At the same time that traditional miniature organizations like NAME (National Association of Miniature Enthusiasts) are shrinking and finding it difficult to adapt to a changing world, and traditional miniature shops are closing, miniatures are being discovered by a wider audience. Museums and art galleries regularly show miniaturists and media coverage of these activities is increasing. That means it is time for a MANIFESTO (a statement of goals, motives, opinions, and practices)! I am going to be blunt in my opinions about the state of miniatures because that is what manifestos do! You are free to write your own Manifesto if you do not agree with this one.
Why do we need a MINIATURE MANIFESTO?
We need it because for a long time making miniatures has been defined as a cute hobby. Attached to that hobby designation is a lack of seriousness and importance. Hobbies are denigrated as something you do in your spare time, as an escape from real work and the real world. They are the considered activities of the retired and the anti-intellectual. Hobbies are seen as frivolous and are supposedly used to fill empty time that could be better spent on productive activities.
If someone wants to do miniatures just as a hobby or as a collecting activity, fine. But I want to talk about miniatures in a different way. I think of miniaturists as Makers. This is a term that has become popular recently (see MAKE Magazine, Maker Shed, Maker Faires, and STEAM education). It refers to engaging with the world by creating things rather than just consuming them. It involves hands-on production for the purpose of exploring materials and ideas, and producing something physical that demonstrates those ideas. Whether it is with traditional techniques like woodworking and pottery, or newer tools like 3D printing, electronics, and laser cutting, Maker culture promotes the idea that merely buying mass-produced objects is not as rewarding or as social as making them. Most miniaturists would recognize themselves in this Maker definition. For miniaturists, Maker culture is something we do through workshops and shared club activities as well as individual constructions. What I hope we can recognize is that this engagement with physical materials, and the resulting miniatures, is not just a fun or cute or frivolous activity.
What miniaturists are doing is making worlds, not just scaled objects. Worldmaking is an activity carried our by artists, musicians, gamers, filmmakers, writers, poets and novelists, city planners. amusement park designers, and anyone who sets up a place or space for exploring alternative ways of being in the world. It is creating that space in such a way that others, viewers, are intrigued enough to enter that world, to engage with its design and components. World making requires being aware of more than just the objects in that world; it requires making consistent and coherent space that suggests more than it shows. And it requires knowledge of the elements of worldmaking that include coherence, consistency, narrative, and depth.
Some of the most intriguing worldmaking today is being done with microminiatures and common objects. They achieve the ultimate goal of making us look at our own world with new eyes. Here is an example of what I am referring to (from the site miniature-calendar.com):
If we are making worlds, then what we need is a language to talk about those worlds and a set of skills for entering, looking at, and engaging those worlds.