The Economy of Humanness
A guest blog post from Institutional Member, ArtSmart Productions
by Laura Burkett
It’s been said that I can be a bit too attached to objects. I used to feel guilty about this aspect of my personality – one that can be interpreted as materialism. The signs are all there, after all. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I get a little blue when a favorite bowl gets broken or an adored scarf attracts an indelible stain. I go berserk if I fear I’ve left a sterling bangle or a pair of earrings in a hotel room. It drives me bonkers when I love something so much – an inanimate object, dear reader! – that I put it in a special place, only to learn a few months later, when it’s nowhere to be found, that I should have put it in its regular place to begin with.
This tendency has never been about brands or having the most toys or appearing rich and successful. It’s never been about quantity because our home doesn’t have a ton of space, my partner and I don’t like visual clutter, and well, the planet does not need more stuff. Humans, as long as we exist, will continue to make and use objects, but I, like many, am a firm believer in fewer better. Unless it’s a major appliance or a tech-related gadget, that usually means the object will be handmade – one of a kind or few of a kind and unique in some planned or unplanned way.
With few exceptions, these things that populate my daily life with function, adornment, decoration or a combination thereof are objets d’art that that have been cleverly conceived and meticulously rendered by a person or people with whom I’ve spoken or otherwise connected. These objects not only do their ostensible jobs, they do them with a sense of grace and beauty that are largely non-existent in mass-produced objects that have been made in far-away lands and seen only scant traces of the human touch.
For me, this is the allure of craft: that special blend of form and function that elevates both the function for which it is employed and the person performing said function. More often than not, these objects bring to mind a special moment shared with the maker, a technique explained, a piece of history or cultural tradition, a story told with warmth, laughter, love, or even sadness, and sometimes even regret or longing. It’s the human-ness of these objects that draw me in and not only erase any sense of guilt for buying something for myself or for our home, but also give me a sense of gratification that I’m both acquiring something that will see years of use (and likely outlive me) and contributing to a great ‘economy of human-ness.’
I truly believe that the craft world has made me a better person. My heart bursts with delight when I think of the recent American Craft Council Show in Baltimore. I was there to sell my line of leather bags (www.LauraBurkettDesigns.com) and while doing so, came into contact with so many talented, thoughtful, generous people – fellow artists and makers – that the experience is hard to put into words. How can it be that throughout the entire weekend, I did not encounter a single disagreeable or hateful person?! I have found the maker community to be invariably one of mutual support and respect. At events like these, which are focused on high-caliber work achieved through artful technique and innovation, I’m awed and inspired by the creative minds and skillful hands that have made such remarkably beautiful, clever, and useful objects. It is rare that these makers do not ask about my own work and make reciprocal claims of awe and respect. This intoxicating combination of maker-with-object and makers-with-other-makers results in something more than a selling event (for the maker) or shopping event (for the attendee). It’s a celebratory experience to be lived and treasured for years to come – one whose memory is kept alive through the object acquired in that very human-centered transaction.
This, to me, is an economy of human-ness that is increasingly important in these times of extreme uncertainty, increased reliance on instant gratification and convenience, and decreased levels of human interaction. My hope is that more and more people will begin to understand, value and support this creative economy and be enriched by its many gifts.
Laura Burkett is the designer/maker behind Laura Burkett Designs and the producer (together with her partner) of the Art Providence Show, an annual juried show and sale of high-caliber works of art, craft and design that replaced and expanded upon the RISD Alumni Holiday Sale when it was cancelled in 2017. The show takes place November 13-15, 2020 at the RI Convention Center in downtown Providence and is currently accepting applications on Juried Art Services through March 27 (regular) and April 4 (late). For more info, please visit www.ArtProvidenceShow.com or go directly to www.JuriedArtServices.com to apply.