It's time for the JAC blog carnival and this time it's a topic that is very important not only to us members at the Jewelry Artisans Community. I shortened it a little for the title, actually it was "competing in a mass produced world or mass produced versus hand crafted".
Oh no, not that again, you may think now. It's a never-ending topic. It's a topic full of prejudices, clichés, lots of emotions - and money. I wonder if it would make a good novel. Maybe someone has already written one. The journey of an artist ... an artisan ... a crafter ... wait. That's actually the starting point. First of all people start arguing about what is what and that as well is a never-ending topic. I'll keep my fingers off that one today.
Instead I'll tackle this issue exclusively from my personal view. It reflects my experiences, my feelings and my life as someone who makes jewelry with her own (not so) little hands (can you tell how I very cleverly avoided calling myself any of the above things?).
First a little introduction about myself for those who don't follow this blog and don't know my story.
There was something on TV about Etsy and the "handmade revolution", I had never heard about it, started browsing, stumbled upon a wire crochet piece and jumped into the cold water with a spool of copper wire and the only crochet hook I owned.
Very shortly after my first mostly pathetic attempts I found the forum which is JAC today. I still remember the first time I posted some wire crochet copper disk earrings with blue crackle glass beads. Then a friend made me the wonderful gift of a nice little bead stash. I posted more and I got enough encouragement to open my first shop even if I did that very secretly. Finally I got myself the first spool of sterling silver and kept experimenting. I started trying out new techniques.
You get it, I am self taught.
That brings me to my first little story. An acquaintance saw one of my shop listings. The price certainly wasn't high for both material and time I had put into it - we artisans tend to underprice - but he said: "I wouldn't pay you that." I asked him why because he had just said he liked this, and he replied "you didn't learn how to do that". It was a wire crochet piece. I told him that I learned in school how to crochet with yarn and he said "yeah, but not with wire", but of course he couldn't tell me where he thought I should learn doing that for him to appreciate the work I did.
Years later this still makes me think. Years of practice, failure, success, creativity, empty brain syndrome, self-confidence, self-doubt - it's quite the roller coaster ride sometimes.
What was he looking for? A university diploma in wire crochet? A paper to tell him I attended a course by ... well, someone who has a diploma in wire crochet? What if he hadn't known that I made this piece? What if he had seen it in a professional photo with perfect lighting or in a magazine or even in a museum?
Many artisans have to deal with those situations. There are the people that tell you their niece/cousin/sister/nephew/son/etc. could make this in a few minutes, and for some strange reasons that niece/cousin/sister/nephew/son is often about five years old.
Or there are the people who tell you they can get the exact same thing a lot cheaper at store chains.
How about those who think you should give them something you made for little money because "I thought you have fun doing this, you shouldn't take money for something you like doing". That one often comes from friends and family (not mine, I'm lucky that way).
Erm, no to all of these.
If I have the practice and it takes me hours, your niece can't do it in a few minutes.
You won't get the same thing cheaper because it will not be the same thing. Even if it looks similar to you, just the materials might be very different from what you get there.
If I want to give you the "friends and family discount", it will be me who decides that, not you.
Of course there is a time and place for mass manufactured, and there is a time and place for handmade. Not everyone can afford handmade, not everyone wants to spend the money. There are things I'd rather buy handmade, but I can't do it unless I finally sell the cats to the circus (I have been threatening them a lot with that one lately).
I know that ... artisans know that ... artists know that ... and still sometimes it makes you wonder, makes you think you are doing something wrong, maybe makes you ask yourself if you should even continue.
So how DO you compete against that? How do you make people see the story behind what you do? You can take pictures, you can make videos, you can explain the process, if you do shows, you can show them in person.
Even then you can't be sure everyone will or wants to understand it, and sometimes even other artisans understand it.
To be open, I don't know a standard solution. I won't give up hope, though, that there are people who see the effort in a piece, the time, sometimes the struggle, and the love - and yes, the fun.
It's impossible to leave a post without a picture, so here's one of The HeatherCats, a collection with lots of my time, love and fun in it, and one of originals by Heather because they never fail to make me smile.
Take a deep breath now and then please check out what my fellow JAC members have to say. I'll add more links as they come in.
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