Importance of Making

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As a metalsmith and teacher transforming a college jewelry/metals program into one that embraces new technology, I am ‘struck’ with the nagging question: What do we give up when we stop making by hand?  There are, after all, no free lunches in the universe.  When you gain something (evolution, technology, etc.) you have to give something up.  The last time this 7000 year old field had a big change was at the turn of the last century with the industrial revolution.  Called Arts & Crafts in Britain and America with C.R. Ashbee and William Morris as the philosophical leaders and Art Nouveau (France), Jugendstil (Germany), and Secessionist movement (Vienna) the hand making of objects was deemed important enough to fight for it. Would this happen again? Could this happen again? What is the effect on the consumer when they no longer wear jewelry or hold objects that were touched by another human?  Am I just stuck in my unchangeable analogue brain complaining about kids walking on my grass?

Those of us who are makers can already feel what we may be giving up.  Working with the material is a relationship of give and take with the art dictating the next unplanned move.  Can this happen when you are designing on a screen? I’ve gone back to cold forging spoons in my attempt to think – I always think better while I am making.  As I hammer,  I run my fingers over the surface of the silver.  I am struck with the pure simplicity of moving an alloy of two elements (AG + Cu) with just a hammer and an anvil.  I think about those before me who knew the craft much better than I. I think about Grant Wood’s failure at being a metalsmith in Chicago and changing to painting winning the prize for “American Gothic” which is the pride of the Art Institute of Chicago is in fact a painting.

Currently, I am reading Making by Tim Ingold. It is where I have started my quest to find out what are other important questions to ask. Coming from the anthropological side, he is more or less scolding his field for being overly concerned with the finished product and not being concerned with “creativity of the productive processes that bring artifacts themselves into being”. I’m on page 28 but it is giving me something to think about while making.

And by the way, I have no idea why the guy in the blue shirt labeled “e” is hammering a piece of silver so hard like he is driving a railroad spike!  Is he chopping another stump behind the guy who appears to be swaging? or maybe that guy is stretching with the wrong hammer? So curious!

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