Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

crafting destiny

marstokyo made the very helpful suggestion that I take a crafts course, to help overcome my crafts ineptitude, which was seconded by gregwest98 (who offered up his 9 year old daughter as teacher, provided that I vacuum his garage) and nacowafer
This morning I've been surfing the internet, googling around sites located with search terms aimed at unearthing crafts classes in my area. This has been great fun, as the surfing has also uncovered for me not only tons of cool leads (imagine, I can learn Swedish mug painting right here locally) but also a lot of information about the crafts business generally. I plan only to learn to do something fun, for my own edification, but I like to know how things work. This is what I loved about law school--for all its odd socratic obscurity, one learned how law worked. Crafts shows and fairs are mainstays in both Texas and California--I suspect nowadays they are mainstays everywhere. But I like to know the things like "How does one network? Where are the shows? How does one enhance skills when one already knows something?". At the used book sale which has spawned my ebay madness of late (fans of Bargain Bin will be pleased to hear I am moving steadily toward profit, and my "big gun" auction item, a valuable chess book, has not even been posted on ebay), I bought a fifty cent book on careers in crafts. I don't plan to learn to make a quilt and then hit the trade show circuit--but it's been fun to understand how these businesses work.

After all, for all the financial hardships which are involved in craft sales, these tend to be small businesses, not dominated by big corporations but instead little person to person businesses based on direct sales. Although most people fail at craft businesses, it appears that the reasons are not those endemic to crafts but those endemic to all small businesses--inadequate capital to get the business off the ground, poor planning, inadequate legwork, etc.

Here I think that our educational system could do a much better job. We're pretty good at turning out MBAs and folks to join the corporate grind. But we're not so good at teaching people to own small businesses. Most folks have to get those skills on the job. Yet many of the basic skills involved are fairly elementary, and don't require one to get a PhD in physics to "get". Somehow, though, we put people on one of two tracks. One is either an "arts person", given no training in rudimentary ways to make a business of art, or one is a "career person", working in a dark satanic mill job (like mine) in which practical skills are taught. In fact, though, I believe people need more multi-discplinary training when they are interested in the "arts" side of the ledger. It's not hard to understand why the system is set up the way it is. Education is set up to serve the needs of corporate America. Result? We have great schools for turning out MBAs and scientists and lawyers and engineers, geared to give practical training for how to work for the Man. Our schools in the affluent neighborhoods where these people work are funded, giving them the job benefit of good schools. Those not destined for corporate America, though, are often given second rate treatment--witness inner city schools, inner city libraries, rural schools and the decline in arts training in schools.

I'm not one of those people who is convinced that Bill Gates heads a cabal of Fortune 500 executives which conspire against us all. Rather, the problem is more insidious--it can't be tied to decisions of a group of conspirators, but rather arises from fairly common conceptions of what "matters" in life. One part of this is the myth that one must either work in the dark satanic mills or one is doomed. In fact, though, I meet people all the time through my work who do small business, whether craft and antique, and do entirely fine.

It's odd, but one of the culprits in this area is the way in which fine art and liberal arts academia deals with its
proteges. In an engineering school, the school is regularly meeting with potential employers--"are we turning out what you need? What can we do? What internships can you give us?". But in the arts, where are the affiliations with craft schools, where is the job training in "earning a living with this x thing you love" and where are the small business skills courses which people will need if they are not merely to fold into corporate America? Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-business or anti-corporation. I"m just extremely pro-small-business, and yet so many people who could start workable small businesses feel trapped and excluded for want of training. They are not "barred from understanding" the rudimentary concepts involved. They are instead literally clueless, because the whole structure is set up NOT to teach them. Their professors seem to take the approach that the professors have their jobs, and the students should fend for themselves. Very odd, and very non-pragmatic.

I have a similar feeling about how our system is still not good at locating people who are trade-smart but not book-smart and getting them good training in welding, mechanics, etc. We still live in a world whose schools cater to the upper middle and upper classes.

Of course, in all these areas I've discussed, we've begun to see some real improvement. But I do wish that we spent more time empowering people to have their own businesses, than teaching them that unless they can work for megacorporations, they're screwed. Nothing wrong with corporations--they have most of the jobs. But there should be more options. As for me, though, I'm still just looking for a simple Saturday crafts class that will teach me to draw or hook yarn.

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