For thousands of years, before the Industrial Revolution and the
rise of capitalism, lots of people were skilled at crafts–some
because they made them for the rich, some for their own use, some for
trade. And before world capitalism took over everything, there were
still plenty of so-called undeveloped cultures that barely had a
class system–so they weren’t making crafts for the rich, i.e. most
people could “afford” what was made and/or had the time necessary to
learn how to make it.
I think you are defining shoddy in a particular way. Most of us
don’t look at tribal jewelry that doesn’t use soldering and/or is
uneven in some way and call it shoddy, although we may call it
primitive. Nobody has ever called my work shoddy, but for me to
develop the skills, and afford the materials, of my idols, I would
have to have an independent income. And not just because I don’t have
the capital–I don’t have the time. I’m living in a system where
nobody has time (that’s why most of my friends don’t make their own
jewelry, or their own anything else–not even dinner).
You are right that the Arts and Crafts movement didn’t work the way
it hoped to. On the other hand, many members of this list remember an
(all too brief) time–sometimes known as the Rhinebeck days–when it
did work. That time only existed because the state of the economy
enabled some of us to live very cheaply (and buy our materials
cheaply–I was a “textile artist” then, but I remember the price of
gold). As a result, we were able to support each other by buying each
other’s crafts, in a kind of symbiotic neo-tribal system. Little did
we know that, in a matter of years, the economy would blow most of us
out of the water.
I went to graduate school to try to understand what happened and
whether something could be done about it. I never found an answer.
Now, decades later, I’m back “in the crafts,” trying (quixotically,
no doubt) to recreate that time for myself, while my debt mounts.
SNAG made me feel hopeful, because the energy of the whole thing was
so 60s (as is Orchid’s energy)–people who are successful sharing
freely what they hope will help the rest of us.
But the solution to “making it in metal” offered by some of my idols
at SNAG was the opposite of that offered by William Morris. I think
of it as the Ikea solution–put lots of creative thought into both
beautiful designs and ways to make them using industrial processes. I
don’t think Ikea’s stuff is shoddy and I don’t think Don Friedlich’s
"clothes pins" were shoddy. The problem is, I want an Interference
Series brooch and I want to make things that involve that kind of
time and skill. But I may end up trying to go for the Ikea solution
anyway. I’m too old to still be this poor and frustrated and afraid
that it’s time to look for another day job. Never mind that, like Tim
McCreight, I still feel uneasy about making things that none of my
friends can afford.
By the way, I do wire work, usually incorporating beads. I cant even
afford the high karat gold wire I want to use, never mind the
full-fledged studio (I work in my bedroom) that would enable me to do
stone-setting. I bet I’m not the only person on this list who is in
this predicament. I’m proud of my work, but the chances of my
becoming a “studio jeweler” seem to have crumbled with the economy.
And, as Alan Revere so honestly pointed out at SNAG, nobody will hire
me as a bench jeweler, no matter how much training I have, because
I’m too old.
I do agree with your assertion that, if “everyone” took a stand,
things would change. But most people are too busy just surviving to
even consider what taking a stand might mean. And if “everyone” did
stop doing jobs they hate and start making beautiful things, the
"unintended consequences" might be that the system would collapse and
we’d all die of starvation, tuberculosis, etc. (that, unfortunately,
is what I learned in grad school).