[Smashy the Hammer] [An Aspiring Luddite]
I carry no phone
An aspiring Luddite
In a wired world.
[Jeff Berry]
Jeff Berry is an early adopter of the Internet and the Web, a late adopter of Twitter, and declines to adopt Facebook. With the death of Google+, he's experimenting with federated platforms. He admins a medievalist Mastodon instance, and can found on the PlusPora diaspora pod. He hates cell-phones.

Arts and Crafts
2 April 2013

Arts and Crafts, or for those of you in certain segments of the reenactment community, Arts and Sciences, are terms which admit some interesting and somewhat problematical interpretations. First, they are attempting to be inclusive, but by the mere fact of their construction they are divisive and exclusionary.

In addition, although it was probably not the intent, there is an implied hierarchy. In short, "Crafts," or at least "Craftsmanship" doesn't get the respect it deserves. We praise "artists" and are somewhat dismissive of "craftsmen," and that's a pity because to be a truly great artist, one must also be a craftsman. (I should note at this juncture, that I am using craftsmen in a gender-neutral sense.) La Gioconda may be claimed by many as the greatest painting in the world and as great art, but it wouldn't be if Leonardo didn't know how to put oil on canvas.

I wonder how much of that false dichotomy is rooted in the idea of exceptionalism. We seem to think that craftsmanship is just a question of practice, of rote learning, of hard work. Artistry, on the other hand, is a magical gift that just happens! It's easy and requires no real effort. It also requires no proof. I can't simply say, "Look, I'm a blacksmith now!" and deal with people who ask me if I can make a horseshoe by saying, "You don't understand my blacksmithing." I don't think I need to do the word replacement in the previous sentence to make my point.

This myth is encouraged by the way we look at and idolize three high-profile, celebrated activities: acting, singing and writing. All three activities, when executed well, look easy. I mean, really, you stand up on stage and talk, or talk on pitch and in time, or sit down and throw some words onto paper or magnetically stabilized electrons. It's not that easy, though. We like the fairy tale of some downtrodden or underprivileged person being suddenly raised to the heights of success, or achieving success. What we don't see in the myth, is the hard work and practice that went into making it look easy. We don't want to see the hard work because then we might have to consider working hard ourselves. And that's hard. We don't have American Idol style shows for, say, guitar players, because we can't identify as easily with a guitar player as with a singer. It's obvious that you can't just jump on stage and play guitar brilliantly, but all evidence to the contrary, we like to believe that we could just leap on stage and sing like an angel.

So we lack appreciation for craftsmanship. Partly, I think, that's because, like the activities mentioned above, good craftsmanship disappears. It serves to support the product in a way that makes it almost invisible. Good writing takes your breath away and you think it's just the story or the emotion, and you forget that it's the words that delivered it to you. You look at La Gioconda and see the famous smile, but not the brushstrokes. You watch a movie and praise the dialogue, but not the sound editing that brings it to your ears in just the right way.

Of course, some people do look at the words or brushstrokes or pay attention to the sound editing. Some people do admire the craft, as anyone who has ever watched a movie with actors and film-makers can attest. Which brings me around to my three favorite movies.

My three favorite movies are, and for about thirty years now have been All That Jazz, This Is Spinal Tap, and Radioactive Dreams. A case can be made that the first two are pretty good films. I make no such claim for the third. It's not a great movie. It's still one of my favorites. And that's OK.

While Radioactive Dreams may not be a great movie, it does display a high level of craftsmanship. It was made by people who understand the way that movies are made. The way that shots are set up, the transitions, the lighting and the sound, are all excellent. The sound editing in particular is spectacular. (I like the content as well, which is a matter of personal taste.)

So, go see if you can find Radioactive Dreams and as you're watching it, pay attention to the sound editing. Or the next time you're watching a movie or something on tv, and there's a mirror in the shot, consider the effort it took to make sure that the mirror didn't reveal something it shouldn't. Or when you read something that makes you go "wow," go back and look at what the writer did to elicit that reaction.

Or just go and find a nice loaf of artisanal bread and ask yourself as you eat it, "Is this art or craft?"

© 2013 Jeff Berry
The Aspiring Luddite