Sunday, October 18, 2009

Today in my own shop, catch 22

Today in my own wood shop, I am continuing my friendly competition with the Chinese. I am making wooden boxes to supply the few small craft galleries that continue to sell my work. I say it is a friendly competition, even though in price and quality I am losing "bigtime."

I call it friendly because I believe that those trying to produce goods and services in the "information" age are swimming against the tide, and the Chinese have earned my profound respect. I also call if friendly because in my own shop, it is such a joy to work with tools, to see beautiful and useful objects developed within my own hands. I know that there are many in this world that don't have the slightest idea what I am talking about. They may find their joy in other ways... ordering others into action or spending the money that has become the focal point of their lives. And yet, the joy one finds through the direct activities of one's own hands cannot be adequately described.

Elliot Eisner distinguished between primary and secondary ignorance. And it is awkward to talk about such things without sounding accusatory. But there is such a thing as ignorance none the less. Primary ignorance is easy to fix because it is something you know is missing, an answer you want, and may be willing to seek in order to feel complete. Secondary ignorance is a bit harder to resolve. It is about things you don't know are missing from your own life. You have no idea how to find what you don't know is missing in the first place. You have no intrinsic motivation toward discovery. Unless you suddenly take a fall and you discover that things are not quite as you imagined them to be.

The body-mind knows things the conscious mind may not comprehend. There is joy in making things. There is a wholeness that arises in the relationship between man (or woman), materials and tools in the making of beautiful and useful objects. The joy is not just there in the finished goods, but in the process, the engagement, as one watches one's own hands give new shape and meaning to materials. Where these opportunities are not perceived and are not acted upon, we suffer in ways we may not be able to readily comprehend. Depression, Anxiety? To quote my least favorite politician, "you betcha!"

Today in the wood shop, I am taking long boards, cutting them into short sections, resawing them into thin stock, planing the thin stock to a uniform dimension, jointing edges straight, then sawing into uniform widths, and cutting small parts to exact dimension. Each small step is a matter of fulfillment, completing a feedback loop from which one draws assurance. And there are those, whom I take the gross liberty of calling out for secondary ignorance. They may never understand the burden of their loss. They may never feel directly encumbered by their own stupidity. Much of their direct suffering can be alleviated with pills. But there is a price our children pay for what they will never know they might have learned in the first place.

There. Enough words for today. I'm headed back to the wood shop and my friendly competition with the Chinese. If you are one of those who are not aware of the transformative value of work of your own hands, please do not be offended. I offer my own view as a kindness.


  1. Anonymous7:45 AM

    Food comes wrapped in plastic, goods for our houses are all pre-made, and people lose their connection to reality.

    So we keep on cutting big boards into small pieces and then gluing them back into big pieces. At least we have the satisfaction of craft.


  2. It seems there is a small back to the land and back to human principles movement happening on college campuses. My daughter Lucy is starting a worm composting operation in her dorm kitchen. Her roomies are a bit disgusted, but I am thrilled.

    And the kids like shopping on Etsy. Some are beginning to make things to sell. It is not quite like being the village blacksmith, and a lot of the stuff is junk. But everything starts somewhere. Perhaps we will have a crafts and gardening renewal. We will render Wall Street unto Wall Street and go on as though they never mattered in the first place.

  3. Anonymous6:00 PM

    Good for Lucy! As my grandmother would say about some of my friends, she was raised right. If she can do that in NYC, imagine what could be done in places where there's more room to work.

    As far as Etsy and craft, I see more stores here in Buffalo advertising that they sell local craft work. Farmers markets are booming, to the point where some area farmers are sort of like celebrities.


  4. I look forward to the day when locally made things beyond "craft" work begin to sell. Why can't we have locally crafted other things? Practical things? Useful things? Too many crafted objects are striving to hard to be recognized as "art." And craft should be recognized more clearly without trying so hard to attain uselessness.