Thursday, September 14, 2006

Objects of meaning and the deeper meaning of things. Last year I asked some of my woodworking students if they had any objects in their homes of which they knew the maker. "I have the box I made in woodshop, one said." "My mom has the bowl I turned," said another. This presents a striking contrast with an earlier age in which ALL the objects in the home would have been made by someone close and were objects that reflected the warmth of family and community. Objects in our lives have become devoid of meaning. We struggle to attain them, working long hours to earn the money for them, in the vain hopes that they will fulfill our longings. We savor them for brief moments before the newness wears on us. Then, because they have no deeper meaning, we pass them along in landfills and yard sales.

As a point of contrast, I am reminded of Wharton Esherick, "Dean of American Craftsmen" whose home in Paoli, Pennsylvania is now a museum. Everything in his home was either made by him, or made by a fellow artist and each object expresses an exceptional level of human attention and love.

According to Matti Bergström, a professor and neurophysiologist from Finland:

"The density of nerve endings in our fingertips is enormous. Their discrimination is almost as good as that of our eyes. If we don't use our fingers, if in childhood and youth we become "finger-blind " this rich network of nerves is impoverished-which represents a huge loss to the brain and thwarts the individual's all-around development. Such damage may be likened to blindness itself. Perhaps worse, while a blind person may simply not be able to find this or that object, the finger-blind cannot understand its inner meaning and value."

"If we neglect to develop and train our children's fingers and the creative form building capacity of their hand muscles, then we neglect to develop their understanding of the unity of things; we thwart their aesthetic and creative powers."

"Those who shaped our age-old traditions always understood this. But today, Western civilization, an information-obsessed society that over values science and undervalues true worth, has forgotten it all. We are "value-damaged."

There is a difference between the object made perfectly, but carelessly by machines, and the object less perfectly made that records the love and attention of the human being who made it. You might be "values damaged" as Dr. Bergström describes and see the world only in terms of supply, demand, price and the accumulation of dollars and cents. You may never hold an object with a clear sense of the creative spirit of the man or woman who made it.

Those who are engaged as children in creative processes with skilled hands, will be the ones who understand life at a deeper level, and in the end will make life meaningful for themselves and others.

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