Home > Crafting > About crafting, empathy and resilience (part I)

About crafting, empathy and resilience (part I)

The Importance of Crafting

For as long as I can remember, I have a great fascination for crafting. Poetry and music are the two crafts in which I am personally involved. But all crafts and all crafters have my sympathy and respect, as there is much more that unites than separates us.

The past year, I have been discussing crafts with a good friend of mine. Rachel Wickert works as a systems thinker, but also set up some funding mechanisms for charities in the UK and USA as part of Minds et Motion’s Spring Funds Initiative (see http://rdwbizz.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/spring-funds-initiative.html). The notions of empathy and resilience are keystones of her work in both roles. And so is art. One feels intuitively that there are important relations between those notions. I hope to clarify them in an upcoming series of blogposts.

Defining Crafting

To begin with, what is it to craft? To craft is to create something beautiful with a certain type of material, according to (or in conscious opposition with) certain rules.

This is quite a broad definition of crafting, and all parts would be served with a further elucidation, but for the moment, this will do. I’ll clarify parts on the go. Let’s start here with ‘the type of material’.

Clearly, the type of material is crucial in distinguishing various crafts. Musicians work with sounds, knitters with wool, writers with language, painters with paint, dancers with the body, cabinetmakers with wood, potters with clay, and so on and so on.

I don’t say this is the only distinguishing factor, but it’s the most important one.

Arts and Crafts

No doubt there are differences between these, and books are written about what they are. Artists are ‘innovative geniuses’, eager to ‘break rules’, and so on. While this might be so, there are much more similarities, and artists are good craftsmen first of all.

The only place where there might be a real wedge is between crafts and conceptual arts. But I won’t go into this distinction here, and I definitely will not plunge into discussions about ‘value’. I simply don’t know conceptual arts well enough to do so.

The Active and the Passive side of crafting

Generally speaking, the crafter has the intention to create something beautiful with a certain type of material. I want to draw attention here to two important elements in this description of a craft.

On the one hand, the crafter has the intention to create something new, which normally requires lots of concentration and effort from his side. On the other hand, the crafter works with a certain type of material, and has no choice but to accept its peculiarities. I call these respectively the active and the passive side of crafting, and they will turn out to be crucial in understanding what crafting means as well as implies.

Who ever has crafted knows that the active side can be either very general or highly specific. For example, one wants to write a poem, or a sonnet about love, or about the love for this or that particular person, etc.

And the passive side has its complexities as well. For one thing, every material resists easy adaptation to one’s wishes. It requires lots of work to try out the material’s latent possibilities. It takes time and patience before the material ‘opens up’ and reveals what can be done; an exacting but fascinating process.

It’s also possible to conceptualise the active versus the passive as ‘doing’ something versus ‘letting it happen’. This frames the passive less as a matter of effort and more as a kind of ‘doodling’. Phenomenologically, this makes sense too. Instead of trying hard all the time, one sometimes simply gives it a go to see what happens.

The active and the passive side are intimately intertwined. Rarely – maybe never – do we have a complete and preset idea about what we are going to make from the start. That idea grows, refines and clarifies itself as we are trying to make it happen.

We will talk time and again about the active and the passive side in upcoming posts and about the importance of an equilibrium between both. I would like to end here with a small video about potter Bernard Leach. It’s beautiful to see, and definitely remember one sentence; ‘the pot has a will of its own’ …

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