Anyone who makes some type of craft to sell knows that the final value goes far beyond the materials used to produce the piece. After all, in the economic system in which we operate, our workforce is also offered for sale in the market.
But if our artisan product and manual work are merchandise, how much are they worth? We know that crafts are usually an undervalued work, often devaluated as art, but it is important to question what determines the value of this work.
To explore this theme, I was inspired by Rita von Hunty’s video and in the theories of Karl Marx to understand how these concepts are applied in the reality of handicrafts.
1. The value of your handcrafted piece/product
To understand what determines the value of handcrafted pieces to society, it is necessary to understand the meaning of this word.
Every merchandise has a value, even your workforce. In order for you to be able to buy a bag, you need to pay with cash. To get the money needed to buy the bag, you need to earn the money through the effort of your own work.
In this way, based on the capitalist and industrial system in which we live, our products are divided between two different types of values: the use value and the exchange value. The use-value is defined by the usefulness of the product or service you buy or offer. The exchange value is considered the one that gives you status.
In summary, a crochet bag, made by an artisan, and a plastic bag, produced by Prada, have the same use value, but different exchange values. While both serve the same utility (keep your accessories), society assigns a higher value to the one sold at Prada, for reasons of social prestige.
One of the reasons for this distinction is the attachment to large industrial productions, which invalidates handmade work and is one of the reasons why handicraft has been historically devalued.
2. The value of the handcrafted work
If there is exchange value, there are also different ways in which society considers labor forces. Thus, the context in which we are inserted also levels which service “worth’s more” than the other, separating concrete work from abstract work.
Concrete work represents the kind of work you do with your own energy expenditure, like a dentist who takes care of cavities and performs dental treatments or an artisan who makes porcelain vases. Abstract work, on the other hand, represents the social pact that society has signed, based on the dominant ideas of our generation, of what is considered work. Therefore, abstract work creates value, concrete work creates use value.
In this sense, a surgeon and a carpenter receive different treatments because the economic and social ideas of our generation establish which of these works deserve a greater exchange value.
3. The socioeconomic context
If exchange value and abstract labor change according to our socioeconomic context, then we can better understand which factors contribute to the devaluation of some services and products. In this way, it is possible to relate our capitalist and industrial economy to the delegitimization of the art of handcrafting. So, if the craft work is downgraded, the value of your pieces is too.
In the pre-Renaissance, for example, handicraft was considered a work of art worthy of conquering local authorities and becoming a trend. But social and economic changes have altered this reality.
Time, economy and social values establish how much your craft worth. Therefore, representation and the struggle for appreciation continue to be the main form of combat of artisans against the capitalist and industrial context.
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