So, yesterday I was at a wedding shower with a whole slew of crafty women. Brenda was there and had made this cheese knife wrapped in metal wire and beads. It was a knife that was discontinued when the airlines stopped serving food with actual silverware. Anyway, she had adorned it with gens and was giving it as a gift to the couple.
I asked her about her experiences making these things and she said she adored making them; they really brought her a lot of happiness and joy to create. She had made about 20 sets and had given many away as Christmas gifts. She also had some in Phyllis’s store and had listed them on ebay and etsy to sell. She had yet to sell any of them. She said that Phyllis kept telling her that people were “looking” but no one had bought them yet. She was obviously frustrated that none of them had sold.
Brenda is a retiree who can afford to “take the loss” on creating these items. That is, the material resources required are not beyond her capability of absorbing. I asked her why she was selling them. Her first response was that she wanted to get rich. She was joking of course. We all want to get rich with any of our activities. Then she said she was trying to get her money out of them. I asked her if she might be trying to sell them as a justification for making them. She said absolutely. She enjoys making them. They cost her something. She’s trying to offset the negative financial impact of this behavior by selling them and she’s frustrated that it’s not working.
What will happen? Most likely, she’ll eventually stop making them as they continue to not sell and as her need for the economic justification narrative increases. She simply won’t be able to justify this behavior.* I hope that my work will help relieve the pressure for the economic justification narrative with respect to arts and crafts behaviors. As we take a deeper look at the social, psychological and physiological (yes, I’m talking biology) benefits of arts and crafts behaviors, we will be gin to see that these are actually sustaining behaviors and that the need for the economic justification narrative that disincentives these behaviors is damaging in all three realms.
More about these three realms another time.
I, too, had engaged my crafty nature in creating shower gifts for the couple. I had created this black ladder back chair with gold leafing and a woven seat bottom made of neckties (which amazingly, I failed to photograph!). It’s the second chair I had woven a tie bottom for and I really liked it. The first person to see it was John. He immediately said I should sell them. Then, when the gift was unveiled, several people in the room also mentioned how I should sell them. This always happens, was utterly anticipated, and not at all out of the ordinary. A few things about it struck me though.
1. Brenda and Jan did not mention selling the items. This is interesting because they are determined crafters who could have made the item. I don’t think that’s why they didn’t mention selling the item though. I see lots of wonderful crafts and I never say, “you should sell that.” I think it’s partially,”not-invented-here bias” that Dan Ariely talks about in Chapter 4 of The Upside of Irrationality, sort of a natural envy or something. But, I also think there’s something deeper going on. It’s like we’re engaged in this crafting and then we have the economic justification narrative deficit and then we try to sell the items to justify it and then we fail and then we’re a bit jaded by the whole notion. I think, “yeah, you could try to sell it but it won’t work.” It’s not so much envy as complacency or a subtle smugness with a deep understanding of the fragility of the economic structure of crafting. That’s why crafters don’t suggest to one another that they should sell something.
2. The other thing I thought was interesting about this exchange was that the people telling me I should sell the chairs were issuing a compliment. In our culture the greatest compliments are economic. The way you say you like something and that you think it has value is to suggest that it would sell. They may have actually been suggesting that it would sell, but they were also (or maybe instead of) saying that they appreciated the skill involved and that they found the finished project to be aesthetically appealing. Would any of them actually buy a chair like that? Who knows, but probably not.
*How lucky is Mama Miller to have had the barn to dump her crafts in. A built in justification narrative that allowed her to sustain the engagement of art making behaviors over time.