Saturday, April 04, 2015

at the risk of appearing smug.

It is difficult to give voice to that which must be experienced in order to be understood. That seems to be the barrier between the purely academic, the clerics, scholars, politicians and businessmen and the world of craftsmanship that artisans inhabit.

Some may read John Ruskin who doubt his conclusions. That makes me wonder why they would read him in the first place except that it might fit into their feelings of being smug and superior...  As though reading the words of Ruskin allows them to feel as though they've mastered Ruskin and put him in his place in the intellectual scheme of things. How dare a man proclaim the spiritual infusion of society resultant from the exercise of craftsmanship! But in order to develop as a craftsman, one must care deeply about the results of one's labor. Within that caring is found the conviction to serve others, heart and soul, even when it requires effort to evolve in that service: Thus serving and making a relentless effort to become better at it.

Some study art history, thinking that by classifying works, they can gain a sense of mastery over the arts. But ask them to try painting like Jackson Pollack and they'll likely be afraid to get paint on their shoes.

In Maine and New Hampshire,  prison inmates have been given the chance to turn their lives around through the exercise of craftsmanship as described by this blog post on Fine Woodworking's website.
"I am drawn to go into the prison because there is something wildly spiritual and adventurous about it," notes Furniture Master and program volunteer Tom McLaughlin. "When I enter the inmate's workshop, I am not thinking of myself as the good guy helping out a bad guy. Rather, we are two men who share a common creative passion, working together for good, without fear. It is exhilarating to think an encounter so small and simple can mean so much to a man's experience inside a prison, and beyond."
It is a really fine thing that some folks have remembered the transforming influence of craftsmanship. Cheers to Maine and New Hampshire, the prisons therein, and the Furniture Masters who have dedicated themselves to the betterment of men... may the powers of woodworking to build lives be spread to other states. The operative phrase in the quote above is "working together for good, without fear." Is that not what all of us would want for society at large?

There was a long standing notion among teachers and advocates of manual arts training that it served as a means of building character in those who have not had adequate exposure to the moral structure put forth by religion and the laws of society. So many manual arts training programs were launched to provide manual arts training to the poor that their characters might be shaped to fit our cultural norms and economic necessity.

The truly interesting thing is that craftsmanship applies to the development of moral character in all students. Through craftsmanship even those who are academically inclined would gain insight into and appreciation for the contributions made by others in our society and to value their workmanship. As we faced the banking collapse in 2008, who would not have wished that bankers and politicians would have the kind of moral fiber that can be so easily distributed throughout the human soul by the trials and tribulations of learning to cut a dovetail joint.

Educational Sloyd recognized that the true worth of the objects made in school woodshops was not in the objects made, but in the transformation of lives those objects represent. There are values inherent in craftsmanship that our society has chosen to overlook. If we had woodworking at schools, and in the homes, and greater opportunities to do woodworking (or other crafts) with kids, they might become craftsmen instead of inmates. If all children had the opportunity to learn and develop the values expressed through craftsmanship, we would have a more just and humane society in the first place.

So there are three things that happen when the hands are engaged in skilled making. 
  1. Students develop skill that can be of service to others. 
  2. Students develop intelligence, in that the hands clarify and affirm or deny the conjectures of the mind and test the principles delivered 3rd hand through lectures and through books. 
  3. Truth about moral fiber is clearly revealed in the product at hand. 
Carelessness and lack of skill are revealed in the workings of hand and mind, or the opposite may be true... Where craftsmanship is exercised, truth and beauty may be searched for and found.

Craftsmanship is the anvil upon which the soul is cast and hammered toward perfection. This is not a hard principle to understand unless you are one of those who would prefer to avoid working at it. 

Make, fix and create...

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