HANDICAFT - THE MAGIC OF MANUAL WORK
action purifies the mind and prepares it for spiritual knowledge. Baba
The economic system based on growth of production and consumption of goods requires individuals that don’t know how to do anything. It must ensure that we lose the know-how that for millennia has enabled human beings to produce many goods essential for their survival on their own. So that this loss is not seen as cultural impoverishment, know-how must be removed from the sphere of knowledge and considered an inferior form of human action. A fundamental role in this operation has been played by schools where manual activities have gradually been removed from the curriculum. Modern art, on its part, sees trade apprenticeship, knowledge of technology and materials, perfecting of manual skills under the guide of a maestro as obstacles to free flowing creativity. Modernity has tended to compare what is made by machines to what is “handmade”, enhancing the former and standardisation, while despising any irregularity or difference in a product that might reveal manual intervention. Craftsmanship has been given a melancholy vision, a romantic image, the surviving anomaly of a distant age that is decidedly over.
Now we realise that “The youth of today is bored with work. The carpenter used to take delivery of planks of timber from the sawmill in the middle of the wood and, after leaving them to age at length and depending on his orders, he would use this treasure to make stools, tables or doors as per his orders. Thirty years later, he receives manufactured windows from a factory that he installs in huge buildings with standardized openings. He is bored.” ( Michel Serres from “Petite Poucette”). The truth is that artisan work is the only antidote to the alienation produced by the repetitiveness of the machine and the parcelling up of industrial manufacture, which by dividing tasks to lower costs, deprives workers of the joy of following through production of an artefact from its conception to completion. And “the art of know-how and know-how with art is quite rightly reinstated, knowing how to do things well for personal pleasure, passion and care in what we do, the dialogue between concrete practices and thinking; the craftsman cares about doing a good job for its own sake, the more a person draws on technology the more he will obtain the emotional reward of the craftsman: pride in his work.
An American philosopher also theorises that manual work is the “medicine of the soul”: the Homo Faber of the third millennium is free from the alienation of the working class, his ideal is modern craftsmanship, which controls all the construction stages of an object and reinstates the concept of a job well done for the simple pleasure of doing it well: only this impartial commitment gives meaning to life. (Matthew Crawford “Shop Class as Soul Craft”).
But there is also the magical aspect of manual manufacture: the ability to create something real from nothing. Which does not just mean the skill in using our hands, tools, control of techniques, but above all the confirmation of the possibility of thinking and manifesting in a real physical shape something that did not exist beforehand, revealing the huge potential that brings it close to the divine. This is a marvellous dimension, an ‘initiation’ experience that only creative work offers, contributing to the spiritual elevation of the human being.