Saturday, January 2, 2010

Shop Class as Soulcraft

I just finished reading the book, "Shop Class as Soulcraft," by Matthew B. Crawford. In it, Crawford draws a stark contrast between the supposedly lofty (and economically rewarding) world of abstractions and cubicles and numbers and paperwork, and the supposedly lowbrow (and economically non-viable) world of working with one's hands.

As an artist, I found the book interesting on a whole different level beyond just social/economic discussion. Because one of the great struggles of being a person who makes things is, explaining why you wouldn't want to a) Make lots of money by using computers to do everything and being really efficient and technological and b) Make lots of money by turning everything you do into a "product" as opposed to a work of art. There's a big difference.

Don't get me wrong, I obviously love computers and the interWebs and all that, it lets me connect with other artists and readers and people and that's wonderful.

But the process of creating something, for me, involves paper and pens and pencils (and pencil sharpeners, darn them) and messiness and smearing ink and being outside and carrying my sketchbooks around with me on the train and a whole host of other messy factors. I don't really draw a drawing, I kind of build it. And I suspect a whole lot of other artists are the same way.

Recently I got to hang out with other cartoonists at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, one of whom was Karen Luk. She sat there and worked on a page in watercolor, mixing the paints and layering them onto the paper. Later she said she would take an iron to the paper to flatten it out. It was really tactile, and pretty to watch.

Anyway, Crawford's book is a nice reminder, yet again, that the measure of everything in our society tends to be economic, that our power structure is in fact an economic one, and that this one-dimensional orientation tends to suck out the soul. He really hates liberals and doesn't like conservatives much either. But it's not a screed, and he spends a lot of time just expanding the reader's view of what it is to make something. That's the part I appreciated the most.

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