Abstracting Craft

Malcolm McCullough is the author of Abstracting Craft (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996) a great book on craft in the digital age.


What is craft and how does it relate to art on the one hand and industrial design on the other.

“skill is the learned ability to do a useful process well.” (p. 3)

Some elements of craft:
– a preconcieved end (it is utilitarian)
– it is made by “hand” with continuous human interaction
– works of craft are made out of a medium
– craft skill comes from play – continuous repeated interaction with a medium like wood or clay
– there is an intelligence that comes from/with/in hand work that cannot be defined abstractly
– it is often hard to survey a craft while practicing it – while working with your hands it is hard to talk about it

McCullough has a great short history of craft in the introduction. He follows it up with a set of definitions (section 4 of chapter 1) that are excellent.

If technology is a reliable and repeatable process craft is in the sense of skill is one that takes continuous human intervention to achieve its goal. A technology does not take the human intervention. Of course, there are now crafts built on technologies so that a wood worker uses technologies that remove some aspects of the work from human intervention. A potter can use a computer controlled kiln to bake the pots without intervening, but there is still skill in pottery.

To what extent are play and craft connected. The computer game player experiences the continuous interaction and hand-eye coordination similar to a crafts person. Are games and design the craft of the digital age?