Monday, August 3, 2009


“In the modern era, humanity forfeited its laboriously acquired traditions of craftsmanship [examples: craft guilds, illuminated manuscripts, hand carved furniture, elaborate architectural detail, weaving, embroidery, mosaic murals and decoration, glassblowing etc…]which represented the acquisition of culture as a second nature.  In the process of modernity, we first became denatured, cut off from our original relatedness to the natural world, and then decultured, amputated from the skills and artifacts we had created in place of nature.  What counts now are the valueless facts, the material and the rational.  All else is regarded with condescension as being of only sentimental value.  With the rise of the bourgeoisie, we attempted to make the private sphere of intimate experience and family life into a new value to replace those we had forfeited.  This has not proved satisfactory.” *


The issues discussed in the above passage, from the writing of Daniel Pinchbeck in his forbidding book 2012, the Return of Quetzalcoatl, are the same kinds of issues I have witnessed but have not been able to assemble a philosophy or a personal statement about.  It is because so many of the important, critical problems and paradoxes of our time have to be viewed in the context of history and evolution, not looked at critically as one would a film or a neat subject to be dissected.  Our culture/craft degradation, especially in the West is easily dismissed and rarely comes up in conversation.  It is only when one is presented with facts and examples that we can see the sadness of it, and the sickness in it.

While we amass newer, faster, more beautiful, more expensive electronic/digital devices and seek out time to use them, we exhaust time which was once spent out of doors, engaged in games and sports, exploration, conversation, social activities and on and on.  I don’t think this is a novel thought in our society. Most educated folks most likely have sensed this, but choose to follow the paths that lead to prosperity.  What is prosperity but the ability to afford products, services, vacations, food, clothing, shelter and entertainment?  While I admit these things appeal to me as well, I cannot help but feel that our necessity of material items is constantly expanding to include the newest technology.  In order to compete with the woman or man next to us we must possess and use our personal computer, cell phone, I pod, Blackberry, I phone and Kindle, which we must fill with music, ringtones, videos, images and stories.  Entertainment is quite important, as to utilize each device we must glean the internet, mall and megastore for that which will fill our itunes accounts, DVRs, cell phones and closet shelves, petroplastic storage containers and injection molded compartments.

In our homes we also strive to outfit our kitchens, dens, bedrooms and garages with shiny new inventions.  A flat screen TV is essential, including the various machines one may attach: Tivo, DVD player, Wii/Playstation.  In order to enjoy the wonders that these machines create, there must also exist a healthy assortment of games, films, and favorite programs scheduled and saved.  The clothes must be bright and crisp and smell of lavender or vanilla. This can be accomplished in short order thanks to our newest high capacity washing machines and dryers, as do our dish washers spit out piping hot, reflective, dry dishes, glassware and knives and forks quickly.  There must be a shelving and sorting machine on the way.

All this must we do in garments befitting the season and trends of the day.  That is why we are spirited catalogues, emails, and text messages which describe the sales we are missing which we best hurry to in our cars or hopefully trucks, as trucks allow for more cargo room.  Once at the strip mall or megastore it is hard to contain ourselves because everything looks so good at H&M.  We can picture ourselves in so much of it.  The Apple Store is winking at us from across the escalator chasm as we hold denim and cotton twill up to our body.  The colors of each new machine are like new young birds that we want to set free by purchasing them and plugging them in.

What is the truth behind this ridiculous example?  Though it may seem like exageration, hundreds of millions of folks think and live just that way.  My family and friends think and live this way.  Want and waste is our way of life. It is encouraged as our economy is dependent on citizens constantly buying, discarding the obsolete and buying newer models.  It is built into the business models of our favorite companies.  What would they sell if folks kept and became attached to their i pod, cell phone or laptop?  It was once expected that expensive objects, and possessions were held onto, polished, kept in wooden cabinets with the family heirlooms, possibly inscribed and passed on to the kids.  We keep our expensive possessions just long enough  to fill up the memory before we trade them in or throw them away. 

This brings us back to craft.  When a skilled tradesperson or artisan works their trade on good materials like wood, glass, clay, ceramic, metal or plant fiber we can appreciate the effort that went into creating a vessel, utensil, machine or piece of furniture.  It is the physical and mental exertion expended, the creative output that is evident in an object of good quality which reminds us that there is value in a trade which has been passed down in families and communities.  It should also remind us that once humans decide to cut off that line, we will lose that beautiful heritage of craft and design  that identifies cultures, communities, nations and eras. 

We can view Apple products as the good design esthetic in business of our generation, much like Braun, Olivetti and ________ designs were the design icons of a past era and generations.  The difference is, while a Braun electric Razor or coffee bean grinder, Olivetti typewriter or ______________ is was used often, cleaned, fixed if need be and stored, a Motorola, AT&T or Nokia cell phone is used for a short period of time and discarded like a disposable razor.  It has become so ludicrous and wasteful that old models are viewed as an embarrassment and something to be ridiculed and laughed at.