What is the value of craft?

One of the most valuable characteristics of the studio craft and design movement is providing a safe space for innovation.

However, in craft, innovation is generally incremental. It may emerge as an evolution of technique, the application of new tools, the discovery of new materials or catalyse innovation elsewhere – which is perhaps the most unrecognised and valuable contribution it provides.

Studio craft and design is practised by people who have spent long periods learning skills in both formal and informal settings. In this way, people build deep knowledge of material and processes. This provides a language with which they are able to communicate ideas that are sometimes beyond words or best articulated through an object or form. It’s both a powerful mode for expression and a laboratory that links art with industry.

It was once believed 10,000 hours of training was required to establish fluency in a given craft medium.

The process involved an extended induction under the close guidance of ‘masters’ to establish competencies, attitudes and understandings that rendered one fit for practice.

Training in the modern university environment has evolved considerably since the time of the guilds. Today, students are supported to develop critical skills and independent approaches rather than adopt the master’s approach in rote manner.

Despite the shift, the modern studio craft and design movement continues to rely on rigorous and resource-intensive teaching that does not easily fit university funding metrics. However, their value in contributing to a culture of innovation in education and research and for partnering innovation for competitive advantage in the commercial sector, are clear and warrant the investment made.

ANU School of Art and Design alumnus Henry Wilson, who graduated from the furniture workshop, runs a successful award-winning design studio in Sydney. Recently, the Australian cosmetic brand Aesop commissioned him to design their new store in Balmain and luxury car manufacturer Lexus has hired him as brand ambassador.

The foundation for his success is the knowledge developed through applied craft training. It turns out that people value authenticity.

The late Robert Foster, who graduated from the ANU gold and silversmithing workshop, and his partner Gretel Harrison ran the iconic design and manufacturing company Fink & Co through which they produced many homeware products, including the iconic FiNK Jug.