Maker Goes to Market

The semi fictional short-story by Philip Luscombe (below) deals with the difficulties the Makers of things have ‘selling’ their work or indeed talking about it to those who don’t have experience of the specific materials and processes employed.

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Ian was struggling to rewire the lamp when he first spotted the couple, steadily moving from one exhibit to the next, working their way towards him. They spent ten seconds looking at the fruit bowl, ten seconds on the stool, ten seconds on the vessel… ten seconds on the next thing. Carefully allocated, regular spans of contemplation. How could they be equally interested in each object on display? Or take the same amount of time to understand the intricacies of each? To Ian, it always gave them away, that feigned interest, the apparent understanding of everything: casual customers.  The cable of Ian’s light had been pulled from its switch.  Whilst this was most likely the result of clumsy unfamiliarity with the touch-sensitive mechanism, rather than a malicious attack, he still wasn’t happy about it. Within just two hours of first being exposed to the public, one of his creations was already broken. These people could not be trusted. Ian glanced up to see the couple getting closer, exactly 30 seconds away if they maintained their pace. The wiring was going to take longer than that to fix. He braced himself, fumbled with the switch housing, swore under his breath. And then they arrived.

‘Hi there,’ the couple said.

‘Hi.’ replied Ian, still concentrating on his screwdriver.

‘Are these your pieces?’ She asked.

‘Yeah.’

‘They’re beautiful, really great.’

… ‘Are you sure’, thought Ian, ‘don’t you want to give it ten seconds, just to be certain?’… ‘Oh, thanks very much,’ said Ian.

‘Is it plastic?’ The gentleman asked, touching the surface of Ian’s largest lamp.

‘No, it’s blown glass,’ Ian replied, finally looking up towards them.

‘Oh cool, so you’re a glass blower. I saw some videos of that a couple of weeks ago on the internet, really cool stuff.’ the man enthused.

‘Well, you’re stood in front of a furnace all day, so it’s not that cool.’

‘Ha ha ha’

‘Ha ha ha’

… ‘“not that cool”? What? Am I a salesman now?’… ‘I love how different they are,’ She said, ‘so unusual.’ ‘Thanks…’ Ian responded, ‘every one’s different, unique… because of the way they’re blown.’ … ‘Yep, I’m a salesman. And my story’s the same as all the others, the same as all those blurry videos he’s been watching, the story we’ve been sticking to for years. _e results of my craft are unique, one-of-a-kind, and therein lies their value. Are you sensitive to such variance? Roll up, roll up’…  ‘I see.’ She said, turning briefly to smile at her husband before looking back and pointing to ask, ‘How much is it for this one?’

… ‘Here we go… We all know my mode of production has been superseded, improved upon; many finer things will cost a fraction of what I’m asking. I mean, the switch on this lamp can only withstand two hours of actual use, but these objects are the result of honed skill and personal expression, not market demographics and product testing; what do you expect? Each lamp here takes me six hours to make. Actually, it’s six hours and twenty years of practice.  And have you any idea how much it costs to heat a furnace all day? Okay, so it’s because I like blowing glass that I’m good at it. And maybe it’s asking too much to be paid for the pleasure, but can you really begrudge me enjoying what I do? Shouldn’t this be a model of human work, not an exception to the rule?’… ‘It’s two thousand for each lamp.’ said Ian, with a well rehearsed confidence.

The lady’s expression froze, ‘And,’ with a big, slow nod, her face unchanging, locked and straining not to reveal a hint of the surprise, the disappointment … I mean, it’s a lovely lamp and no doubt it takes a lot of skill to bend glass like that; I know I wouldn’t have the patience. But that’s a lot of money, it takes me three weeks to earn that much and that lamp hasn’t taken him three whole weeks, surely. I know it would look great in the living room, like something out of the magazines, but how can it be so expensive? Glass can’t cost that much, I recycle it every week, they can melt it down, make new stuff out of it, it must be virtually free. I don’t mind paying for a one-off, I love the things at these shows, but that’s a holiday, a year of dining out, Christmas… ‘And,’ with a big, slow nod, her face unchanging, ‘how much for the smaller ones?’

Further Reading:

Gowlland, G. (2009) ‘Learning to See Value: Exchange and the Politics of Vision in a Chinese Craft’, Ethnos, 74:2, pp. 229–250 Dilley, R. (2004) ‘_e Visibility and Invisibility of Production Among Senegalese Craftsmen’, Journal of _e Royal Anthropological Institute, 10(4), pp. 797–813 Terrio, S.J. (1996) ‘Crafting Grand Cru Chocolates in Contemporary France’, American Anthropologist, 98(1), pp. 67-79.

Posted in Musings, Short Stories |

 
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