is the need to have an intimate understanding of the materials being used. That makes sense when we are talking about working with physical materials, where a relationship with what is being made transcends our ability to communicate fine nuances to another, but more problematic where the materials are virtual, as, for instance, in translating graphic design in video games to code, or an architect specifying materials in a building.
What is clear, though, is that if we want to be recognised as an artisan in what we do, we are reliant on those we work with, or, as an American colleague used to say, “It’s hard to soar like an eagle if you keep company with turkeys…”
This makes life difficult for those in large organisations. Not only is work generally reduced to component parts in pursuit of efficiency, we generally do not get a choice as to whose work we handle or to whom it goes when it leaves us. We can take all the care in the world in our part of the job, but it will matter little. Rigorous protocols such as Lean Six Sigma may focus on precision and performance, but unmeasurable but vital concepts such as beauty cannot enter the DMAIC process (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control)
If we want to develop as an artisan, someone whose work expresses something of who we are, who has control of the “what, who, when, where, why and how” of what we help create, it has to be in a network of people we trust, whose standards we respect and whose work we admire.
If we can’t do that at the workplace we occupy each day, we have to find somewhere outside of it where we can. Whether we write, paint, code, cook, or garden, we can find a community of practice where we can do our best work, whatever it might be, and grow into what we can become.
The more automated and efficient the world of business and the more standardised the world of teaching and healthcare become, the more important the idiosyncrasy and originality of the artisan become.
Because efficiency and automation focus on doing what we do today more effectively, whilst the arc of the artisan bends towards what we might do tomorrow that matters.