Handicrafts: Problems and Methods
Reprinted from: Honar Nameh, University of Art, Tehran, No. 3, Summer 1995 (A brief of the article)
Handicrafts have attracted worldwide attention since more than one hundred years ago, while collecting ancient items began at the Renaissance. These items were gathered in the courts and wealthy houses of Europe, United States, Russia and ultimately in museums.
The earliest studies in this field were economic nature, because all the owners wanted to assure themselves of the genuineness of their properties.
Which field of science deals with handicrafts? The answer is not clear, because, for example, ethnology claims them to fall within its field, whereas handicrafts are indeed connected to different branches of science; wool, cotton, wood, metals, dyes, mordant, techniques and some other topics must be studied to address all the problems.
That is why the investigator in this field cannot work only in his office or inside a museum: he or she has to travel, see, examine, write, prepare designs, make photographs, and so on.
There are so many books with good reports and beautiful photographs about the crafts, but they are not able to answer all the questions.
The situation makes every little innovation seem important and a guide to the young generation. All these problems exist in Iran as in other parts of the world, and in fact calls for a scientific approach. The study deals with:
1- Differentiation between crafts and arts, preventing every prejudice
2- Deciphering contents
3- A careful method
Of course, for historical reasons, such as the disappearance of some crafts, their techniques and terminology, we have to go on with some information in some fields. That is why, being unaware of the methods used in ancient times, we are unable to reconstruct some parts which need repair.
The distinction between crafts and arts
In Iran, a difficulty facing the study of handicrafts derives from the unjustified conviction that every painstaking effort leads to the creation of a piece of art and that whatever is beautiful is related to art, while art requires the freedom of making or changing the criteria, which constitute styles. Handicrafts serve useful purposes, and some are pieces of decorative or applied arts, which need skill rather than creativity. The ill manners pursued in the production of new handicrafts, for example in the manufacture of carpets, are partly the result of the inaccurate belief that, being works of art, they should innovate and create just like painting and sculpture. This mistake needs to be corrected. Some abstract designs on "gabbeh" have appeared, because the nomad weaver has no other way pf expressing himself. This should not lead to misunderstanding.
The manufacture of a hand-made item needs one or more materials. Also some tools and instruments are necessary, the use of each being called a technique. In studying the contents of Handicrafts, the names of all the materials and techniques utilized, as well as the terms used by the artisans, must be faithfully recorded. Most often, the economic aspects of the work are neglected. The rates, salaries, market policies, needs, manufacture, consumption and many other aspects are not paid enough attention. Traditions in using special instruments, which are sometimes restricted to a small area, are not less important. We find that the immigration of some traditions from one area to another leads to changes, integrations and complex cases, which call for more care and study.
This is the most important problem in studying Handicrafts. Most experts think the simple inductive and deductive methods are functional. They believe that all efforts should be directed at gathering samples and comparing them. Worst of all is relying on structural analysis, for example in the case of carpets and textiles. It is like putting an apple under a microscope, in order to know it, instead of studying its environment, roots, trunk, leaves, flowers and fruits.
A hand-made item is not just like a car. It contains in itself methods, techniques, habits and, most important of all, the tradition under which the techniques and forms it embodies were created and developed. Sometimes studying the history of a hand-made item is the easiest way to understand it. The study of traditions and history alongside each other occasionally leads to a very functional conclusion. For example, there is a tradition of weaving in western Iran, which uses the instruments of the Bronze Age, just now. It is a leaving history, perhaps a key.
Nowadays, in order to show "the Turkish origin of carpet weaving" nobody studies the weaving traditions of the Turk, nobody pays attention to their terminology, because such things are not original among the Turk. In order to find the Turkish origin of it all, one should go to central Asia, not to Asia Minor or Anatolia, not even to Turkmenistan, which is a new land for Turk. One observes that the environment, roots, stems and even leaves are neglected and the study is restricted to the fruit.
On the contrary, there is a special type of carpet looms in Western Iran, called "darkul" or "dar-o-kul", which is both primitive and a little complicated, as it uses some parts fastened on the roof and connected to the main instrument through two holes in the ceiling. Thus, one can easily understand that this loom belongs to the earliest days of settling in villages, as opposed to the horizontal looms of nomadic people. Therefore, the author calls for a special and distinct method for studying handicrafts, which involves much more than the inductive and deductive approach. No craft should be considered simple, independent and restricted to its materials, instruments and techniques. The geographical distribution, historical background, traditional aspect and terminology of a craft are the most important topics, which should be brought into the scope of the method.
This kind of study, which the author puts into practical use, is unfortunately unparalleled and sponsored by no agency in Iran.