Last week I attended an artist’s talk by the photographer Rosemary Horn.  Driven by concern about the damaging material processes of photography, Horn has developed (ha ha) methods of working with natural materials, principally vegetable matter, in a search for more benign processing.

I have said before that material processes are potentially the easiest “target” for sustainability debates – maybe particularly for visually-motivated people such as many artists.  The materiality of a thing is literally the first thing one sees about it.  And for many people, perhaps, that is where the debate rests.

I think with this approach what you get is a very practical argument around how much stuff – pollution, carbon, environmental degradation – can be balanced out against how much new stuff – read crafts, or photos in this case – is necessary or desirable.  For many of my students – and the default question for many of us – is, why make the stuff at all?  Does the world need any more stuff?  And why make it in a certain way? 

That kind of debate is difficult enough, presupposing as it does that we all want or need the same amount of, or qualities in, our new stuff, or that we are all agreed on the amount of damage we consider acceptable, or we all have the same amount of concern for other related issues such as conditions for workers.

But I think there is more to craft than its immersion in materiality.  My fellow NALN researcher Liz Wright, influenced by psychologist Dr Aric Sigman’s paper on the importance of experience of material (stuff) for full development in children, is convinced that the process of making stuff is necessary to the full development of human potential.

This is a subject with its own discussion on the forum pages.  And if you are interested, there are some (and will be more) on the booklist section of the site.


Leave a Reply