How Can We Save Traditional Crafts?

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Should we just "wave goodbye" to traditional skills like thatching and basketry?  "Or should we fight to maintain them, albeit somewhat artificially?" This is the centuries-old question Leo Hickman poses in The Guardian. He admits he's "caught somewhere between nostalgia and pragmatism on all this." Reviving handmade goods when cheaper machine-made versions are available is hard, and the question is how we should--and whether we should--"engineer a demand for such products if the market can't do so freely." If we're going to try, wonders Hickman, should we assume all crafts--including ones that produce services rather than products, like tracking and herb lore--are equally worth saving? He admits he's stumped:

I don't know the answer to that, but I have long thought it would be a good idea if we "banked" these skills somehow, just as we are now endeavouring to do with seeds. You just never know whether we'll need them in the future. Maybe it's time to establish a worldwide network of volunteers to record, through the written word and videos, as many of these dying skills as possible? Actually, a cursory look on YouTube fills me with hope that an army of willing volunteers is probably out there already and just needs someone or something to corral them together. For example, I've just spent five minutes learning from a woman with a very relaxing voice how to make a Chinese flat knot using macramé. Don't mock: come the oil crash you'll be begging me to show you how to do it yourself.

Maybe here's the bigger question, then: could YouTube save artisanry?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.