Open Conference Systems, National Conference on the Beginning Design Student

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Exploring the Pedagogical Implications of Teaching Craft through Documentary Film
Kory Alan Beighle

Last modified: 2016-12-13


Teaching craft is a difficult thing.  One can set up the perfect conditions and say all the right things, but at its core understanding how to fold a crisp edge, construct an intriguing argument or strike a straight line is not about how; the ability to craft a thing well is an attitude.  At a lecture presented during The First Annual Conference of American Craftsman in 1957, Charles Eames made this exact point, suggesting that we were losing our sense of craft in everything from architecture to education.  For Eames this was a problem much larger than the quality of an object; it was a matter of survival for our time, our nation and for humanity. What Eames was challenging all of the craftsman in his audience that day to understand was that craft must be a collective state of being – “If we are going to survive we have to become craftsmanlike people.”[1]

Taking this to heart, the foundations program in our school has adopted the goal of going beyond a place where craft is simply a line item on a grading rubric; craftsmanlike attitudes are the directive.  While many traditional projects are assigned, supplemental materials have allowed us to extend the conversation beyond the walls of the lecture hall and the constraints of class hours; documentary film has proved one of the most engaging tools for tapping into this broader discussion of what it means to craft a thing well, while exposing why craft must be absorbed as a personal and collective imperative.

The goal of each film experience is to expose our students to a number of critical issues pertinent for any beginning design student and while these issues overlap with one another, at the center of many of the film selections is the desire to set a standard of craft and design ethics for each student’s work.  Four films are in particular, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Rivers and Tides, Man on Wire and How to Draw a Bunny, frame a nuanced understanding of what craft is within various disciplinary frameworks, while also unpacking what is at stake in the crafting of our world – quality, passion and even survival.

This paper will present the pedagogical logic behind the selection of these films as tools that exposes the students to critical reference points.  Specific questions addressed in the films to be explored in the paper include individual and collective notions of craft, the intimacy of our human experience of crafting and the idea that craft doesn’t begin or end, but presents itself within our actions at every turn.  Taken individually, each of the film experiences presents individual lessons and anecdotes, but together, they form a conversation larger than any individual success or failure.  The films lay the groundwork of expectation and the project a path for each student toward a vector of excellence in design and life.

[1] Eames, Charles. “The Making of a Craftsman.” In an Eames Anthology, edited by Daniel Ostroff (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015), 157-159.