The New Language of Luxury: The Image
This article is an edited reproduction of my research dissertation completed for study at University of Edinburgh; focusing on the intersection of art, design, and ownership of the image - especially within a changing media landscape.
In our irreversibly mechanised consumer society, the relationship between object and designer has become increasingly muddled. The boundaries once clear between industrial and craft work have been distorted through both the visual language of our objects, and the ways in which they have been advertised. Once the primary mode of making, craft practice has found itself marginalised and misinterpreted; as consumers struggle to identify and understand its relevance in our post-industrial marketplace, with dominant modes of mass-production instead being thought of as egalitarian.
Concepts surrounding luxury and its links with the worlds of craft and design have long mystified the true nature of craft practice and those it chooses to serve, co-opting the visual language of craft in a way that falsely equivocates craft with luxury.
The primary question that this work will seek to answer is first about how craft has transformed into the industry that it is recognised as today. To demonstrate this is to conduct object analyses on artefacts of contemporary and historical relevance; products of both craft and mass-production that utilise the language of design and marketing to denote prestige and authority, and how each have shaped cultural perception and constructed narrative throughout the last century.
In utilising object analyses as my primary mode of research, I hope to emphasise both positive and negative practices of making as examples, and explore the ways in which we can encourage a practice of craft ritual that respects tradition and seeks to reconnect what meaning has since been obscured. The works of Walter Benjamin, Deyan Sudjic, and John Berger are important in providing context outside of the sphere of craft, their works describing similar struggles within the mechanisation and consumption of art throughout history, and as well as the invaluable feedback from Geoffrey Mann, a digital-craft practitioner interviewed for this project. To form a call to action, the essay is structured a manifesto; for better, more egalitarian practice of craft, making, and luxury.
The New Language of Luxury is structured around a study of craft, luxury, and consumer behaviour—and aims to educate in providing a three-point manifesto framework to our current discourse around making as a political act, and ways to respect the boundaries of craft practice.
In our contemporary culture, the aesthetic language of craft has been increasingly marginalised and appropriated through the styling of mass-produced objects, advertised in ways that are not communicative of the methods and environment in which they were produced, de-legitimising the working-class origins of craft practice.
The unique and ritualistic aura of craft has been compromised by a seeking, by crafts practitioners, to imitate and compete directly with the forms and processes of mass-manufacture, resulting in a weakening of craft identity and capability within the consumer consciousness, with a lack of positive celebration around the spontaneous and egalitarian nature of craft discipline.
Whilst the capitalist and industrialist nature of mass-production has enforced a culture of innovation and constant renewal, craft practice has struggled to maintain a constant presence in consumer goods following industrialisation, and should seek to adopt emerging technologies as a means of renewing practices of craft in the twenty-first century.