Making for Money

Last night, I watched with great interest, the documentary Making it Handmade, by Australian indie film maker Anna Brownfield that screened on ABC2 (if you're in Aus, it's available to watch on iView for the next couple of weeks). It was great to see such inspiring crafty ladies, such as the super-talented artist Gemma Jones, as well as uber-crafty Pip Lincolne of Meet Me at Mikes. Overall I thought it was an interesting little documentary which offered lots of food for thought. Which is just what I found myself doing whilst munching my morning toast...

Images in this post adapted from various editions of Woman and Home magazine, 1940s (my personal collection).

There was one aspect to the film that bugged me - a discussion about the commercialisation of craft. In fairness, there was a distinction made between independent crafters (good) & the big corporations who adopt the indie aesthetic, sneakily pretend to be the little guys, or outright steal designs from indie makers (bad), but there was still some discussion that making stuff for money is somehow not in the true spirit of craft - that making a living by making doesn't have the integrity of making things solely for fun.

I'm an artist rather than a crafter (although the lines can be quite blurry, which I think is great!), but I have been an independent maker for quite a long time now, & have made a living doing just that since 2006, so I think this entitles me to an opinion (despite not knowing one end of a knitting needle from the other). I don't think motivations of love or money are mutually exclusive, or that making a profession from creativity cheapens it.

I come from a working class background. My first home was a modest little pastel green fibro house in the 'burbs, & the schools I went to didn't have a great deal of resources or instill a sense of ambition in their pupils. The most anyone hoped for us was that we would at least get some kind of a job & not end up on the dole. Since there was not a lot of dialogue about tertiary education or career options (let alone career satisfaction), the fact that I have ended up self-employed, independent, & doing something I absolutely love is quite an achievement. It's hard work, & I'm not quite a millionaire just yet, but I still feel so lucky! So any suggestion that I am mercenary or somehow not as genuine as a hobbyist really bothers me, because I feel there's a great deal of meaning & integrity to what I do, & I am proud of that. Plus, I don't have the luxury of making purely for enjoyment, because I have to pay the bills!

Being independent, eking out a small, satisfying career competing against the big corporations, is incredibly empowering & also beneficial to society because it helps keep diversity in the marketplace alive, & in a modest way keeps the multinationals at bay from having a total monopoly. Independent artists & artisans are incredibly important to the economy - they're small enough to fit in those tiny niches that the big corps can't squeeze into, & nimble enough to adapt quickly to change, not only keeping up with market trends, but setting them. How great is that?!

I found it disappointing that the documentary celebrated craft on one hand, but lamented the commercialisation of it on the other. There were comments discouraging people from buying handmade (?!) or giving a career as an independent creative a shot. Faythe Levine's comments about production work & getting burned out were perfectly valid - I've suffered burn out myself meeting demand for my work, & this time around plan to approach things differently - & I'm not suggesting anyone take a rose-coloured view & fail to prepare or research their options. But overall, I am fully supportive of people adopting an enterprising spirit & giving independence a go.

No matter whether you're a professional, a hobbyist, sell your work or give it away, have an alternate income or not - all creativity is empowering (& fun!). And if you're an appreciator & shopper rather than a maker, thank you for supporting people like me. Handmade might cost a little more, but you're getting something truly unique & made with love. Let's fill the world with arty & crafty expressions of who we are & what we believe in!

*Steps down from soapbox & puts the kettle on*