Sunday, September 9, 2012

Technology Changing the Face of Handmade

As I have aged I have had the privilege to see many advances in technology. Astronautics from the orbit of Sputnik, the landing on the moon to space stations and shuttles and recently the Mar's rover. At the same time, slide rules giving way to calculators to personal computers. Data input changes, punch cards to interactive. Even the computer word processing software that I am writing this “blog” with. Many, many, many changes (advances) in easing the work load of the human to produce products.
My field is the production of gemstones and jewelry. On several different venues, I have watched debate about “What is Handmade?” Technology has changed the face of jewelry design and production. Less than 100 years ago, diamonds were cut by cleaving them with mallet and chisel, now computer driven faceting machines are available. This technology produces faceted gemstones that have the best optical characteristics. Laser welding machines are used instead of cold connections or soldering. CAD/CAM software associated with CNC milling machines allow the computer generation of many different methods for jewelry manufacture.
Sewing / quilting has progressed from needles and thimbles giving way to sewing machines, some of which are now available with computer control. Likewise, the manufacture of cloth has changed from the spinning wheel to highly computerized looms.

This is the rub. At what point in the use of technology do we consider that the product is no longer handmade, but machine made. If an artist uses a drawing program on a computer to produce an image, is this not handmade? Or must the artist use a graphite pencil to render the same image? Again, in my field, I could (if I had the money) use a CAD/CAM program to design my jewelry, then a milling machine to produce it, or I could use hand graving, planishing, casting, etc. For that matter, if a photo artist uses a computer editing program is it still “handmade?” In my youth, I learned to compose and take photos on black and white film, develop it myself in a darkroom, then use a print maker to expose the photo paper and then develop it. Now I take the picture with a digital camera, then use a computer program to crop, enhance, and perform many tasks to my picture.
I offer this as a possible way to differentiate handmade from machine made. If a human being, using technology, designs and produces an original one of a kind product, Then it is “handmade.” If that design using technology is used to produce multiple copies of the same product, then it is machine made. Technology can produce high quality pieces, it can also be used to mass produce cheap garbage.

1 comment:

  1. John, I found this to be a very intersting read. and I agree, sometimes it is hard to determine what is (or should be) considered handmade. but the best comment was mass produced cheap garbage! lol