I recently had an insightful chat with an old school friend of mine. Eileen is one of the few friends I still… luckily… have from my art history graduate days at the University of Toronto. Those were tough, demanding times and she was my strongest comrade-in-arms in the art historical trenches. Not all of us made it out of that MA Program with our sanity (or dignity) completely intact.
The conversation that we had the other day was about how she was using Twitter to drive people to the photographs she currently has on sale on www.etsy.com. Etsy.com is a popular point-of-sale site used to sell homemade objects varying from art, jewelry, clothing items, and furniture to accessories for your pampered pooch. Some call it ebay’s funky, artsy little sister.
The fact that the two of us were having an au courant 2010 ‘technology’ talk was very amusing to me. My favourite memory of Eileen was the two of laughing as we sat discussing our medieval art history class at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies at the U of T. This very serious and lofty class used to crack us up. You never knew when someone might spontaneously start speaking in Latin (kinda like in the Exorcist) or show up wearing a minstrel-style cape. Twitter was definitely not the rage back then.
It’s interesting how technology has shaped so much in the past few years. So much, in fact, that old dog former art historians like Eileen and myself (although, she was always way more computer-savvy than me) have had to dust ourselves off and engage with current practices.
So back to etsy.com. It’s funny how things have changed and not changed at the same time. What Etsy is, in essence, is an artisan marketplace – with undeniable medieval roots - gone virtual. Items are still being crafted in cottage industries, brought to market (albeit virtually) then sold to a buyer. The change is that the buyer and/or seller can now be almost anywhere in the world. Even us parchment-reading types have to admit that the economic impact of such an initiative is mindboggling.
The medieval artisan market has evolved into a cyber-community celebration of the creative individual. But don’t be fooled, it is still an economic enterprise driven by millions of dollars in sales for its combined members.
Rob Walker, in his article “Handmade 2.0” for the New York Times Magazine, writes: “For Circa Ceramics, and for crafters in general, Etsy is another manifestation of how D.I.Y.-ism has evolved. Its motivation may still be the independence from capitalism ... But it can also be about a form of economic independence within capitalism.”
In practice, Etsy is very aware of its role as an alternative to traditional marketplaces and actively celebrates its community grassroots. One of the services it provides is ‘Etsy Teams’. These teams are groups of organized Etsy members who network, share skills, and promote their shops and Etsy together. A Team forms around a shared location, crafting medium, or another interest.
Etsy's 450+ Teams make the site not just a marketplace of individuals, but an interconnected and diverse artistic community. The teams, in fact, are Etsy’s biggest and most creative grassroots engine for support, networking and marketing.
While I am most definitely not a shopper, I do have a fetish… dare I say obsession… for handcrafted art objects. I’ve been supporting my little bubble of capitalism for years by buying objects off of various art sites. Now that I’ve discovered Etsy, I could be in trouble. Because, for me, there’s nothing as exiting as that little brown, art-filled package, waiting patiently for me on my doorstep.
So I will raise the cry: “Medievalist shoppers…embrace technology and unite!”
To check out Etsy: www.etsy.com
For Rob Walker’s complete article on Etsy: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/16/magazine/16Crafts-t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1
Interested in my friend Eileen’s Etsy site? See: http://www.etsy.com/shop/easelarts?ga_search_query=easelarts&ga_search_type=seller_usernames