Mass production and the artist: A hypothesis

Has mass-production contributed to the woes of artists, the arts and the perception of artists? Has it altered the definition (connotative or denotative) of art and the artist over the last century?

What I’m pondering is that a lack of skilled and passionate craftsmen in the trades potentially proliferates the idea of “artist-as-genius.” A good artist needn’t be a genius, and a genius is not necessarily a good artist.

Handmade objects, ornately and passionately crafted, are hard to find right now. The type of carving on the 100 year old Tryber piano in my living room isn’t done anymore, even on most of the very high-end instruments (or other objects). If such carving were done still today, if such carving and craftsmanship were valued and desired in today’s American culture — in furniture, homes, public structures and spaces — would the public expect more from artists, such as a more humble disposition, taking the appropriate mindset of public servant. Would the unspoken idea that an artist is a genius (albeit a socially inept, disorganized and generally troubled genius) be less prominent?

Our Tryber upright in the background:

A bite and a smile

About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

9 Responses to Mass production and the artist: A hypothesis

  1. Gabriella Morrison says:

    Mass production has certainly had an effect on the arts. The design of mass produced items has been watered down or “averaged” to a level where idiosyncracy has almost disappeared, and often is not valued. The type of craftsmanship in evidence often demonstrates that materials are scantily explored for their potential characteristics.
    A trace of sensuous appreciation is often missing.
    We have inherited a repoussee brass table made around the end of the 19th Century in Kashmir. It is an object which was carefully crafted in an artisan’s workshop. It bears no signature – its maker’s signature is not what is important. I often wonder about the person/s who laboured away in produxing this in anonymity, in humbleness and with great patience and skilful plying of basic tools. I often pause and finger the relief surfaces of this table, examine the forms which writhe in a lovely pattern around its circumference. Every time I do this it is as if seeing and feeling this object for the first time. The connection of the time it took for the artisan to make this object, and the time it takes me to appreciate this, over and over again, unites us despite the century and geographic distance that separates us. This is the power of hand-crafted items.

  2. tAE says:

    I like that you point out “idiosyncracy.” I have a beautiful mirror base which I’ve converted to a wall shelf and serves as a good example of what you speak to. The marks are such that you can tell it was hand-made, and frankly that is part of its appeal to me.

  3. r.mascarell says:

    Is not just because mass production. The artist-craftsman work needs skills, time and usually expensive materials. There is not market for this expensive products and many times we do just for love until we get out of resources.
    In the other side, art objects with poor crafts skills are been sold at high prices. Contradiction? No, show time.

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  6. Jonathan says:

    I agree with your statements. Also I have a twin to your tryber piano. Yours is the only other one that Ive seen that is the same. Wonderful carvings.

  7. Eric Rogat says:

    What do you know about the tryber piano that you own? I have one exactly like it and have just started to research it. Thanks Eric

  8. L says:

    this anxiety has existed since the 18th century, the answer is yes and no. however the hand made has always, and will always retain its value because we are sensate beings.

  9. Douglas Rouse says:

    I agree with most of you and I largely agree that the value stays in the hand made. My question is, is the value of the artist still here now, or did an artisan make more money comparably then. Can he or she make as much as pre-assembly line artists? Can we even compete financially with a mass produced products in a throw away society? How did mass production effect design artists?

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