10/06/2010

The Craft Spirit


Counting blessings is kind of like counting fish, quantity is never really a qualifier when it comes to meaning, expertise, and experience. I feel very lucky to have mingled and worked alongside with the few men and women that have led me down an adventurous and sometimes tumultuous path since I was very young. These were all people that exercised a keen form of restraint when it came to guiding and inspiring me. Using ones hands in a spirited way to make a living in this day and age is fairly daunting and even often forgotten when it comes to present day academia. To pass on craft knowledge it takes a light touch on a young persons heart, it takes accessibility of tools and mediums, and inevitably it takes time, patience, and courage.

Using ones hands is a kind of flattery to the Gods, by this I mean we are all gifted with opposable thumbs, a sense of reason and causality, and the ability to creatively visualize something before it actually comes to fruition. If we choose to experience these traits and put them in action, we need surround ourselves with others that inspire us on a deeper level so we can further ignite an insatiable desire to use our hands in a spirited way. The very act of doing and making is exponentially becoming an extinct ritual, ethos, and requisite in our educational institutions.

The art of doing and making be it a yo-yo, guitar, a braided leader, a landscape painting, a leather bag, a gunstock, or even a bamboo fly rod can be done with such tenacity and drive that irregardless of what it is, it delivers a powerful message. Defining characteristics between art and craft is much like comparing the intellects of dolphins to primates, it’s a slippery slope. A much debated topic among gunsmiths, painters, potters, leathersmiths, graphic designers, bow and arrow makers, blacksmiths, and yes even bamboo rod makers. The divisions between “art” and “craft” occurred after the Renaissance Period and well into the 19th century. Unfortunately they are most embraced currently in western culture.

“Art” from the Renaissance to modern day has been described as a free and unadulterated activity, and unique with no restraint which grants it with an obscure soul. “Craft” has been evaluated as a very physical realm, functional, traditional, repetitive, and a much more constrained activity.

This description has granted “craft” a lower status not only from the 1400’s to the 1600’s but to present day in western culture. Yet in Asian culture exists the notion that the “crafts” actually keep the culture, spiritual and otherwise, in tact thus making craft a constant priority and of utmost importance. Crafts are treated more as ritual that exercise our sense of meaning, existence, and spirituality. I repeatedly understood this craft spirit growing up in Hawaii in a primarily Asian world. I was exposed to the meaning of the Shoji screen, the landscape paintings licked with the sumi-e brush, and even the often violent but lesson filled Japanese story telling. Distinctions between “art” and “craft” and even the chosen mediums were much more abstract in my upbringing.

Using our hands in a spirited way ultimately should be a non judgmental or highly categorized activity. Today we are surrounded by outstanding craftsmen and women thoughtfully and tenaciously moving forward with great momentum in pursuit of their given calling. Tomorrow we can only hope they inspire others to grow the craft forward. I have earned a wage for most of my life using my hands and will continue to do so. The most meaningful way I can live my life is to be a “spirited craftsman”, call it what you will, I am driven by the insatiable need to make something from nothing and then do it again and again. A simple mantra, for a passionate existence. It is meant to be a giving existence. I can only hope to help pass it on to the next generation and then some.
~Clint Bova