Shop Craft as Soul Craft.

May 15, 2011
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SHOP CRAFT AS SOUL CRAFT; An inquiry into the value of work.
By Matthew Crawford.

I came across this book reviewed by the Guardian, while at first put off by its flaky title, its named more practically in the U.K as “The case for working with your hands; Or why office work is bad for us and fixing things feels good”. I found it to have some interesting insights into the process of craft and the difficulties and joys of trying to make your living from it.
The author writes from a polemic point of view drawing from his personal experiences working as a motorcycle mechanic while also relating it to the crafts in general. One of the main points he makes is that “global Capitalism” has generated in us “a capacity to surrender…to give up possession of an established reality”. This leaves us adrift in the face of advertising and marketing. Craft he argues “issues from the logic of things rather than the art of persuasion” and can offer some defense by allowing us to “think materially about material goods”.
Global capitalism does offer endless products that have little connection on a material level but are experienced though a back story or ‘spin’. This also relates to issues such as sustainability and the environment where we are faced with pressure to buy and consume things that don’t necessarily relate to ideas of quality and durability leading to more and more resource extraction and waste. You could argue that craft as an ethic of awareness of how things are made goes against this as it sees the value inherent in things.
Craft can not exist in a vacuum and finely made things take time, but I try to incorporate these ideas into my work, for example by making ‘face-frame kitchens’ where the cabinets are mass produced but the face frame and doors are more craftily built.
I also related to some of Crawfords ideas on “meta-cognition…which is the activity of stepping back and thinking about your own thinking…and understanding of the problem is adequate” he sees this as “a moral capacity… attentive to the possibility that you may be wrong”.
This is true especially in woodwork were you work in the negative you and are taking wood away, measure and cut. And it can be a humbling experience to understand what you thought was right wasn’t and through this process come to an understanding of what awareness is. Crawford writes of the “exhilaration” of this as you understand “the distance between our ordinary dulled consciousness and an apprehension of the real”.