The definition of craftsmanship

From the simple assembling of objects to craftsmanship that Incorporates technology and design, creating new productive models. The world of the crafts is very fashionable today, but there are substantial cultural differences

While exploring Italy’s artistic crafts, over the years, I have taken part in a variety of research and design projects that were aimed also at stimulating these manifold regional realities. This has given me the opportunity to observe the significant differences in culture, production and business structures that characterise a sector that was once ignored and scorned, but that has recently become highly fashionable.

In this article, I will try to analyse the types of artistic crafts that can be found in Italy and highlight some of their differences. The first category, which is fairly widespread in a country made up of SMEs, is made up of the contractor craftsmen, who supply handmade components that are later “assembled”. In times of recession, these artisans are the most exposed to unemployment: they have neither structure nor entrepreneurial mindset, and are therefore often forced out of business when orders drop. Then, there are the skilled and experienced artisans, who create made-to-measure pieces for designers working on interiors for homes, museums and public spaces. These artisans preserve a good level of traditional craftsmanship, which they apply to contemporary and often experimental projects. Many artisans of this kind can still be found in areas that concentrate on one craft (alabaster in Volterra, ceramics in Caltagirone, mosaics in Ravenna and lace in Cantù, to mention a few examples). Within this group, important distinctions need to be made: some choose to create “low-end” objects in order to satisfy mass tourism’s demand for cheap souvenirs, while other artisans follow traditional methods in a philologically correct manner. Within this second category, two production models (and therefore two business models) can be identified: artisans who try to bring innovation to their disciplines by developing their own style (like the ceramic artists Bruno Gambone, Alessio Tasca and Candido Fior) and artisans who, in keeping with renewed traditions, create projects developed by artists and designers. Recently, new artisan categories have emerged. The “metropolitans” create objects that incorporate a high level of artistry and innovative techniques, often using recycled materials, placing them outside the bounds of tradition. Even more recent are the disciplines explored by the younger generations who use advanced technologies to produce a sort of artistic/synthetic design. They are often competent designers (having received a university education), but completely lack manual skills. Therefore, they compensate for their weaknesses as craftsmen with equipment (such as the increasingly widespread 3D printers) that can create the objects they design. The final category comprises designer/artisans who establish genuine workshops where manual, technological and virtual aspects coexist.

This last category is by far the most progressive and better equipped for the difficult circumstances that young designer/artisans are now facing: they cope with high unemployment by restoring alliances and partnerships with specialised companies, creating a whole new trading and production model.