Having taken a back seat in the past century to mass manufacture and store fronts, personal craft is staging a comeback, celebrated today in hackerspaces and gatherings across the country.
Often referred to as "making," there is something profoundly invigorating about creating unique and functional objects with one's imagination, skill and resources, and making spans the gamut from wearable craft to interactive art to forging to hardcore coding and robotics. I'm a maker.
The artist Mark Shepard's "under(a)ware" wearable tech, for example, might be considered a response to the need for autonomy in an increasingly surveilled world. I'm sure some maker, right now, is working on his or her take on the idea. I know from experience that studio furniture makers build spectacular and technically unmatched functional art. At the recent Ft. Wayne Maker Faire, amateur machinists brought jet turbines, fabricated in miniature.
Making touches on agency and meaning in ways that seem to have gone missing from today's matrixed and Google-optimized popular culture. One is practical, as mentioned. Making also takes time, which everyone seems to crave, but no one appears to have. If you're curious, lingering over a problem - living in the question, as it were - is a pleasure.
On Tuesday I walked into my local Starbucks to find a single row of professionals against the back wall, hunched over phones and computers like starlings on a telephone line, talking to clients, cadging what information they could. I am part of this chatter on many days. But the electronica feels much too much like an assembly line. One conversation follows another, follows another, follows another. You get the idea.
In the hands of a maker, a finely tuned chisel or a mason's slick is a far more personal instrument. Having grown up bookish and nebbishy in a family where skilled manual labor paid the bills, I'm thankful now for the time I spent working alongside my father in the cabinet shop - learning to shoot grade on sloping ground - listening again to instructions for making a wall plumb. Thought and finely-wrought things are not only complimentary, but bring a balance to the act of creation. There is vision in seeing the finished product long before it's finished; there is genius in wringing that vision from the materials at hand.
Over time, I've learned that each saw, and each combination of saw and wood species, has a sound all their own, that the hook on a card scraper is all important, that time spent in the presence of objects and the physical world, brings not only the relief of finishing well, but a clarity to the thinking along the way. I like these instruments because their magic is different, because I never worry that I've said too much, or not enough, or not enough of the right things. I'm glad for that. Unlike the eyes and ears, the maker's shoulder, arms and hands - they're never fooled. Do you understand that? Do you realize that we all know more than we can tell?