So, a couple of days ago, I started idly twisting a couple of old cut-off shirt seams round my fingers, and before I knew it I was twining & stitching a tiny basket, which is ideal for keeping odds & ends of thread in… I was ridiculously pleased with myself, although I know perfectly well that in days gone by, or on this day in other places in the world, any child can make these; it’s definitely not rocket science!
But it brought a long-forgotten memory to mind; I was probably about 8, and had made something very similar at school. I trotted home fairly bursting with creative pride, and handed it to my mother. “Very nice, dear,” she said, distracted, as mothers-of-many so often are. “But what did you learn today?”
So, making stuff isn’t learning; that’s what I learnt that day. Learning is words and numbers, facts, and figures. Learning is ideas and abstractions; making stuff is just – child’s play. Something to be put behind us so that we can enter the glorious adult world of using those ideas & abstractions to earn money & buy stuff, playing our rightful part in The Economy. Making stuff, if you really have to, should just be a hobby, involving buying lots of new stuff to make it with, in your “spare” time, or perhaps it should be monetised, if you’re more than competent; you could sell those! But what’s the point in bothering, if you can’t do it cheaper than a oriental wage-slave & churn out enough to supply the high street giants…? Not many of us crafters could support a family on what we could earn, any more then I can feed my family solely on what I can grow on my allotment. Yet somehow we are still driven by something inside to do it anyway.
I know I’m not the only one to be dismayed by how creativity has just fallen out of our educational system; it’s simply not valued in any way by those who make the decisions unless they can see it as a way of gaining a competitive edge in the world. Music, drama & textiles are hanging on by a thread, but very few adults follow through with their interest once they realise they’re not going to be the next superstar or “designer” name. And children only have a basis to explore their potential talents if one of the adults around them happen to be interested in & actually doing such things, and is willing to help that child learn. You won’t do something if you think you might get it wrong or look a bit silly, but especially not if you don’t even know that it can be done.
There are massive commercial pressures to keep people a little bit helpless, a little bit stressed and anxious, because then they’ll keep right on buying stuff, which keeps The Economy ticking over. Also, why put sweat and effort into learning to make something when you could just buy one, or 3D print it? So gradually, our collective competence is dwindling away…
Making or growing stuff, actually manipulating matter with developing skill, applying and combining ideas, and ending up with something genuinely useful and quite possibly beautiful too, is deeply satisfying, even on the level of a tiny basket made from rags. It doesn’t have to win a Turner prize to be worth doing. Why are we allowing future generations to be deprived of this delight?