During that time, he has become familiar with the Arts and Crafts movement which, under the leadership of William Morris, flourished towards the end of the 19th century, first in England and later elsewhere. The movement was largely anti-industrial and anti-capitalist in outlook. It lamented what it perceived to have been the decline in the state of the decorative arts as well as the conditions in which production and manufacture took place. As noted in Wikipedia, “it stood for traditional craftsmanship using simple forms and often applied medieval, romantic or folk styles of decoration.” However, the movement ultimately dissipated, due in part to its rejection of industrialism and capitalism and, as noted by The Economist (see below), in its fixation on a perceived “artisanal golden age that had never existed.”
Those who believe that the Arts and Crafts movement was only a passing moment in history would be well-advised to consider the article, “Artisanal capitalism: The art and craft of business”, which appeared in the January 4, 2014 issue of The Economist, here. The article describes the flourishing of the modern crafts (or “maker”) industry, focusing on a Brooklyn, NY company named Etsy, here and here, which is an e-commerce site that sells handmade or vintage items (which must be at least 20 years old) as well as, more recently, factory-manufactured items that are made to the company’s guidelines. For those who you are looking for a snow-goose necklace ($27) or a “minimalist” stainless-steel toilet-roll holder ($36), this is the place for you. The company charges 20 cents for each listing and 3.5 cents for each sale. For 2013, sales are reported to have exceeded one billion dollars.
So how do the classic concerns that engaged in the Arts and Crafts movement play out within the
context of the maker movement? First, there is a wide embrace of certain technology as a part of the act of creation and, in particular, use of computer-aided design (CAD) and 3D printing. As a result, as reported in the article,
“[t]oday’s artisans are also taking advantage of advances in 3D printing and computer-assisted design. In 2013 about 100,000 designs per month were uploaded to Shapeways, a 3D producer with a marketplace on which 13,500 designers have opened shops.”Whether use of a 3D printing file to make a product should be considered the spiritual heir to a work created pursuant to the Arts and Crafts movement seems questionable; reliance on a CAD file seems less conceptually problematic.
Second is the issue of what is called “outsourced supply chains”, which in some ways has come to
replace the preoccupation over the machine in the 19th-century movement. The question is whether enabling the making of articles to be carried out by third parties, subject to the rules of Etsy, is a deviation too far from the principles of the maker movement. The current chief executive of Etsy reckons that it is sufficient that the seller be the “author” of the article, which means that the seller/author is transparent about who is making it. The goal is to ensure, albeit via self-policing by the sellers themselves, that the article was in fact made by “only small artisanal manufacturers” and not in a sweatshop in Asia. Some so-called Etsians have expressed outrage (and some have even quit the site) at this change of policy, claiming that in effect it is selling out “true artisans” in favour of policies serving the interests of the company’s investors, who see a potentially lucrative IPO ahead.
As for IP, the issue of how to protect individual works of craftsmanship may well be challenged as never before by the direction in which that the maker movement seems to be headed. There is another consideration, however, that merits attention, and that is the role of branding and marketing. The most successful of the 19th century artisans loyal to the Arts and Crafts movement presumably enjoyed the commercial premium that their name enjoyed, although this Kat could not find a discussions on how this played out against the movement's anti-capitalist orientation. Whatever the dynamic of that former time, the current form of the maker movement, being an e-commerce platform in nature, will provide quite different opportunities for even the smallest artisan to develop his personal brand as a type of commercial and competitive advantage. Whether this might be seen as running counter to the goals and principles of the maker movement is an interesting question.