What motivates us to do A&S?

By   8 April, 2018

As members of the SCA we choose to make things for a variety of reasons. At some stage everyone in the SCA has to make something, unless they have infinite cash to spend on buying clothes, feast gear, tents, etc. OR some very kind friends. This post looks at why people make things and how we can understand someone else’s motivations and access to resources when we comment on their stuff.

I made a video about this, the content is also set out below if you prefer to read. Comments on these ideas are welcome.

Motivation Matrix

A core aspect of why we make stuff is our intrinsic motivation. Results from the Kingdom A&S survey indicated that there were four reasons people made stuff:

  • Authenticity – I want to make the most period thing I can possibly make. Being as close to doing what “they” did (in a specific time and place) drives me to create
  • Workmanship – I want to make the BEST thing I can possibly make, and I will get the best tools and materials to do this. I will practice and practice and take my time until I am satisfied
  • Creative expression – I want to make the thing that fits my vision of how “they” looked and experienced the world. This can be based on research, but could also be based on a particular movie, TV series or book. It is usually where we all start when we join the SCA, and we could argue it’s the basis of “the Dream”.
  • Variety – I want to try all the things that interest me, until I’ve satisfied my curiosity in that area. I’ll usually have two of three projects in different skill sets going at any point in time. I get bored if I just do one specific thing.

These reasons can be described on a matrix as follows:

The reason this is important is that we are a group that welcomes anyone who makes “an attempt at pre-1600”. By understanding why someone has made something then we can help and encourage them in a way that means they continue to want to make things and to stay in our Society.

Resources

Access to resources is a very important element in A&S projects, and one that is often overlooked. Any project requires a balance of the following three things:

  1. Access to $$ to fund the materials (or instruments in the case of music) and any missing knowledge
  2. Access to time to make the item, write the research paper, practice the performance
  3. Access to knowledge to understand how something was made and what is correct for the time and place someone is interested in

We all make choices about how much of our available time and money can go into each project or into acquiring more knowledge or better skills. Some of us have the ability to expend lots of time and money, some of us don’t. Some of us had a solid university education in a humanities subject and enjoy reading the latest research, some of us don’t and learn by tinkering and trying things out.

All of this is important to conversations about A&S, as it helps us realise that we don’t all start from the same place in terms of these resources, nor can we all allocate the same amount of those things to all projects. We make choices, and those choices are valid.

A challenge

Now that we have a better understanding of motivations and resources I want to issue a challenge.

The number one reason someone stops “doing A&S” is because someone (usually someone they don’t know, or barely know) comes up to them unasked and tells them “that’s not period!”. I’m sure that the person providing this comment thinks it’s helpful and they mean well, however the effect is usually to make the recipient crumple or cranky.

My challenge is this: Let’s adopt the phrase “Unasked for criticism is discourteous”.

Unless a person says something like “What do you think?” or “How could I make this better?” then don’t tell them they are doing it wrong. Instead, if you really want to help that person start from the matrix above, and the list of resources. Understand why they made what they made and then ask if they want any help or more information.

Compliments are always good, btw. Compliments buoy people. We all want to feel proud of the thing we poured our precious time and resources into, so start there.

12 Comments on “What motivates us to do A&S?

  1. Gerald Loosehelm

    This is great! I am so going to share this to several groups.
    I think that I would place myself on a somewhat fuzzy / wide line instead of a point. It would extend from the center to about 1/4 of the way North-West of the center point.
    I suspect that I would have been an outlier if I had taken your survey. I made my first piece of jewelry in the SCA about A.S. 21(?) and ended up a professional jeweler because of it. Who knew THAT would happen?!
    I now spend my spare time doing research into historical jewelry manufacturing processes when I am not trying to drag others into my shop so they can catch the same bug that bit me so many decades ago.
    Gerald Loosehelm / Gerald A. Livings

    1. KMoAS Post author

      Greetings Gerald, and thanks for the response and sharing your experience. I suspect no-one is a point, but rather a fuzzy line as you describe. I included those points to provide a sense of the sorts of things we say about other’s work to see where those sorts of comments fit into this schema.

  2. Deb Vonziak aka Vanora ni Ewan

    I love the idea of the matrix, and think it is done very well, However, there is one change I would suggest. Under “Workmanship” you have “Looks like they stepped out of a painting” that is Authenticity, not workmanship. You can make a perfect late Elizabethan gown with all the bells and whistles out of hot pink camo fabric and it will be superb workmanship but in no way look like the person stepped out of a painting. Likewise, you can make a beautiful, period looking coronet that is completely machine made and it will look like it came out of a painting, but is in no way historically accurate workmanship – should that be considered in the same class as a hand spun, handwoven, hand sewn garment? Probably not. The quality of workmanship does not in any way have to correspond with the historical authenticity of the project. It can, but it doesn’t have to.

    1. KMoAS Post author

      Greetings Vanora, thanks for the insight. I agree that the quality of workmanship doesn’t necessarily correspond with the historical authenticity of the project, which is why they are separate categories. In the video “workmanship” is defined as “right materials” so someone who is motivated to look like they stepped out of a painting wouldn’t choose hot pink camo fabric, but they might choose a synthetic brocade as it gives the correct look, they might also choose to machine parts of the gown to save on time or because excellent hand sewing techniques don’t inspire them – there is workmanship in good machine use. Someone who makes a hand spun, hand woven hand sewn garment is probably driven by workmanship and authenticity to the utmost and should be somewhere in the very top left hand corner. Our hot pink camo Elizabethan gown is probably dead centre in the top right hand quadrant, on the same parallel as the celtic knotwork leather pouch.

      On “should this be considered in the same class as…”: This schema is not about making judgements of worth of an item or a creation, it’s about why people choose to make something, and what underlies decisions they make in that creation. From this point we can then make better assessments of where to go for appropriate feedback on our work AND tailor the feedback to the motivations of the creator. For instance, if you find yourself in the lower left hand corner then you probably shouldn’t go into any formal A&S judging spaces as they are not designed for your drivers and you won’t get the type of feedback you’re after.

  3. Urraca Yriarte de Gamboa

    I really like the two-axis matrix. I think it applies not just to motivation, but to how we view “mastery” of an art. Is a Laurel supposed to be a specialist or good at a lot of things? How important is research and authenticity vs. making beautiful things very well? I have seen Laurels created who were at various points on your matrix.

    1. KMoAS Post author

      Completely agree, the examples provided were just things I thought of in 15mins while trying to get the video out into the world, a way to get the conversation started on a conceptual topic. Also, this is about motivation, not execution, which is subtly different. Execution has a third axis: choice & access to resources

  4. Lois Domek

    Someone shared this link with me, and having thanked them, I also wanted to thank you. I can think of SO many times that it would have been helpful to have that chart pinned to my sleeve when talking to people about stuff I do. I expect my position on the chart figures largely south by southeast (although variety and workmanship aren’t necessarily opposites and I’m certainly not opposed to authenticity). But I’ve spent years trying to find a courteous way to tell discourteous people that “becoming a Laurel isn’t on my bucket list.” Thank you. Lhiannan y Llysieuydd

    1. KMoAS Post author

      I’m glad it is helpful, and yes I agree that variety and workmanship aren’t opposites. I wish I had a better word for workmanship in this context i.e. “one thing really, really well” as there are people who are driven by “some things very very well”. Or perhaps “variety” is trying to capture “make something once or twice and then move on”. So the continuum is how much focus you want to place on getting quite good at something versus ‘giving it a go’. I suppose in this schema I’d put someone who wants to make more than one thing very, very well right in the middle of that line? It’s why the “lifestyle Laurel” label is to the far right, in Lochac we use this term to describe someone who is Laurelled for being excellent at many aspects of life in a particular time and place.

  5. Edwin "Ted" Hewitt

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    I am definitely heavy on the “Variety” access. I’ve always wanted try a little of this and a little of that, not getting great at any one thing. I accept that about myself. What is frustrating is not being told, “that’s not period,” but rather, after spending time researching, spending what little money I have, and then crafting something, for someone with fine clothes come up and say, “That’s okay, but Laurel so and so can do it better.”

    Yeah, okay fine. Laurel so and so should be able to do it better. Otherwise why would they have a Laurel? In my early experience in the Principality of Caid where it seemed everyone I knew was learning and experimenting. We traded crafts. I remember my first trade goods were little draw string bags which I crafted from thrift store fabric bins. When I offered one of them to someone to trade (anything from another craft to a song), the reaction was almost always positive. There was a joy in trading.

    I am not particularly active now, but I noticed that as time changed, we as a Society have been gifted with many fine craftsmen. This is wonderful. What is frustrating, to me at least, is how down played people’s first attempts are. How often peoples best efforts are denigraded. I have even heard people look down their noses at others and brag, “My crakows are by Master so and so, and my cotehardie is by Mistress such and such.” It always caused me to wonder what had happened to us.

  6. Katherine Barich

    I found myself thinking that sometimes the limiting factor is the person’s physical abilities, especially as it applies to work produced by the body. These factors can be “invisible” as well, and can include chronic pain conditions, and repetitive motion injuries. So, I might be tempted to work in a #4 to the resources section around challenges of the body. It could definitely influence a person’s placement on the motivational axes.

    1. KMoAS Post author

      Agreed, I think it’s easy to overlook the sheer physicality of the work of a maker/artisan/craftsperson, and how much more effort is required if you have some form of chronic pain or repetitive motion injuries. I have very good eyesight and quite good dexterity so can work through something in a shorter period of time than other people (for instance).

      I suppose in my head this is a very specific case of “time”, but in the end what we label it doesn’t matter, what does matter is acknowledging that is is a factor that affects choices that are made by a creator.

  7. Casey

    I just want to say thank you so much for starting this conversation. I don’t live in Lochac, but have had similar conversations with friends who are craftspeople and are thinking about joining the SCA. Typically they’ve heard stories from someone who has been discouraged when trying to share their work and are hesitant to join the fray. This issue of discourteous criticism is a very common topic in all of the kingdoms in which I have lived and played. I personally fall toward the middle south which makes it difficult to find a “tribe” so to speak, and limits my desire to enter any kind of competition. Having this language to discuss motivations and ask others about their drivers and interests will be very helpful. Thank you again, great work!

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