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6: Craft

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    Craft refers to skill used in creating something or executing a complex task. Just as doctors and designers and engineers require a set of skills in order to apply their craft, so too do creatives like musicians, writers, filmmakers, illustrators, podcasters, fashion designers, and website developers. The greater your level of skill in a field or genre, the more expertise, imagination, and care you bring to the process.

    In terms of writing and rhetoric, craft relates to how we decide what to use from a wide array of affordances combined with the arrangement we employ for various modes (such as alphabetic text or image) and genres to communicate with one another within a field, or even across a range of fields. Craft can also help us create a personally curated aesthetic, an original style or voice, and an identifiable ethos.

    Craft involves painstaking attention to how something is created, from the chair you’re sitting in to the clothes you’re wearing to the words you’re reading right now. Craft maximizes the impact of an object, action, or text. Craft is difference between simply doing something, and doing something well. Technically, you may be able to stitch some pieces of cloth together and make a garment, but crafts-person-ship moves you beyond simple functionality to the thrill of original and enduring fashion design.


    History of Craft

    The word craft derives from the Old German word kraft, meaning “strength.” This evolved into the Old English cræft, meaning “power” or “physical strength.” Later it expanded to include “trade, handicraft, employment requiring special skill or dexterity.”

    The concept of craft goes back to Aristotle. In Greek, the word techne refers to a “true art, craft, or discipline” and, according to Stephen Halliwell in his book Aristotle’s Poetics, techne was “the standard Greek word both for a practical skill and for the systematic knowledge or experience which underlies it”(44). In the words of Richard Nordquist, Aristotle considered rhetoric to be techne, “a skill for communicating effectively,” as well as “a coherent system for analyzing and classifying speeches.” Our modern words “technique” and “technology” derive from techne. Rhetoric is the art of crafting effective communication. Style is one of the five canons in Aristotle’s definition of classical rhetoric. For Aristotle, how the argument is made and presented is as important as the content of the argument—it’s not just a matter of what is said, but how it is said. Had Aristotle replaced the word ‘style’ with the word ‘craft,’ his logical framework and argument would have the same structural integrity.

    We can learn a great deal about the craft of writing and rhetoric from the craftsmen and craftswomen of the Middle Ages, who formed guilds devoted to the development and promotion of material practices like blacksmithing, shoe-making, baking, carpentry, and hat-making. A tradesman or tradeswoman took tremendous pride in the quality of their products. Excellence in craft contributed to the social identity of the maker, raising the most skilled makers to social prominence and distinction. Handcrafting goods from clothing to furniture to cathedrals, outstanding medieval tradespeople distinguished themselves through artful attention to detail.  

    The Industrial Revolution of the 1850s dramatically changed systems of production. As mass production and manufacturing began to displace handcrafting as the primary means of material production, originality and attention to detail threatened to decline. Artistic movements emerged that celebrated the aesthetic qualities of handcrafting. From about 1880-1920, the Arts and Crafts Movement, a trend in fine and decorative arts, flourished in Europe and, later, in the U.S. Designers like William Morris, Louis Tiffany, and Frank Lloyd Wright re-instituted aesthetic values like intricate detail, lyrical beauty, and one-of-a-kind distinctiveness. The Mingei movement emphasized similar aesthetic values in Japan during the 1920s.

    In the language arts and communications, an appreciation for craft challenges makers to lavish attention on every detail of a piece of communication. Every word, sentence, image, sound, can be selected and combined with exquisite care and thoughtfulness. Following World War II, as America experienced its post-war economic boom, television and advertising became powerful tools for persuasion and turned into big business. As depicted in the hit television series Mad Men, communications professionals began collaborating to craft popular advertising slogans and campaigns that would command the attention of consumers and motivate consumers toward specific products and behaviors. Advertising professionals might spend hours in committee collectively considering each word in a five-word slogan! 

    Today, with so many platforms available for communication, each with their own affordances and audiences, craft is essential to making your voice stand out. Whether you work with words, paint, film, sound, dance, fashion, photography, video games, wood, metal, or textiles, attention to and development of craft helps your message rise above the others in our crowded media landscape, enabling you to engage with the world powerfully, creatively, and distinctively.


    Craft Today

    Effective communicators in the 21st century embrace a multimodal approach to communication, often using sophisticated mixtures of alphabetic text, image, and other elements to craft messages, build stories, and convey information and with tremendous complexity across numerous local and global platforms. Indeed, as communicators now rely on more than alphabetic text, dependence upon image to communicate is growing rapidly (Kress and van Leeuewen 23). Images, according to Bateman, enable us to use “a far richer range of combinations of different ways of making meanings” and allow us to create text/image combinations that deliver “something more than either could achieve alone” (11).

    Since this act of combining text with images has become standard, our communications get evaluated on a number of levels. As technology increases the affordances available to us, our choices about what to include, what to leave out, and how the modes work together expand our range of considerations in crafting communications. Crafting effective communication, like crafting a poem or garment, compels us to arrange text and image thoughtfully, with maximum attention to detail, to create the intended meaning. As people use platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube to find their news and other information—and are more likely to engage in conversation about this information on those platforms—we must craft text/image combinations that command attention and convey meaning skillfully. As important as it is to know how to use these elements for our own messaging purposes, it may be even more important to notice how others use these elements to influence and manipulate our thinking and behavior.

    The crafting of multimodal communication complements traditional modes of writing and composing with alphabetic text. According to Bourelle, Bourelle, and Jones, “From the 21st-century, multimodal perspective, style can refer to how one incorporates sound, images, or design elements to persuade the audience through pathos, logos, and ethos.” Communication today is often a synthesis of word, image, sound, symbol, orality, gesture, and whatever other modes a communicator finds of value to the message or story being created. Viewing writing from this multimodal perspective, the concept of craft challenges authors to plan each element of a communication with thought and care, attending both to the effects of each element and to the possible combinations of each element. Such attention to detail enhances the overall message being communicated, and increases the likelihood that the message can be heard in the twenty-first century’s noisy media landscape. Aristotle’s principles of rhetorical ‘style,’ or craft, still enable authors with excellent crafts-person-ship to distinguish themselves.


    Broadening the Concept

    Practicing the craft of composing should not result in uniformity of style. In fact, when we celebrate the diversity of language that naturally accompanies variations among human communities, we will recognize that excellence takes a variety of forms. The craft of composing produces a wide-ranging variety of expressive and communicative styles. The Executive Committee of the Conference on College Composition and Communication issued the following resolution in 1972:

    We affirm the students’ right to their own patterns and varieties of language – the dialects of their nurture or whatever dialects in which they find their own identity and style. Language scholars long ago denied that the myth of a standard American dialect has any validity. The claim that any one dialect is unacceptable amounts to an attempt of one social group to exert its dominance over another. Such a claim leads to false advice speakers and writers, and immoral advice for humans. A nation proud of its diverse heritage and its cultural and racial variety will preserve its heritage of dialects. We affirm strongly that teachers must have the experiences and training that will enable them to respect diversity and uphold the rights of students to their own language.

    An open-minded, compassionate, and inclusive approach to writing and communication naturally embraces craft as a means for accessing and expressing the specific cultural and linguistic forms that represent the various groups and individual students within a diverse student body. Craft aims to highlight those cultural differences in language and bring them to the forefront of authentic, effective personal communication. Crafting a message that contributes to the “conversation” must include consideration of environment and experience as essential to arriving at a personal perspective, or ethos, one that moves the “conversation” forward and gives it energy and a demonstration of active thinking. Craft enhances communication by allowing for the full spectrum of human language and expression to be valued and included. Craft gives us tools to use language to the best of our ability, whether in alphabetic text or multimodal communication.

    The poet Audre Lorde says, “For those of us who write, it is necessary to scrutinize not only the truth of what we speak, but the truth of that language by which we speak it. For others, it is to share and spread also those words that are meaningful to us. But primarily for us all, it is necessary to teach by living and speaking these truths which we believe and know beyond understanding. Because in this way alone we can survive, by taking part in a process of life that is creative and continuing, that is growth” (43). Such growth is best achieved by acknowledging and embracing the linguistic differences between people of different cultures and backgrounds. We use craft to convey the “truth of that language” which is uniquely ours, depending on our communities of origin and personal development


    Craft and Other Concepts

    Fields as wide-ranging as medicine and furniture design require specialized skills, perfected through practice over a significant period of time. While the primary skills for these fields are not linguistic in nature, effective communication in these fields often requires special language skills. Most fields have their own jargon, industry or field-specific terminology used by specialists. Doctors need to know the terminology for diseases, medical treatment and procedures, instrumentation, and human anatomy. This is true of creatives, as well. For example, the technical aspects of filmmaking have created a language for camera shots, scene blocking, composition, and editing techniques that is necessary for one to know to work in the field.

    Like all professional creatives, filmmakers take their craft seriously, especially those working in specific genres that rely on tropes, or commonly used structures, themes, devices, character types, or other conventions of the genre. As filmmakers increasingly remix familiar images, texts, and arrangements to create new forms and styles, those genres can blur, creating, in effect, new genres of storytelling. The films of the Marvel Universe are a good example. In terms of traditional film genres, these movies cannot be easily categorized; they are parts fantasy, science fiction, thriller, action, western, comedy, and romance all rolled up into one, but their popularity has made them so recognizable that they demand the creation of their own genre: the superhero film. Filmmakers apply craft through their understanding of film history (their field) and its genres, then use this expertise to remix those genre tropes into new and original art.

    Looking Ahead

    Communication is an ongoing “conversation,” one that you will engage with for the rest of your life, and craft plays a central role in how you participate. It allows you to control and shape how you communicate, as well as how you evaluate what is communicated to you. There are many things in life we have no control over, but developing your ability to craft how you communicate allows you to make choices about how you contribute to the “conversation.”

    The craft of communicating through writing is still an important skill for contributing to the “conversation,” and in addition to the other key concepts in this book, writing continues to utilize basic elements of story such as structure, language, voice/ethos, narrative, and so on. These elements of craft are applied in writing whether the genre is creative, academic, professional, or commercial. Each of these genres may amplify the need for elements particular to the genre: poetry may emphasize elements like lineation, imagery, sound and rhythm, and form; fiction and creative nonfiction often focus on elements like plot, setting, character, and point of view; commercial writing such as advertising will commonly prioritize craft elements that appeal to pathos or logos in order to persuade.

    Courses that focus on academic or professional writing may focus on elements of craft unique to their field. Academic writing frequently uses a remix of ideas from other authors, and craft is evident through the resources used and the citations that identify them as well as the development of the author’s own point of view and ethos to synthesize those ideas. Professional writing, such as a business report or a grant application, will use alphabetic text and images (such as graphs) to tell the story of a how a business is performing or why a grant application should be funded. Authors in these fields use craft to manipulate text and image and how those are arranged in order to create new ways of understanding and expand our ongoing “conversation” in new directions, and craft also contributes to the credibility of the author and weight of the contribution made to the “conversation.”

    Courses and fields that create content and communicate using multimodal approaches (podcasting, YouTube, social media posts, filmmaking, blogs and relationship websites) use their affordances to expand upon how craft might be used. Craft here means not only being skilled in the demands of the technology, but also in understanding how people “read” these messages and crafting a message accordingly using arrangement, modes, and other key concepts is to be part of society’s “conversation.”

    Craft may come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but it continually pushes artists and other creative minds as well as academics and professionals deeper into the inner workings of their fields, opening up possibilities for the discovery of new forms, styles, and levels of meaning. Regardless of your chosen field, craft will play a role in your level of success. Learning and applying the specialized skills required for a field illustrates the importance of craft in terms of not simply doing the job, but doing the job well; not only participating in the “conversation,” but participating in it meaningfully; not simply communicating with your audience, but impacting them. Remember: craft is about how you say what you say.

    Image of woman building a chair
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Woman Building Chair
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Book and Pen
    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Music Studio


    Craft in AI-Assisted Writing

    For humans, language, in all its forms, lies at the heart of communication. It provides the tools (words) and the rules (grammar and usage) we need to express ideas and concepts, and ourselves. For artificial intelligence (AI), a language model provides the foundation to create and communicate new concepts.

    A language model works by scanning a data set: a vast amount of humanly-produced writing fed into the program by the programmers. Then, through programming that allows it to make inferences, the model can generate new content based on the data set. The ELIZA language, developed at MIT in 1966, is one the earliest examples of a language model (Weizenbaum).

    A large language model (LLM) is a type of AI algorithm that is used to understand, summarize, generate, and predict new content. In fact, it is a type of generative AI, designed specifically to generate new textual content. LLMs are the next generation of language models, using dramatically larger data sets, which enhance the model’s capabilities. For LLMs, the data sets typically have at least one billion parameters on which the model is trained. ChatGPT, a commercial AI writer, uses 175 billion parameters, the largest neural network ever.

    In terms of writing and rhetoric, AI-assisted writing is another mode of communication, literally another language, requiring a high level of skill to best understand and utilize its beneficial qualities. Like any language, AI follows a set of rules that can produce logical and well-reasoned content, but, unlike human language, AI currently lacks the craft to offer the subtlety, nuance, or innovation a seasoned writer or other type of communicator might. Unlike human language, AI is unable to re-imagine itself into something that might produce new sounds and meanings. This means that, at present, the benefits of AI are often limited to or expanded by our ability to craft meaningful prompts.


    Writing with Craft

    Imagine you need to compose a cover letter in which you introduce yourself to decision-makers at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, Illinois. You have seen a call for a paid internship in which you will assist the museum’s curators in developing placards to accompany the artworks in a major exhibition of surrealist women. As an art history student interested in curating their own exhibitions someday, you will want to craft a letter that demonstrates your writing skills, highlights an expertise in describing artworks, and impresses an audience that is certain to be highly sensitive to visual communication. Rising above the competition will require you to think carefully about every detail of your letter from the opening sentence to the closing sentence, with attention not just to what you say but how you say it and how your letter looks—the font, the paragraph length, the integration of any images you may include. You would be wise to ask yourself questions like these:

    ·      Do I want to sound warmly enthusiastic or professionally reserved?

    ·      What experiences have I had that qualify me to do this work?

    ·      How can I amplify my qualifications and portray them attractively?

    ·      Can I include an image somehow, to make my letter stand out?

    ·      How can I show off my ability to write about art?

    ·      How can I convey my enthusiasm while still sounding professional?

    ·      How can I grab my audience’s attention immediately, in the opener?

    ·      How can I close the letter memorably?


    These kinds of questions require you to make choices, to choose how to present yourself as well as what you are presenting. You’re considering all the possibilities before selecting those elements that best suit your purpose. Sometimes we compose instinctually, without really thinking about what we’re doing. But when we do start thinking intentionally about our choices, we have entered the sphere of craft. We are making specific decisions for conscious reasons to create an effective message or artistic effect.

    The more you consider your choices, the more consciously you make decisions, the more expertly you practice the craft of writing. Thinking about the various concepts in this book will help you craft a letter calculated skillfully to showcase your personality and identity as well as your professional abilities. Here are additional questions to think about:

    ·      What are the expectations of a professional in my particular field or industry?

    ·      What does the cover letter genre require me to include and how should I sound?

    ·      How can I best leverage the effects of alphabetic text?

    ·      How can effective arrangement enable me to distinguish myself to my readers?

    ·      What format should I use? What are the conventions of this genre?

    ·      Should I consider remixing material by including the words or images of others in my letter?

    ·      Can I integrate images somehow?

    ·      What sort of ethos am I hoping to project through this letter?

    ·      How can I show myself prepared to contribute to a conversation about surrealist women?



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    Caught in Joy. Person playing brown and white acoustic guitars. 2020. Unsplash, Unsplash photos(opens in new window) [] 

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