Sunday, April 18, 2010

effects of technology

Would you rather be skilled and engage dierectly in your work, or stand around watching a machine do it for you? Some love the modern world. We wait at the red light, hoping to go soon. We have surrendered control of our lives to mechanical and electronic processes.

And yet, the true craftsman is never bored. We watch the transformation of materials in our own hands into useful and beautiful objects that we share with others. If life were only about being faster, and more efficient, and not about the growth of skill we would stand around being as bored as the fellow in the advertising photo above.

One thing you will notice in the photo above... the bland nature of the materials being cut by the CNC router. Plywood, particle board, and man-made materials including plastics, eliminate the need for skilled labor by reducing the need for careful selection and intelligent use of materials. A piece of hardwood, random width and length, with the inevitable imperfections that are inherent in real materials requires artistic discernment to discover its best, most efficient, beautiful and harmonious use. Machines don't have that.


  1. 31 years ago, as I was graduating from California U (in Pennsylvania), my profs were changing the words "Industrial Arts" to "Industrial Technology" and now it has changed again to "Tech Ed". I had no idea at the time how much my teachers would let me down over the span of my career. Computer assisted machines do have a place in our industrial society, but the fundamentals of working with our hands must be a part of our education way before we start worrying about how computer programs can be used to mass produce products. On the artistic side of it, a painted portrait shows emotion, a photograph shows exact images. I prefer emotion......

  2. For some, the point of journey is to arrive, for others, the point of the journey, is the journey. I've always favored teh journey ;)

  3. What to call what we do has always been a matter for discussion. Francis Bacon was the first to name "the Manual arts." I think there is a clarity that can come from getting at the right name. And I think the decline in the manual arts is largely due to loss of clear mission. Are we to be raising a new generation of unskilled manufacturing laborers for industry, or do we follow the sloyd idea realizing that the hands and brain working together enhances both? On the subject of portraits and photographs, I have seen both on occasion devoid of emotional content.

    I think what Steve says about the journey is important. Art isn't the finished product but the process, and oil painting can be an exercise of incredible growth, and photography can be its equal. Either can be mindful or mindless, and it is the presence of human spirit and care that invests artifact with greater meaning.

  4. Anonymous6:41 AM

    I hope I'm never reduced to watching a machine do my work. I agree that there's a place for machines, like my router table and so on, but the joy of making something isn't there when CNC rules.


  5. Wow, how we are confusing tools with art. I've seen incredible structures (2009 temple at burning man) made from CNC routers. the tool allowed for the art to be created. Photoshop can create images that are as emotional and inspiring as acrylic paint. A band saw is not guilty of degrading art otherwise performed by hand. You sound like stonemasons rioting over the invention of bricks. I think the issue at hand is the uninspiring world where we don't create, we merely consume. (There are even tools to aid us in consuming more, I'm looking at you DVR).

    In short, it's the environment, not the tools. (We're doing incredible things with our Shopbot that could never have been created with other tools)

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  7. David, I agree that the Shopbot can be a useful tool, just as the computer is a useful tool. Things can be done with it that couldn't be done without it? I would suggest that what you might mean is that "you" can do things with it that "you" could not do without it. A trip to a museum will illustrate all kinds of things that were actually done with skill and expertise that can no longer be comprehended without imagining the gods at work. The ancient world is full of such things. Like the stone walls of Cuzco in which the smallest paper cannot be fit between stones of enormous size.

    My point was that there are values in mindful craftsmanship that one can compare favorably to the boredom that you witness in one waiting for the mechanized tool to do its labors.

    Much of the purpose of mechanization is to remove the necessity of skill, but humans in all kinds of occupations need to develop skills. Expression of skill can be what brings us to have regard for ourselves and each other.