Thursday, August 04, 2016

The slow end of the local aesthetic?

More thoughts from America. My wife is really into crafts - we met at art college when she came to Belfast to do a degree in Fine Craft Design. We have spent a lot of time in craft stores over the past 25 years or so. 

The state of Kentucky, when we were there on honeymoon in 1997, was starting to brand itself as a state for artisans and craftspeople, a tradition which had been evident in the state for at least 100 years. ‘Kentucky Crafted’ was and still is the brand name. Nearly 20 years on, there is now a huge stylish retail outlet - The Kentucky Artisan Center - where hundreds of Kentucky artists sell their wares.

On this visit, it seemed to us that the work being made and sold was, in all honesty, not all that different from the work available at craft fairs and outlets here in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, in Scotland or in England. There is a similar aesthetic. The only tangible difference might be a locally-sourced material, or some local quirk. But the overriding aesthetic - from the artist’s influences, imagination, and production method - is becoming homogenised. The items are exquisitely made. But they seem less local and less unique. It might be made locally, but does it reflect locality?

Perhaps the internet has done this. Certainly in graphic design, it is easy to now absorb influences from around the world, which results in (for example) designers buying the same fonts from the same websites, the same images from the same photo libraries, the same paper stocks from the same big international paper merchants, etc. Photography is the same.

It also happened 100 years ago when recorded music, initlally via 78s and then the radio, could be sent anywhere in the western world and so previously local musical styles were instantly influenced - the players could now hear a fiddle style from across the Atlantic, whereas for generations, centuries even, the only influence was other players within walking distance. Local started to die pretty quickly.

On a previous trip to the USA, I was in Waynesville in North Carolina when the annual fair was taking place. I got talking to a man at a craft stall, who was selling handmade wooden toys and utensils. I asked him if these were traditional items. 

His answer - “No. These are just the things that the tourists want to buy”.