Reconsidering Crafts


There is a dusty old tale from my family about my mother’s cousin. He was a precocious speaker, and could “parrot” back multisyllabic words at age three and four. The family thought this was a sign of his genius (Mom used to smirk about how little evidence there was of that later), and would give him words to repeat back at gatherings. At one event, they pitched “Yugoslavia” to him, and his response was, “I go slavia!” showing some discernment about the proper pronoun to use when switching from the second to first-person, but no knowledge of Balkan geography.

That story and a link in I’ve had in my bookmarks since December that I just never got around to posting about have found their compliment in a recent post from Dan Meyer, dy/dan » Blog Archive » How Do You Solve A Problem Like Cigotie? The post asks should we be satisfied with students who are great at “copying” the work of others, but still haven’t really created something of their own? The question is a good one, but it’s the comments that really make this a GREAT. Dan has been complaining about his commenters lately, but I think they made this post.

First, there was a split on the issue of development. Tom Hoffman, pointing out the legions of mimics in the arts in high school makes the case for what we want from students as they become adults…

This situation is common in teaching the arts to high school students. The kid who can draw a perfect reproduction of a photo from a magazine or can play a Led Zeppelin solo note for note. You just have to teach them, you know, the arts and humanities. With computers would be nice.

But that’s what those disciplines are about.

Some others, who have taught younger kids, pointed out that imitation is part of getting mastery and is developmentally appropriate in younger students.  Scott McLeod, provided some links with his, and a nice follow-up saying, “hey, it’s not like he was taught to do this Web 2.0 stuff at school!”:

Dan, isn’t cigotie simply going through some natural stages of learning? See, for example, some of these top-of-the-Google-list descriptions of various stages of learning:

As you note, he may need some structured help to continue to make progress, but it seems a little early to be worried about the stage he’s currently in, no?

Now, all of this is not arguing with Dan’s point, which is about the tension between what used to be called “art” and “craft”, which brings me to my link, TTBOOK: Episode 081214A Reconsidering Crafts.

TTBOOK (To the Best of Our Knowledge) is a show I often listen to as I fold and put up laundry on Sunday evenings. It’s a really good show about ideas (one for 60 minutes). It’s not as hip as TAL (This American Life), or as funny/scientific as Radio Lab, or the social commentary of Hidden Kitchens. I’d recommend all of those, but today, I’m gonna talk about TTBOOK.

The show was about the art of crafts. The first section, is especially germane. It’s an interview with Sociologist Richard Sennett who has written a book called “the Craftsman”. Here are some of his points:

  • The connection between hands-on learning and thinking is very important People, even so-called “lower-level” workers care about doing a good job, and doing even menial jobs well.
  • The 10,000 hour rule. You have to do a task for 10,000 hours to do it correctly every time (not just the first time).
  • It was during the Renaissance when the split between the concept of art, and crafts emerged. Art was seen as individual originality, while craft was set of shared practices.  The line between art and craft is ambiguous, and he sees it as a false dichotomy.

Here is the audio

I think this makes Scott’s point about Cigotie perfecting his craft. This is part of that 10,000 hour rule of thumb, but I think there is another point here that goes back to some of Dan’s earlier points about Animoto, and Wordle. If the machine is doing most or all of the work, is there any craft? I don’t know what Sennett would say, but it’s an interesting question.

I wrote so much about this, I’m going to do a two-parter.

by posted under practice/pedagogy | 2 Comments »    
2 Comments to

“Reconsidering Crafts”

  1. March 26th, 2009 at 9:08 am      Reply PeonInChief Says:

    The ambiguity comes up in weaving quite a lot, as well as in quilting and other “women” arts–or crafts.

    • March 26th, 2009 at 12:56 pm      Reply alicemercer Says:

      You are much better about following rules in your weaving than I am in my knitting Peon, lol! You’ve seen some of my knitting, and although I think it shows some brilliance, it’s often flawed. That’s my next post coming out tomorrow.


  1. Crafts and Art Part II | Reflections on Teaching

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