WRITING #4 Product and Process: Crafting the Visible Edge
Last week’s Writing #3 conveyed Lincoln Junior High’s eye-opening endeavors of making. Naturally, West High School turned it up a notch; make stuff, yes, but make it well. Mr. Brudwick, West’s Woodshop teacher, was a kind and gentle soul, but hardly a pushover. His keen eye, sensitivity and respect for material and process left a lasting impact on my making methodology. Pre -This Old House, Mr. Brudwick professed the PBS rock-star Norm Abram approach, “measure twice, cut once and nothing is more important than safety glasses”. (check out “Clever” Design Podcast with Norm, its outstanding) This patient teaching philosophy is what the monastics refer to as the long-view. That can be a challenge in a jet speed, git-r-dun now arena of instant accolades, and the thumbs-up drug of validation. Long-view projects have criteria and deadlines, but nothing left the shop unless it was well-crafted. If that meant going back to re-join a connection, or pound through another round of surface sanding, you did it. No sloppy, “good enough” attitudes were allowed. Any approvals from the masses had to wait. This fostered a community respect for West High’s Shop. If a project left his building, you got a thumbs-up because it was thoughtfully crafted with care.
“Craftsmanship means dwelling on a task for a long time and going deeply into it, because you want to get it right.” ― Matthew Crawford, Shop Class as Soul Craft; An Inquiry into the Value of Work
The shop classes were in the Annex, across the parking lot from the Main Building; large industrial spaces for auto mechanics, drafting, metals and wood shop. For some, this 5-minute free stroll between buildings made it convenient to sneak in a smoke break before entering the Annex. Wood Shop was 6th period and Humanities was 7th. While I loved the 6th period sounds and smells of tools manipulating hardwood, I equally looked forward to blowing the sawdust out of my hair, and running back to the Main Building for one of Mr. Wilchen’s engaging 7th hour seminars on George Orwell’s Animal Farm or Michelangelo’s marble Pieta. The college-bound kids enrolled in Humanities, but few took Shop. Counselors steered them toward British Lit and Advanced Trigonometry. I straddled the line. My best friends were preparing for academia and the boys in shop class were destined for the trades. Do I apply to tech school or university? The Annex trained us to construct level and plumb, but Main Building reading and writing encouraged me to think about the intangible “it” in the work. What meaning did these skills and products produce? My ego was in the pure plastic product, but my muse was a spiritual explorer of experimentation and process.
“I am not a thing (noun) I am a verb, an evolutionary process an intregal function of the universe”, -Buckminster Fuller
By senior year I started to connect the dots. The long-view also embraces process. As creatives, our lab experiments are essential visions to share with the world; it’s a contribution to progressive culture. Once our personal mark-making hits the stage, those authentic thumb prints of integrity- chisel and brush, or piano solo and poem are subject to critical eyes. Only then, can reflection and self-examination allow us to push back on ourselves, go back to our laboratories, (not factories) of studios, writing desks or rehearsal halls and do it all again, even better. A well-crafted work pays compliment to the material, manuscript or record album. It’s the visible edge of your creative content. But the art is also in the process; the groping, the sketches, the sandbox play, and peripatetic roaming where translating intangible stories of joy and pain takes tangible form.
I defer to a profound summary articulated by Sculptor Don Potts, a famed Northern California Funk Movement artist “…art is the by-product in the evolution of an individual at given place and time, and when that emphasis shifts to product, then you are talking about something called craft.”