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Celebrating the beauty of handmade: why craftsmanship beats AI

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By Team Holly & Co


Find out why Holly & Co believes craftsmanship, craft and human creativity outshines AI…

Is AI a threat to art?

Is AI a major threat to art? Artificial intelligence is jolly clever, there’s no doubt about it. It’s pretty creative too. On his Conversations of Inspiration podcast episode, Mo Gawdat said, “The smartest communicators in the world today are no longer humans.” AI can mass produce work in a fraction of the time and for a fraction of the cost. But in the grander scheme of things, is that a good thing? Many shoppers now want to buy less, but buy better. So isn’t the amount of time it takes to carefully craft or hand make something more in proportion with the amount of ‘stuff’ we need on the planet? By mass producing things more quickly — using artificial intelligence, technology and factories — aren’t we in greater danger of just contributing more to landfill?

AI is here to stay — but humans love the handmade

Plus many of us take pride in the originality of the gifts we give, the craftsmanship involved or the items we choose to turn our houses into homes. Do they have positive stories behind them? Are they made with love and by whom? Will they bring something unique to surprise and delight us all?

It’s not just shoppers either. As people, we love art and craft that’s been made by hand partly because it makes us better humans through the very experience of creating it. It’s the discovery. The mistakes and what we learn from them. The time or skills we invest and the satisfaction involved. That’s not the same for AI. It’s designed to streamline processes, to manufacture quickly, to seek what’s perfect (not beautifully imperfect) and really, to generate more money. It can never fully replicate the unique magic of handmade creations. Here’s why…

Katie Abey enamel pin saying 'play like an artist not a robot'
Karin Hossack in the studio.

The unique appeal of handmade crafts: the joy of craftsmanship

There’s a very good reason that craft’s been around for centuries…

  • The magic of craft doesn’t just come from the craft itself but from the stories behind it. We love to know what inspires people and how it feels to create something from nothing and most importantly — why they did it.
  • The act of creation gives humans a purpose, as well as pride and an outlet for our passions and self-expression. It’s good for us. Over three quarters of respondents in the BBC Arts Great British Creativity Test said creativity could help block out stress and anxiety¹.
  • There’s an emotional connection and satisfaction that comes from owning or gifting quality, handmade items. Our objects become a vessel of the memories, experiences and knowledge of the maker and then in turn, the buyer.
  • Crafting is not only sustainable, but it also adds so much to our culture, creating communities and bringing people together. It also enables us to hand down skills to generations and preserve the physical practice of them, not just the theory.
  • People enjoy the uniqueness of creating or owning an original piece that’s never existed before. Don’t you?

Why AI won’t replace the human touch

Karin Hossack from KC Hossack Pottery takes great pride in making meaningful pieces that take time to create. She says she touches each item at least 10 times in the process before each one is finished. Every touch point adds soul into the product and that’s ultimately what makes customers’ hearts sing, and what AI lacks.

So it seems that craft matters — perhaps that’s why 73% of UK consumers believe that handmade products have a higher value than mass-produced alternatives², or that the global handmade crafts market is projected to reach a value of $718 billion by 2025³. When you think about it, people have always paid more for originals than for copies. Paintings could be replicated so carefully, it’s impossible to detect one from the other — so why is one worth thousands and another, next to nothing?

The value of stories

Partly, it’s the experience, understanding, skill, time and ideas poured into the making process that we love. If AI hasn’t lived it, how can we value it in the same way? It’s the nuance of empathy and the understanding of the human condition that it just can’t muster. Yet AI certainly isn’t all bad either. There are many benefits to using AI within the creative process and if we get it right, it can do a lot of the heavy lifting for us and give artists and creators more time to create.

How AI driven innovation can help crafts

So how we could use AI driven innovation in crafts to help us become more creative ourselves? It’s starting to become clearer when it’s being used for ill or for good. The Writers Strike in America shows what can happen when corporations choose to use it to create knock-offs quickly (in that case, scripts). Plagiarism and truth is also an issue with actors like Tom Hanks having to protect their likeness or risk being turned into an Avatar and made to do weird things. Plus even for the rest of us, as Karl Sharro said, “Humans doing the hard jobs on minimum wage while the robots write poetry and paint is not the future I wanted.”

Gaining the benefits of AI without the threat

However, for many creative people it doesn’t need to replace your job — just the most boring parts of it. And that’s where the benefits lie. If you’ve got a tool that can generate patterns quickly or help find more eco-friendly materials, for example, wouldn’t that be a good thing? Or there’s all the admin or back-end work it can take care of for you in an instant, allowing makers to do what they do best — make. The key is to remember what it is: a tool not a replacement. It’s something to use, as a collaboration between artisans and AI technologies. When it comes to strategies for preserving traditional craftsmanship, it’s wise for us to remember that AI can’t currently rival human spirit, the nuances and power of emotion or artistic intuition. Yet you can work with it to great effect.

Exploring a whole new world of AI: be more Hockney

Think how many artists shunned the iPhone and iPad as a tool until David Hockney created major works and exhibitions on them, and showed the world the infinite possibilities? Now is the time to not rule out new technology through fear but to explore it. If we embrace it and adapt, it could really help aid our creative output.

So while AI can be a very useful tool, we can overcome the challenges faced by traditional crafts in the era of AI so that the magic and value of craft will remain irreplaceable (see our sign painting & glass gilding collection for some lovely examples). It’s about using it to our advantage. There’s never been a better time to respect, cherish and celebrate the handmade, and continue to show our appreciation for our UK makers. We must support artisans and the joy of discovering unique, handmade finds before it disappears into a manufactured sea of sameness. Plus, AI takes most of its intel from material on the web so what we teach it matters. Let’s help it learn just how important the magic of craft really is.

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