On craftsmanship
The Blog of Nathan D. Smith

Pre-industrial objects have a particular beauty that still carries the mark of the maker. I am especially drawn to methodical work that requires a lot of concentration. I find inspiration in the rhythm and repetition of the movements. There is this sense of ongoing drudgery that lends itself to introspection. I'm interested in the collective separation that keeps a room full of busy people divide. The fact that the body can be employed, but not necessarily the mind.

~ Amy Cutler, in "A Conversation with Amy Cutler", by Aimee Bender, in Tin House No. 50, p. 158.

I think Cutler is suggestion that hand-made objects confer a double benefit: first, they are beautiful; second, the act of crafting them frees the mind of the maker for other thoughts. "Beauty" is not typically assumed to be the result of drudgery, but I think there is wisdom in Cutler's point here. Surely some of the best of what we appreciate from earlier times, from the charm of wooden toys to the steady quality of good brickwork, have been produced not in creative ecstasy but in the consistency of hard work.

I found myself pondering the nature of such adornment while visiting the Arlene Schnitzer concert hall in Portland. All of the interiors are embellished with hand-crafted designs. Even the drinking fountains are classy. Beyond the beauty of the expression, I was impressed by the fact that such craftsmanship is simply impossible in modern building. It is not just because they styles currently favor clean lines of brick, glass, steel, and stone. It is because the time and expense of building with care is simply inconceivable in our present society.

For the same reason the symphony itself, which finds its home in the concert hall, is somewhat incredible in that it operates in the here and now, in spite of requiring the same large scale of artist care. The orchestra has many players, and is terribly expensive to convene. The amount of practice needed to master music epitomizes drudge work. You play the scales and arpeggios over and over. You work and work and work a line until you can play it backwards. You memorize huge passages of music.

The symphony is handmade and pre-industrial. It has a beauty in its product which is rarely surpassed in our present cultural climate. The music is like the building itself, or well-made crafts, an expression of excellence and quality. It is an aspect of the good in our lives.

So I am feeling inspired to find such a place in life to master. There is drudgery and hard work, but out of that can come something beneficial. And in the course of making it I may have my mind freed for introspection, and perhaps I'll discover something new.

Date: 2012-01-17 21:38