ON CRAFT AND MEANING

THE WORK COUNTS

October 1, 2014

By: Brandon McNeely

Craftsmanship; immediately the word evokes value — you can be assured of a quality worth appreciating, nudging us to be passed on. It's built on a blend of attention and time along with acquired skill, all directed by personal vision. Those are the tools in our red metal toolbox, mise en place. More than the sum of those powerful elements, craftsmanship is an end in itself. It adds value where there was none before, its accompanied by a sense of accomplishment, and is built on pillars of happiness. It's the soul of work.

With careful thought and execution, time to breathe - vital white space - a few initial leaps and countless, invisible refinements (like donations made in secret), form is taken. Templates set in place by previous craftspeople are utilized to reach the vision that's been sketched out. Doing, the ever important counter to dreaming is put into motion. Life force is applied, adding a meaning lacking in a product unceremoniously mass-produced. The more hands on the work is, the more the word craft can be claimed. A samurai sword takes shape in the dust-filled light of dusk.

Philadelphia City Hall clock

"There have always been craftsmen and the craftsmen have always been the best men of their time because a handicraft goes at a pace commensurate with the thoughts in a man's head." - Ford Maddox Ford, while visiting Wharton Escherick's studio.

Time's Mark

There's an organic, natural essence to everything that's made over a period of time, chiseled by the days and their pacing. It compares to our own human evolution, DNA passed down over generations, lives being lived out with their indelible stamps on the overall course of their lineage, reaching you, right now, melding shapes of letters together to form meaning. On a shorter scale, time mixes with currents in the sea, winds, and countless weather patterns to create driftwood. Would it be the same if it all took place in a few caffeinated years, shortcuts and mindless leaps abound?

Time may be the most misused tool of our modern over-packed days — a finite brush each of us is given and then mash down unscrupulously — bristles flattened, devoid of shape, aiming to focus on everything or the next thing and therefore nothing at all. The white space sculpts our projects, a temporal breathing, allowing our thoughts to bounce off each other as well as our environment to mature, lending an organic pacing, stripping away the unnecessary; a back and forth dialogue between adding and subtracting, with the essential slowly revealing and coming into form. Time shapes vision, allowing something that is seen only as a blur in the distance to become detailed and clear, mirroring our inner world. Cultivating positive, eliminating negative. A discipline of mind essential to happiness.

Chopping wood with an axe

Forged Conduit

In creation via the highest levels of craft — a wooden dresser, for instance — the vision, the self-restraint, the care and follow-through, all work in concert to form something uniquely human, maybe personal, and its that cumulative molten alchemy that is rightly valued over a factory-made chair (useful and functional as they both are - the function is not the only end). It establishes a material intimacy. The care that goes in, is reflected back out. "It just needs a little love," ala Charlie Brown, "Cookies need love, like everything does," as warmly offered by the Matrix's Oracle.

The path to happiness is paved with craftsmanship. The Dalai Lama states that both compassion and self-discipline are essential to lasting happiness, both qualities essential to well-executed craft. The work's creator may envision someone, or a string of end users who will be putting the end product to use. The user or admirer is instantly reminded of the care that went into making it, perceiving the tiny imperfections as much as the refined details, forming a sort of remote and timeless intimacy or communication. It now has not only a purpose, but story and meaning — like a life well lived.

scaffolding

Little Did he Know...

It may be easy to recognize craft in industries like ceramics or motorcycle repair, but what about the design services industry we work in? Varied levels of craft can be added just about anywhere, including the current digital landscape. A curated release of the shutter; organized, commented code, stripped of the unnecessary that can easily be picked up by another; a website design that fully considers the best experience for the end user; an illustration with life hewn into it's line quality; writing that is pored over until it's essential; a restaurant menu that's been worked and re-worked twenty times until it's just right.

anonymous fountain

THE ONLY THING WORTH DOING IS EVERYTHING WORTH DOING

In the crafted project, meaning is created where none existed before, through principled, deliberate, human action - what else could you want to squeeze from your daily actions? You've got virtue in action. An integrity of spirit.

David Foster Wallace calls it freedom.

"The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom."

Sharpen your tools.


How about a visit to Liquified Design.

A back and forth dialogue between adding and subtracting, the essential slowly revealing and coming into form.
…the vision, the self-restraint, the care and follow-through, all work in concert to form something uniquely human