The Art of Craftsmanship

Moravian Tile by Henry C. Mercer, 1898

What is craftsmanship? Is it not the taking of basic materials and by the human hand, along with the imagination, intelligence and will, transforming that material into a reflection of  the human spirit? William Morris, the leading figure in the Arts and Crafts movement of England, spent a lifetime reflecting on the nature of one’s relationship to the objects we surround ourselves with. His motto was, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” (Paul Thompson, The Work of William Morris, p.99) This is a stark contrast to materialism, not just because it contains a sense of frugality but more importantly, because it points to the necessary creative investment required by the individual. Although, the selection of  the objects we surround ourselves with is important, it is more crucial that we are  personally invested in them through beauty and usefulness and through this investment allow ourselves to be enriched spiritually.

There is even a greater connection to an object when we create it ourselves. When one crafts things oneself, one is personally and psychically engaged in the labor as well as the creative outcome.  Quality adheres to the object because of this personal bond unlike a ready-made good, which in most cases, loses its value over time. Crafting one’s own things allows us  to create our own myth seeking  symbols that fortify a deep relationship with the world and with others. “But a man at work, making something which he feels will exist because he is working at it, is exercising the energies of his mind and soul as well as his body. Memory and imagination help him.’ This combination of physical exercise with creativity was the key to satisfaction, to fulfillment in self-realization.” (Ibid,p.268)  Whether one is building an English wattle fence around a garden or an Adirondack style trellis reminiscent of  natural forms, one is engaged in the outer world allowing the inner world to flower. And subsequently, the inner world finds its outward expression in the object, shaping it exactly to the form it sees within.

Monet’s garden at Giverny, is his inner life revealed. In the end, Monet no longer traveled in order to paint- his garden sufficed because it was a direct reflection of his psychic state. It became his great contemplation allowing his imagination complete freedom. The garden was a mirror of himself, one reflecting the other and in constant dialogue, a perfect exchange between artist and muse. The lilly pond became the iconographic image of his late work. “Depend upon it, Art, which is the very highest of realities, the explanation of the depth of them, can only be helped by people whose daily life consists in dealing with realities.” (Ibid, p.255)

Create simple things for yourself. Although, it may lack perfection, the object will tell you much about the realities that are present within and without binding us to the world and one another. Morris hoped that mankind would “regain their eyesight, which they have at present lost to a great extent…People have largely ceased to take in mental impressions through the eyes; whereas in past times the eyes were the great feeders of the fancy and imagination.” (Ibid, p.269)

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

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