Modern Meanings of Craft

Ask a writer, dancer, artist or musician what they do, and they’ll likely respond with a discussion on their “craft.” But what does craft mean? Merriam-Webster online dictionary has at least five different meanings listed. One is “the members of a trade or trade association.” These trade associations or guilds originated in 14th century Europe, setting the rules for making certain goods and trading them. If you wanted to belong to a certain trade guild, you had to reside in a specific location, be a certain age, progress from apprentice to craftsman to journeyman to master and create a guild-approved masterpiece. You also had to be male. The guilds were powerful; they controlled who could join, access to the resources used in making crafts or goods, and how those goods were traded. The trade guilds also governed the geographic areas where they had the most control. The rise of factories brought about the demise of the trade guilds.

So in a sense, you could say craft means any trade that turns out something handmade, not factory made, which implies somehow that it is better. However, I’d rather go with Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary first meaning: “skill in planning, making, or executing,” which opens up the meaning of craft to include other professions because we all work in some way with our hands, even if we turn out services instead of goods.

Go back to that writer, dancer, artist or musician for a minute and ask, What is it about your craft that makes it so special?” You may hear things like: ability to take pride in the result, being successful, possessing professional level skills, being a part of a noble, longstanding tradition, or even being on the cutting edge, the craft’s innovators.

Isn’t that what makes your job or career special as well? Climbing out of a recession is hard work for everyone, whether you are employed or involuntarily unemployed. Pride, success, skills, tradition and innovation — we all identify with these things in regards to our working lives, even when we do not have a job. We tend to define ourselves by our careers and these intangibles. They are what we fall back on when the job gets tough, or when we have no job at all. It’s not a bad strategy; after all, these intangibles are reminders as to why we pursue the careers we do. However, they also give us a way to reinvent ourselves — to have enough pride in our successes, to take traditions in which we have been schooled and to move ahead to build on skills we already have and innovations we have already put forth to the next step in our careers or maybe even into a whole new career. That is how people survive a recession — we all have a “craft” of our own, something valuable to contribute.

 

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