Crafts, arts and commoditization

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Article by Hanna Granlund

As the E-ART project seeks to promote sustainability and sustainable artistic practices, we must think about why a work of art exists and how it moves through a market-based economic system.

A commodity is an object that you can uscultural and cognitive process must take place – commoditization. As an example, commoditization in a society is said to expand when more and more different types of objects are made exchangeable. Many working artists are dependent on their creations having a high enoughe for a practical purpose, and something that you can buy or sell in exchange for another commodity.
Not all objects that exist within society are considered commodities. To become marked and defined as a commodity, a exchange value in
order to make a living.

Commoditization is not just an economical process, but also a social and moral one. Exploring this process can explain why the same object may be treated as a commodity at some times, and at other times as something unique and non-tradeable. Moreover, this process imbues the commodity with values that dictate what its “ideal life” should look like. How should it be made, where should it come from, how should it be used during its various life stages, and what should happen to it when it reaches the end of its usefulness?

The realm of arts and crafts has an interesting relationship to commoditization. Certain works of art have been given exact (and
sometimes staggeringly high) exchange values, while others have been marked as “priceless” in an attempt to remove them from the realm of
commoditization all together. An artistic object may even be used to generate wealth, by attracting paying visitors to view it.

This may seem far removed from the vast majority of artistic production, which to a large part consists of crafting. A crafted object is often treated as a commodity with a set market price to a larger extent than so-called high art. However, much like high art, once the object is bought and obtained by someone it may come to gain a new identity from the owner, who imbues it with social or emotional value. The crafted object may be damaged in a way that destroys its practical use but retains its artistic value, and vice versa.

The question of the ideal life span for art is of particular interest to the E-ART project. These ideals have very real ramifications in our societies – ideals of whether an object “should” be re-used or recycled shape whether we create infrastructure that can facilitate this. When we explore alternative lives for an artistic object, we can incorporate them in the creative process at a much earlier stage. We can also explore how commoditization may affect alternative ways of material existence.

The theory on commoditization is based on “The cultural biography of things: commoditization as process”, from The Social Life of Things –
Commodities in Cultural Perspective by Igor Kopytoff (1986).


Hanna Granlund is a project coordinator, communicator and researcher for Intercult. She has a bachelor’s degree in Art history and a master’s degree in Heritage studies from Stockholm University. Her work focuses on public art and transnational cultural heritage.

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