Arts and Crafts

Ever since the advent of factories and mass production sensitive souls have been alert to the soullessness of things mass-made by machine. On one level there have been clear advantages, and some of life’s essentials became more accessible to the poorer levels of society, and their quality of life was raised accordingly. Mass-produced electrical appliances of reasonable cost, or better, have been a boon to man.

However, since some things can be mass produced by machines does not mean everything should be mass produced. Babies can be thrown out with the bath water. Industry has dealt a grievous blow to artistry and craft, but not, thankfully, a mortal blow…yet. Everyone should have something handmade in their lives, something thereby unique, fashioned directly by human skill and taste. A mass-produced paperback book can be a grand thing if it brings superior content to the masses; but no mass-produced paperback can compare with a hand-bound book—the feel of it, the smell of it, the skill of it. A small Ikea self-assembled bookcase is a grand thing for those with little money to spare (and at least some human input is required in assembling the mass-produced components); but a small bookcase built by a carpenter, or even a woodwork pupil at school, is in so many ways far superior for being truly the work of human hands.

Mass-production machines are themselves the fruit of and testimony to the God-given genius of man. Yet when they lead to the loss of craft skills and the consequent increase in the expense of things handmade by a dwindling number of craftsmen (and women of course) then we all lose. Something of the soul of the maker is to be found in the work of his own hands, just as the Spirit of God is to be found in the human product of divine hands. Every home needs something handmade in it so that the souls who dwell therein can find something familiar and delightful to them. As children need fresh air so does the soul need contact with things made by the hands of the soul-full. They nourish us somehow.

It is a tragedy that now only the well-to-do can afford all but a few handmade things. The craftsman, or woman, has to live, of course. Still, if everyone bought one handmade thing—a bookcase, a chair, a table, a book—then the crafters could live while charging much less. Handmade things should be the badge of humanity not of wealth.

In 1940 I wrote some notes under the heading “On the Present Discontent”, as follows:

Snobbery separated Fine Art from Craft, and humility must join them up again.

For we are full of second and third rate artists, and craftsmanship decays.

If we were condemned to live entirely by machine-made articles, I think we should go mad. We are going mad, and the restlessness we deplore is a symptom, and is due in great part to lack of craftsmanship.

We are full of bad artists talking bamboozlement about Art, and we have not half enough craftsmen.

A Month of Sundays, p.159

Would it not be grand if our young people did not feel they had to attend university in order to make a living in this world, but rather could take up a craft or trade by which they could live well working with their own hands and exercising their taste and aesthetic sense, and thus offer some soul-made things to comfort a soulless, and thus miserable, world.

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