Thursday, July 23, 2009

Trying to Express Making

I went to the Renegade Craft Fair in San Francisco last Sunday. It was a fascinating event. The throngs of consumers, of which I was a part, examining and buying from the booths of ostentatiously handmade, but often simply seller designed, wares was eye opening. First off, there was nothing 'renegade' about this event. (Renegade meaning a person who abandons their religion or principles.) There was an overwhelming abundance of cute ideas repeated ad nauseam until I thought I would have to set fire to the next flirty pop-culture reference t-shirt I saw. There were also a number of genuine artisans there who were selling great works. If I was really together I would publish some highlights. If folks actually care enough about my opinion to ask, I just might. It was a pretty mixed bag, but I was astounded by the amount of traction that some of these salespeople got for nothing more than cute designs. (Yes, a t-shirt you can write on with chalk is pretty cool, but how far do you expect to go on a one trick pony? - And, more to the point, how far will the public follow a one trick pony before they realize they've seen that one before!?) One more reason why I don't hold out much faith in humanity.

The Renegade Craft Fair, and indeed the entire Crafter/Maker/DIY community (I recognize I'm making a horrible overgeneralization. Deal with it.) challenges my ideas of what I'm doing here, particularly my very conscious decision not to try to integrate into one of the many DIY/Maker/Crafter communities out there. I see many examples of what I might consider Making, but not labeled as such by the creators. (Well, naturally, this is language basically nobody else uses.) Yet Making is more than at tool for separating the cute but stupid gimmicks from the work which is truly beautiful and useful.

The copout here is to call Making a "Design and Production Philosophy." This would be easy, and I could delineate many ways in which Making can be differentiated from other forms of creating. I don't need the exercise in ego gratification and I don't need to justify myself to whoever reads this blog. It might even be true to consider Making a kind of philosophy, but it allows, or even encourages, the positioning of Making in the familiar, and overused, realm of intellectuality (different from 'intellectualism' which is not only overused but becoming perverse). As a trained academic, having an intellectually defensible position is important to me. However, the intellect is not the only important tool in the pursuit of knowledge and truth. (Never mind hundreds of years of Western philosophy.)

When I am Making, the decisions and calculations that happen are not intellectual, indeed are hardly conscious. I work to tease out those decisions and the process of making them when I write here, yet the act of Making has almost nothing to do with conscious, intellect based thoughts. Though, in all fairness to my mind, once I decide what to do there is sometimes a fair amount of thought put into how to do it. This isn't the intellect deciding how to build a chair as much as it is the intellect evaluating which glues will hold the wood best after the proverbial gut has decided the design of the cain. Nevertheless, as my sainted grandfather told me, and my father has reminded me time and time again, people can rationalize anything. That is how this writing is made, as much as anything else, it is a process of rationalizing what were almost entirely irrational (here meaning without reasoning) decisions. Yet that need not imply nonsensical. Simply because my intellect was not crucial to my decision making does not mean that it was a poor decision (again, disregard popular Western epistemological beliefs).

The point here is two fold. First, Making, unlike much other work (at least, in my experience), is informed by, not lead by the mind. Second, and less obvious, is that any philosophy of Making will happen in exactly the same way that Making happens. It will emerge as if (or, for the mystic in me, literally) by divine intervention, may require some translation into what can be done, expressed and shared, but will emerge when ready. The language available to talk about our non-intellect based knowledge is impoverished. I am not sure that I do my thesis justice here.

Nevertheless, that struggle is very much of the purpose of this blog. To explore these ideas and present these thoughts as part of the process of Making an expressible understanding of Making.


  1. In response to craftspeople whose work appears trivialized, I wonder… When what began as a divine gift becomes one's livelihood, does it drain away the power of the making? Would the magic of creation remain if it were commanded and mass reproduced on a schedule? Or is making a purely non-commercial act?

    For me, writing is my craft, my joy… essential as breathing. Yet I do not purport to slavishly follow all grammar's rules and conventions. Words are the vehicle to memorialize all that occurs outside time. As in your description of creation with assistance from thought, there are times when I am unsure if I am simply the vessel through which the words that need to be written pass, or whether in some unconscious way I do more than shape their passage? Either way there is a touch of something 'other', something magical that brings the creation out of the realm of the mundane.

  2. Kes, That's an interesting point, about commercialization draining necessary inspiration. Perhaps it is true that Making relies on non-commercialization, but the great artists of history all sold their work. The Sistine Chapel was commissioned. I have trouble thinking that commercializing art/craft/Making would necessarily sap the life from it.

    Your description of your writing is magnificent. Though, in my own work, I do not see "a touch of something 'other', something magical." I see real and meaningful aspects of myself assert themselves and provide inspiration my intellectual mind never could. I am not a vessel for some external creative input but rather a varied and multifaceted creator in my own right.