Professor slams traditional village craft fair


By Cara Sulieman

A SCOTTISH artist has slammed the traditional village crafts fair for dumbing down the industry.

Georgina Follett said that they focus too much on the skill of making the object and not enough on the thought process behind it.

Her criticism comes after the announcement of Craft Festival Scotland – the country’s first ever national craft fair designed to challenge people’s preconceptions of crafts.

But Professor Follett said that it wasn’t going far enough and that Scotland is “getting it wrong” when it comes to promoting traditional arts.

“Get it wrong”

The Dean of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design and deputy principal of the University of Dundee, said that crafts need to be removed from the twee country fairs and treated in the same way as other contemporary arts.

An alternative to Craft Festival Scotland, the Future Craft Exposition has opened at Duncan of Jordanstone to showcase modern Scottish craft that is breaking the mould.

And Prof Follett pointed to Grayson Perry – the cross-dressing Turner Prize winning ceramicist – as the way the industry should be treated.

She said: “We’re getting it wrong. We don’t explain what the object embodies or what the thought processes are that go into it.

“Craft is a discipline like art and design, it’s just been lost from the lexicon of the visual language. And craft exhibitions are complicit in that.

“The public see craft as object-based and not about the artist’s thoughts or intentions.

“I have a problem with the craft exhibition ethos. You have a series of objects put in cases and you can’t understand where they come from, or where they are going to.

“It’s a vacuum. You don’t know how to relate to it.”


And she believes that all is needed is to shift the public’s perception of crafts – leading to people thinking of Grayson as the “rule in crafts, not the exception”.

Prof Follett added: “We’ve got absolutely brilliant craft practitioners in Scotland, but because we are not valuing their intelligence and rigour they are not acknowledged.

“We acknowledge them for skilful making. It is the wrong criteria.

“We’re getting it wrong.”

One artist who will be getting his work aired during the Future Craft Exposition is Geoffrey Mann who designed a tea set warped into angry angles by the dinner-time argument between Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening in American Beauty.

“Never a wrong answer”

He said: “If you say the word ‘craft’ you instantly put yourself in the Sunday morning finger-knitting club.

“But crafts are possibly even more experimental than contemporary art. There is never a wrong answer.

“I see crafts as a lab into which artists and designers can delve. That’s what I can do – I’m trained in ceramics, but I borrow a lot of techniques from anything – music, film. Craft is more accommodating.”


  1. How interesting that Prof Follett cites Grayson as the way to go when he looks down upon the modern craft world and sees it is a poor relation to the art world. Yet he is a great advocate of exactly the traditional skills in making that proff Follett dismisses. Read his views on the matter here

    There is room in the world for the innovative artistic end of the craft spectrum to exist without running down the traditional skill based end of the spectrum. Each should be supportive of the other.

  2. What an idiot! It’s people like him that make art inaccessible to the general public.
    I dont need some fancy schmancy reasoning about what it represents, half of that is a load of balls anyway.
    Craft is about being able to produce a USEFUL (take note artists) object, that doesnt necessarily have to be beautiful. You look at bodging, the furniture made is not art at all, but is still wonderous in its own right. Whereas art… lets just go for the low blow here: who remembers the bin bag at the tate modern? Though processes or not, its a flming sack of trash. No skill, no art.

  3. I agree with the notion that “craft” is a debased word, but from the other end of the spectrum (is there a spectrum?) i.e. that a great deal of skilled hand work in many trades and professions is not given the status of “craft”, still less “art”.
    “Craft” does tend to refer to the hobby end of things -gift ware, tea cosies, wooden spoons etc. Nothing wrong with these of course, except too much other work is overlooked.

  4. We shouldn’t be too surprised that the Dean of a university faculty has problems with craft. Western culture has, since the time of Plato, worked hard to unlink the sensual, experiential world from the world of ideas. Pure concepts are seen as the path to absolute truth. Our bodies and our pre-cognitive senses have been steadily removed from discourse on pretty much every subject in order that we can define and debate absolutes, free from the messy world of subjective experience. This works well for science, is interesting for philosophy, but I reckon it’s pretty damaging when it comes to making stuff.
    If art is taught within a university system then neither should we be surprised that the system would prefer students to write about making, rather than make. Written language has always been the stock in trade of universities: it’s how students are weighed and measured, and how the institutions are funded. Bear that in mind when you feel yourself being drawn into some bullshit semantics argument about the word “craft”.
    It’s also unsurprising that, given the lack of emphasis on making in the university art education system, the professor can’t understand where craft objects “come from”. That the professor believes this is a problem with the entire world of Scottish craft (and the general public) rather than a personal shortcoming is even less surprising. We should expect such a perspective from anyone at the top of an institutional hierarchy.
    I hope that Scottish craft doesn’t follow the professor’s marketing advice. The idea of playing catch-up with whatever annual whimsy wins the Turner Prize will surely condemn Scotland to looking like a desperate also-ran.
    Academics’ careers are founded on debate, discourse and a talent for administration. Makers’ careers are founded on making stuff.

  5. The problem is not with craft fairs, but the identification of ALL craft with the one manifestation of it. Do we have to ban Saturday morning watercolour groups because they are not the cutting edge of the FIne Arts? I would expect more subtlety than this from someone whose job it is to reflect on the discipline. The more people participate in making things the better, as far as I am concerned, whatever the level.

  6. Brilliant, thanks Prof., for encouraging the closure of the ceramics depaartment at Duncan of Jordanstone after years of a great head of department (Tim Proud) who steadily increased the standard there. Then you cite Grayson Perry, the ceramicist, as a model of cutting edge art!
    If there is not a ground level ability in hands on skills – such as are, or used to be, taught in art colleges, then there is no vocabulary for artists to express their ideas. No ceramics at Higher Education level means eventually no technicians for schools or evening classes, no children able to make pots because teachers are afraid to fire kilns so they get removed from schools. Ceramics needs skills and it is difficult and dangerous to do it without being taught the basics – firing temperatures, glaze mixing and health and safety considerations.
    Maybe the standard of craft fairs is not always as high as the Prof would like – but not everyone who wants to express themselves creatively has an academic salary, or gets a Scottish Arts Council grant, most of us have to make money somehow and craft fairs provide an opportunity for craft makers to do that. After all how much explaining does a well made, aesthetically successful bowl need. It can satisfy functional, aesthetic and spiritual needs without a word being written or voiced. Many countries support and value good craftsmen and women and it would be good to see that same support at the organisational level in Scotland.
    As part of our remit in the Scottish Potters Association we run workshops with some of the best ceramicists in Britain and abroad invited as tutors, we have exhibitions and are currently collaborating with the Scottish Basketmakers on an exhibition to be held in the Collins Gallery in Glasgow. We are a mixed bunch of professionals and amateurs, art college and apprentice trained folk but we value everyone and their work; our aim is to encourage and support. This is what we need in the current climate. But it interests me that there were no local crafts people (as far as I know)invited to the recent conference at DOJ on Crafts. Standards are hard to maintain in the non-academic world without support and more co-operation from educational institutions might help to raise standards all round. Academics need practitioners and vice versa if we are going to be, or remain, “cutting edge”.
    Fran Marquis, B Des, (DOJ) MFA (Grays)
    (Chair of the Scottish Potters Association)

  7. I must agree with the comment that the more people doing a craft the better. For one It will make those who are good try to be great, learning from those who are great. Honing a craft that you love then being able to put your own spin on things, turning it into art. Is that not really what crafts are all about.

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