Systematic support for the craft industry
Craftsmanship is one of the barometers of a country’s cultural standards. The value of craft is prized in a culturally sophisticated country under government protection and support. Italy highly prizes the art of craftsmanship as its valued tradition and has national-level networks and support systems to keep the prestigious name of Made-in-Italy alive. Japan runs centers and training institutes to uphold traditional master craft work.
What about us? According to the “Craft Industry Survey” in 2013, businesses of less than two employees take up 70 percent of the industry of skilled craft. Self-employed businesses account for more than 90 percent. Most craftsmen work in their small workshops. Few have networks because they mostly work individually. They painstakingly maintain the tradition in their art amid little interest and support.
Marketing, distribution and sales are naturally underdeveloped. Mass-production is difficult for work that requires delicate manned skills. Manufacturing has been simplified with the help of computers and automation, but craft work still usually requires the artisan’s own labor input, making retailing difficult.
Korean craftsmanship is well known for its delicacy and details. Korean artifacts and craft works are popular in various collection markets and major expositions like the Maison & Object, the French international trade fair for lifestyle fashions and trends. We need more systematic support and networking to develop the craft industry. Vitality in the craft industry could not only help upgrade our life standards, but also economic growth. The world craft market generates revenue of 110 trillion won. But local industry has annual revenue of 900 billion won.
Many artisans and craftsmen are working in their workshops to produce new and better artifacts. To make them a part of our daily lives, we not only need attention and support from the government, but also from general public. Many Koreans are now interested in remote and undiscovered cultures. But we should also pay attention to our own tradition and craft so that they can serve as the faces of our culture and art.
Choi Jeong-cheol, Director of Korea Crafts & Design Foundation