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.