The Unintended Consequences of Romantic Repositioning

With my shop now closed, I find myself returning to a favorite book, The Comfort of Things by British anthropologist Daniel Miller. He speaks of the retail buyer's capacity to become a craftsman. 

William Morris print for wallpaper

William Morris print for wallpaper

It’s a pity, really, that the word ‘craft’ has become so conservative, mainly, curiously, as a result of the influence of radicals. It was figures such as William Morris who have bequeathed us a certain romantic notion of craft; for him it designated the activity of artisans, working with their hands so that design and texture, patience and artistry were forged in sensual, imaginative and creative relation to the material: wood, metal, stained glass and stone. Not many people today can afford to be involved in this kind of labour.

The unintended long-term result of this romantic repositioning of craft, through the arts and craft movement, is that today we find it extremely difficult to grant any of this same positive or romantic credence to the work most people actually have to do. 

A retail buyer has the capacity to become a craftsman, because he occupies a critical position, with responsibility to find the best possible fit between two complex processes: that represented in production and that in consumption. They have to imagine what continuities they wish to retain and what would satisfy their desire for change and distinction.

Then, having made those  considerations, they have to turn and face in the opposite direction and consult with designers, factories and the vast edifice of capitalist manufacture and distribution. Somehow these two have to be fitted together, the potential of the work of design and production meshed with the taste and concern of the world of consumption.

Yet a retail buyer’s job is precisely the kind of labour we hardly see at all….a retail buyer is practically invisible. They are the lynchpins, the determinants of what actually exists out there, in the commercial world we encounter.