Gauntlett, David. Making is connecting

Gauntlett, D. (2011). Making is connecting: The social meaning of creativity, from DIY and knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0. Cambridge: Polity Press

Tipically, people mess around with materials, select things, experimentally put parts together, rearrange, plays, throws a bit away, and generally manipulate the thing in question until it approaches something that seems to communicate meanings on a satisfying manner. (Gauntlett:2011;4)

Rather than just seeing the internet as a broadcast channel, which brings an audience to a website (the ‘1.0’ model), Web 2.0 invites users into play. Sites such as YouTube, eBay, Facebook, Flickr, Craiglist, and Wikipedia only exist and have value because people are using and contributing to them. This is the essence of Web 2.0. (Gauntlett:2011;6)

Whilst they struggle with ‘real’ issues such as government regulations or broadcasting, or something to do with political parties, I am enthusing about everyday people making nice objects or clever little videos, which may be pleasant but is an irrelevance in terms of political and social concerns. If it’s any kind of issue at all, it’s a ‘cultural’ one: and who cares really if people watch silly entertainment on television, or if they make their own silly entertainment; if they grow their own flowers, make their own toys or gloves, or buy them from a supermarket; or if people write their own songs, or buy someone else’s.

But I think it’s absolutely crucial. Even if each of the things made seems, to a grumpy observer, rather trivial. You may note that my examples just above are not the absolute essentials of life – people can survive without silly entertainment, flowers, gloves, or songs if they have to. But it is the fact that people have made a choice – to make something themselves rather than consume what’s given by the big suppliers – that is significant. Amplified slightly, it leads to a whole new way of looking at things, and potentially to a real political shift in how we deal with the world. (Gauntlett:2008;19)

The craftsperson does not do the thinking and then move on to the mechanical act of making: on the contrary, making is part of thinking, and, he adds, feeling; and thinking and feeling are part of making. Sennett emphasizes craft as a unity of body and mind – in particular, working with the hands as a central part of the process of thinking and making (Gauntlett:2008;23)

This urgent need to make, for the sake of the pleasure and understanding gained within the process of making itself, is identified by Dormer as one of the reasons why craft has been able to survive, and perhaps become stronger, in spite of its detachment from so-called fine art:

Enough people have wanted to go on making things. Enough people believe they can expand their ideas and knowledge about the world through learning and practicing a craft. Some people believe that if you want to truly understand a thing you have to make a version of that thing – a model, representation, or piece of mimetic art. (Gauntlett:2008;24)

…the notion of ‘craft’ which today seems timeless is actually quite new. It began with two Victorian thinkers who hated Victorian times, John Ruskin and William Morris, whose work and ideas occupy the rest of this chapter. Why are we looking at these two long-dead men? The answer lies, as you will see, in their ideas about creativity as a part of everyday life, and as a binding force in ‘fellowship’ – which today we call community. (Gauntlett:2008;25)

Ruskin admires the ‘savagery’ and ‘rudeness’ of the Gothic style, not for a masculine tough reason, but because it sees it as the loving embrace of humanity’s imperfections. The craftspeople who contribute to a Gothic building put in thoughtful work, even though is imperfect. To force a craftsperson to make things to fixed specifications – ‘with absolute precision  by line and rule’ was to make them a ‘slave’. (Gauntlett:2008;29)

He sets this fine spirit of noble and creative imperfection against the ignoble desire to see the ‘narrow accomplishment’ of supposedly ‘perfect’ work done to a readymade pattern. This brings out the moral choice to be made: ‘You must either make a tool of the creature, or a man on him. You cannot make both. A human being can be forced to work as a ‘tool’, following the precise instructions of their masters, making things correctly, but they are dehumanized and their spirit is gagged. Or they can be allowed to ‘begin to imagine, to think, to try to do anything worth doing’ – and this might lead to roughness, failure, and shame, but also unleashes ‘the whole majesty’ of the individual. (Gauntlett:2008;30)

Once we see Morris’s craft work in this light, we can see that his written works – poetry, fiction and prose – are just other dimensions of the same project. So rather than thinking that William Morris was a man who ran craft business, and who also happened to be a writer of poetry and novels, and who also found time to produce political critiques and pamphlets, we instead come to the realization that William Morris was a man who projected a vision – a vision of great fundamental hope and optimism – through a striking number of different channels. On the one hand it might be a utopian novel… which fast-forwards the reader to an ideal, pastoral world of the future, where Morris would like you to live, or on the other hand it might be an utopian sitting-room, which fast-forwards its inhabitant to a world of well-made, comfortable, and attractive domestic objects, which Morris would like you to live in. Along with the political non-fiction writings, they are all ‘visionary accounts of an ideal world’, as Wilmer puts it, reminding us of the possibility of alternatives: “To dream of the impossible and disregard reality is to question the inevitability of existing circumstances.”(Gauntlett:2008;38)

In this way, Morris offers his readers – and customers – a helping hand into the possibility of a new world. The more common approach of Marxist writers tends to be a more hectoring tone of voice… On the one hand, it’s a well-meaning stance: Adorno passionately believes that people deserve better. But on the other hand, he just seems disgusted to observe that almost everybody is a moron.

William Morris takes a kinder approach to everyday life, recognizing that people have to ‘make do’ within a system which is not of their choosing… But instead of telling them how dumb their lives are, he offers stories, manifestos, songs and objects from a better future, to feed the positive aspirations which he believes still reside in human hearts. It is one of Morris’s undoubted strengths, that although he despises and sometimes despairs of modern society, he is unwilling to give up hope. (Gauntlett:2008;39)

I think that to all living things there is a pleasure in the exercise of their energies… But a man at work, making something that he feels will exist because he is working at it and wills it, is exercising the energies of his mind and soul as well as of his body. Memory and imagination help him as he works. Not only his own thoughts, but the thoughts of the men of past ages guide his hands, and as a part of the human race, he creates. (Gauntlett:2008;41)

Morris understood ‘genuine art’ to be the expression of man’s pleasure in his handiwork’ and deplored the separation between the professional world of ‘art’ and the everyday things that people make. Historically he judged the arts to be ‘healthy’ when they were built upon an intimate weaving together of ‘craft’ abilities and artistic ideas, the practical and the emotional, and the stimulation of both pleasure and intellect. The artist should be humble, engaged with the everyday, and willing to make things themselves – to get their hands dirty, as it were. (Gauntlett:2008;43)