A Lost Art

In his book, Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman, Peter Korn talks about woodworking (furniture making more specifically) as, “a lost art from a more authentic time,” saying that craftsmanship is a spiritual, emotional, and physical process. He even goes so far as to call craft, “antidotes to the spiritual deficiencies of modern life.”

I’ve reviewed the book in another blog post, and I agree with Korn that practicing a craft is transcendent in a way. There is a spiritual element to creating something beautiful and useful from a stack of wood. There is an emotional element in the creation process – often the emotion of frustration when the planer jams. And there is obviously a physical element to woodworking because the object doesn’t simply materialize out of thin air. Korn is right – craftsmanship is spiritual, emotional, and physical.  

Korn also notes that craft is, “knowledge gained through experience…passed on by example and explanation.” I’d agree with this too – even if the example and explanation come from a book or a YouTube video. The only true way to learn something (AFTER you’ve had the explanation and example) is to do it yourself. Over and over and over again until you get it right.

I’m currently teaching my 7-year-old how to crack an egg for baking. Is cracking an egg craft? Probably not. But perfecting that Christmas cookie recipe is! So my 7-year-old is learning through my example, through my explanation, and through his own trials (over and over and over again) how to crack an egg.

I’d like to add to Korn’s definition of craft as knowledge gained through experience and passed on by example and explanation – any definition of craft also needs to include desire and fun. No one is going to engage in the act of learning a craft if they don’t think it’s fun and they don’t have the desire to actually learn the craft. My other child, a 9-year-old, has no desire at all to learn how to bake, let alone crack an egg. Maybe he will later in life, but if I were to force him to learn to crack an egg and bake the Christmas cookies now, I would argue that he is not learning the craft but is merely following directions. 

As for the “craft” of the Christmas cookie recipe, let’s just say that I am still perfecting that one myself! Even as I pass down the craft to my child.


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