book review: state of craft (cicada books)

micah schnabel @ slim's

Fact: I am not the sort of person who makes things.

Also fact: I do make things, of course; I make photographs.

But third fact: I am not the sort of person who makes things, in terms of being crafty, like all the clever people on Etsy whose jewelry and screenprints and hats that I covet. I wish I was a craft sort of person; I want to be. I used to be one of those people, as the tub of craft supplies and beads and rubber stamps under my desk attests. I covet lots of vintage photos on Etsy and eBay, drift longingly through craft supply stores looking at the rainbow of paints, but my artistic talent outside of doodles and photographs is nil. (I know, I know: don’t dismiss what I do. I’m making a point, y’all. A case study!)

But not, really, the DIY aesthetic. I built my photo business from the ground; I taught myself to shoot, with the guidance of a handful of people, pretty much from scratch. The DIY model of business and art dates back to the post-punk alternative scene — Michael Azerad covers it pretty in-depth in Our Band Could Be Your Life, which inspired me fiercely the first time I read it. And it’s a model that’s fiercely in use today, with young bands recording and producing and releasing their albums without the intercession of any kind of record label, touring and booking and printing merch without a booking agent or a manager or any help. My friends have done this. My friends still do this. I admire, deeply, anyone who takes on an artistic pursuit themselves, with those values that zinesters and underground musicians and indie rockers laid the ground for in the 60s and 70s and 80s and 90s. (The aughts seem to be a decade where it was mostly major label, alas.)

The State of Craft is, as all of Cicada’s books are, first and foremost a gorgeous publiciation. It’s lovely to look at and handle and build some dreams on. But it’s also useful, not just the individual projects but the thoughts from people who do make these things, and the general tips for various sorts of crafts. I like Cicada’s books because they have the personalities of their artists and writers all over them — they aren’t dry or boring. The current DIY movement, music art film dance all of it, has so much personality, and the information age — 140 characters — allows us to glimpse the personal lives of the people who are making that art. But Cicada takes that even more seriously, the belief that that the theories behind art need to be heard. That artists should speak about their work, and The State of Craft does that beautifully. It is the sort of book that does inspire me to make things, to fish around in my closet for a hammer or grab the pliers off the top of the microwave (they live there because our corkscrew sucks and sometimes I have to extract corks from the corkscrew with pliers) or actually buy those paints or that colored paper from Michael’s.

I grab my inspiration from other photographers; and I respect like crazy that Cicada respects that so much as well. Don’t just make, this book says; make and inspire and collaborate and do it yourself. I love that.

State of Craft is available from your regular online retail outlets. Recommended if you like to make things, or even if you just want to.

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