Wednesday, December 10, 2008

On the heart of the craftsman

The following is from John Ruskin (thanks Joe!):
"I said... that handwork might always be known from machine work; observing, however, at the same time, that it was possible for men to turn themselves into machines, and to reduce their labour to the machine level; but so long as men work as men, putting their hearts into what they do, and doing their best, it matters not how bad workmen they may be, there will be that in the handling which is above all price: it will be plainly seen that some places have been delighted in more than others - that there have been a pause, and a care about them; and then there will come careless bits, and fast bits; and here the chisel will have struck hard, and here lightly, and anon timidly; and if the man's mind as well as his heart went with his work, all this will be in the right places, and each part will set off the other; and the effect of the whole, as compared with the same design cut by a machine or a lifeless hand, will be like that of poetry well read and deeply felt to, that of the same verses jangled by rote.

There are many to whom the difference is imperceptible; but to those who love poetry it is everything - they had rather not hear it at all, than hear it ill read; and to those who love Architecture, the life and accent of the hand are everything. They had rather not have ornament at all, than see it ill cut-deadly cut, that is. I cannot too often repeat, it is not coarse cutting, it is not blunt cutting, that is necessarily bad; but it is cold cutting - the look of equal trouble everywhere - the smooth, diffused tranquility of heartless pains - the regularity of a plough in a level field. The chill is more likely, indeed, to show itself in finished work than in any other - men cool and tire as they complete: and if completeness is thought to be vested in polish, and to be attainable by help of sand paper, we may as well give the work to the engine lathe at once. But right finish is simply the full rendering of the intended impression ; and high finish is the rendering of a well intended and vivid impression; and it is oftener got by rough than fine handling."
The photo above is a stool I made of dogwood and seagrass twine during the production of my Rustic Furniture Basics DVD. Today I've been taking gray background photographs for use in designing the cover for the book and DVD. The gray background makes it easier for computer programs and graphic artists to extract background data from a photographic image.

The idea John Ruskin proposes is that more important than the achievement of mechanical perfection in craftsmanship is that the craftsman's heart be present in the work. The heart is most present in work when we explore new things, and face challenges leading to growth. It is not perfection the inspired craftsman seeks but revelation.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:07 PM

    This is a great quote by Ruskin. I ahven't come across it before so thank you!