Literature: The Invention of Craft by Glenn Adamson

Glenn Adamson, The Invention of Craft

Adamson, Glenn. The Invention of Craft. London [u.a.]: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013


Glenn Adamson currently is the Nanette L. Laitman Director at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD). He previously, at the the time of writing this book, has been Head of Research at the Victoria and Albert Museum. He is also editor of The Craft Reader (Berg, 2009) and author of Thinking through Craft (Berg, 2007).

Adamson starts the book arguing that craft is not something that always existed, but rather is a modern invention. He portraits craft as taking shape at the same time as the industrial revolution, emerging as a coherent idea alongside industry, where each is defined against the other through constant juxtaposition. Throughout the book he tries “to examine the broader question of craft’s position within modern production – not just in studios, but in factories as well.”

Each of the four chapters: Manipulation, Mystery, Mechanical and Memory he “ermines developments in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, establishing a conceptual frames and the basis of that historical exercise, and then applies the frame work to contemporary practice.”
The first chapter deals with control, with how new machines bring new power play in state. “In some cases there may be a quite direct relation between a single tool and the result. More commonly however, making takes place within an extensive tooling chain. One object makes another which makes another which makes another ad infinitum, before the maker or manufacturer arrives at a final product. […] The generation and application of a tooling system always has potency inscribed into it.”[1]

In the chapter Mystery he discusses the nature of modern craft of “involving knowledge that can be set down, but this is always a matter of incomplete approximation, because artisanal skill is personal, intuitive, and capricious”[2], starting a discourse how artisans are talked about. “Craft infuses the material world with enchantment not by revealing knowledge, nor by concealing it, but rather by rendering knowledge into material form, thus producing a moment of wonder.”[3]

Chapter three, Mechanical, “recasts the old division between the mind and the hand – a division that long predated the invention of craft, but certainly played a crucial role in its formation.”

The final chapter, Memory, discusses “the crucial date of 1851 and the reform movements of the late nineteenth century […] to show how they responded directly to ideas about craft that had already been formulated”. He analyzes “the presumption of craft as a repository and signifier of collective memory […] that craft needs to be liberated from this disengaged position, in which it stands in opposition to the disruptive forces of change.”


[1] p. 31

[2] p. 60

[3] p. 104



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