When Artists Hear “I Can Make That!”


Dan Rockwell wrote a post today over at Leadership Freak about the “Illusion of Perceived Knowledge.” Though his post was for application in a more corporate environment, I thought it was an appropriate description of something that artisans often face at shows. We’re in the middle of holiday show season, so it’s pretty fresh in my mind and there have been recent discussions amongst the artists I know. The “illusion of perceived knowledge” is a concept we are definitely familiar with.

So I thought I’d write about it a bit today for everyone’s benefit. If you’re an artist too, check out what some of us have done to help deal with this.

In our experience, there always seems to be someone who comes through a handmade market, and says, “Ugh, I can do that, and that, and that,” summing up an artist’s or artisan’s work as being without value because this person believes they can do it too. Not everyone is that bold to say such things out loud, but it is often thought. I’ve been guilty in the past of similar thoughts as well when I was young and less educated, and believe me, it was an illusion!

One of my fellow artisans had a great answer for people when they came through our market. They might pick up one of her necklaces and say “I can do that.” “Yes,” she’d say politely, “but will you?”

Whether they can or they can’t doesn’t matter. In our modern age we tend to disrespect the time and skill that goes into handcrafting something, in part because we no longer see the processes or people behind what lines the store shelves. And this is true of many other skills in life, not just art.

Instead of feeling bad or complaining about it, one of the measures our juried group took to help shift this attitude, was to create shows where the artists did demos of the kind of work they did. It’s the same concept in a way that Maker Faire has since promoted.

For instance, some people might think of chain-mail as simply a bunch of linked rings, right? Simple process; nothing to it. That is, until they had a chance to try it themselves. Suddenly they came away with a greater appreciation for the skill as well as design process.

Another artisan friend of mine specializes in jewelry made from local seeds. People might not think much of that until they learned about her process to harvest and hand process these seeds until they were suitable to be used in jewelry. They would also learn that the process was so time consuming and difficult, that some of those seeds could never be processed on a large scale and therefore would never be seen in jewelry except to be processed by hand by someone like her. Someone with the passion, patience and knowledge.

The same thing for the other artists, from silversmithing, to pottery, to sewing, to carving, to even crochet. Letting people watch us work and listen to us talk about our fields and design processes and even let them give it a try or be a part of the creative process with us. It became a teaching opportunity.

Reasons for doing these demos were multi-fold.

1) It helped preserve a sense of respect for handwork and helped dispel assumptions. Even those who might be familiar with a type of art would find themselves learning something new.

2) It was educational, family oriented and added to the positive memories and experiences of the folks coming through our market. (Important for marketing too.)

3) It helped to inspire others to try something themselves and further the love of art and handwork. It became more than just a commodity.

4) Not to mention it definitely helped sales.

This concept can be applied in other professional areas as well. Consider that like our juried market, when you give folks a chance to learn and have a hands on experience, there are three things you can accomplish.

1) Demystify something so it’s approachable.
2) Yet instill respect for it in that maybe it’s not as simple as it seems.
3) Inspire them to get in there and learn more.

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “When Artists Hear “I Can Make That!”

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention When Artists Hear “I Can Make That!” « Aberrant Crochet (TM) -- Topsy.com

  2. This is such a eye-opening post. I’ve been guilty of using that same phrase in the past … until I started getting really into my crochet work and realizing that there are many things I can’t do or won’t do myself and therefore should appreciate when others are doing them for me!

    • I know, I was guilty once as well. Which in youth, you can expect. We’re always know-it-all’s when we’re young. Plus I’ve learned to prioritize more. I’m still surprised about well life-experienced people who don’t want to pay anyone for anything they might be able to do themselves but won’t do for themselves. From oil changes to marketing. I am not infinite enough and very much appreciate the experts in my life who can be expert for me so I can focus on my own expertise’s and passions. There’s a lot in crochet alone that I just don’t do or don’t like to do, but am so glad that others do. If I get asked for a custom order for something just not my niche, I can refer them to someone better and still take care of them and promote crochet.

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  5. Ann Franchi

    My husband is a photographer. He hears similar comments along the lines of ‘all you have to do is point and shoot.’ This does not take into account the time spent finding the spot then waiting for the perfect shot to come along. (His best work took walking half a mile every day for three weeks until the weather lined up.) This has given me a new appreciation of the work that goes into art.

  6. A great post thank you.
    As a crafter, I sew. I have often thought about people that that say ‘I can do that’ (or people that give you that look). My thought is similar, I not only think, ‘will you’ but I mostly think – and want to say ‘but it’s not likely you will ever get around to it’. Yes, means practically the same thing but lets face it, many of us are time poor. Families to look after, a love of doing what we are passionate about so no time to do things that are not as important to us.
    Next time I consider a handmade quality crafted item I say, will i ‘actually’ do that? If is no, I might actually purchase that item!

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