Post-Industrial Craftsmanship

mountainbanoMany years ago I was playing a friends homemade fretless banjo and a young boy who was listening asked if I could also play a “real” banjo.

I told him that the banjo I was playing was real and if it wasn’t how could I possibly be playing it?

His response was something like “You know what I mean.”

And I did know what he meant. And I was fascinated. And I was a little horrified…

His choice of words, “Can your play a real banjo” implied that an object that is obviously homemade and lacking the slick and shiny look of something manufactured was not actually real to him.

And I don’t think he is alone in these thoughts.

Since the industrial revolution most people in the developed world expect objects to be perfect in appearance and forproductionbelt multiple copies of an object to be identical to each other.

This is a great idea for electronics, machine parts, light bulbs, etc. It is questionable if this rule applies to art and instruments.

Craftsmanship includes an appreciation of precision and perfection yet there is breathing room in the final result for the touches that come as a result of being made by a human being. Materials, especially organic materials like wood, stone and fiber will inherently have subtle or strikingly different characteristics as well.

The subtle variations and imperfections of craftsmanship are what make an item unique. This is, in my opinion, is both positive and desirable.

Please understand that “subtle variations and imperfections” are not to be confused with” major flaws and lousy workmanship.”

So what is a craftsperson to do?

It is my opinion that a craftsperson should create the finest and most satisfying work they can to meet their own standards of excellence.

An occasional item that satisfies the craftsperson’s criteria for excellence may be viewed as slightly defective by someone else.

So it goes.

There will always be people who appreciate the unique qualities of hand work.

For those who don’t there is always a factory willing to make the same item again and again and again.

2 thoughts on “Post-Industrial Craftsmanship

  1. Had you pulled out your hand-made version of a Gibson Mastertone, I suspect the kid would have said, “Now that’s a real banjo.” Part of this is he doesn’t know there’s more than one kind of banjo. Right? We use generic ketchup in my house and my Dad’s always wondering where the REAL ketchup is. (Heinz) lol

  2. I understand. I make a living also in the hand-created realm.

    When I created a self portrait in 11 colors of yarn, gave up 14 days just to knit (and I’d already spent time graphing out the map/plan, so to speak, plus more time collecting appropriate yarns)… people wanted to know how long it took. If I only knew, and why is that such a repetitive question when it comes to handwork?

    Then I have strangers chasing me down the street wanting to pay me to make a shawl or pair of socks for them. They would like to offer me the large sum of $20 which I realize is more than most commercial socks cost.

    I tell them that good sock yarn starts at $12 a pair, and then I need to start knitting. There are perhaps 10,000 stitches in a pair of women’s socks. Even if it were only 10 hours to knit that many stitches, and even if I only got paid a dollar an hour, I’m already over their budget. I am sure that a few pairs have taken me over 40 hours, and of course I do not want to be paid below minimum wage.

    When I make polymer-clay coated Art Kazoos, grandparents are surprised they cost more than a few dollars because they see them as toys. However, musicians consider $45 a really good deal for a handmade instrument.

    Brian bought a kazoo from me a year before we started dating. We’ve been married 11 years. He still values my handmade works… including the socks I knit for him happily. He shows them off whenever he can.


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