Friday, August 28, 2009

Six By Two by Soulcraft

The best book I read this summer was Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft, written by a former technical writer and think-tank participant who decided to leave the groves of academe for the more soul-satisfying surroundings of the motorcycle shop.

He makes a thoughtful and well-grounded case for engaging ourselves, and our students, in physical work as well as the more abstract ideational and social competencies that are now broadly endorsed as “21st Century Skills.”

He argues that one of the benefits of engagement with the real world of material objects is that it is both educative and chastening; by way of illustration, he says, “The musicians power of expression is founded upon a prior obedience; her musical agency is built up from on ongoing submission… to the mechanical realities of her instrument… I believe the example of the musician sheds light on the basic character of human agency, namely, that it arises only within concrete limits which are not of our own making.”

He points out that the hard-edged realities of the physical world demand of the craftsman, “a certain disposition toward the thing you are trying to fix. This disposition is at once cognitive and moral. Getting it right demands that you be attentive in the way of a conversation rather than assertive in the way of a demonstration. I believe the mechanical arts have a special significance for our time because they cultivate not creativity, but the less glamorous virtue of attentiveness. Things need fixing and tending to no less than creating.”

The book is thought-provoking, good-humored, erudite, and very well written. If you’re interested in a taste, there’s an article by Crawford derived from the book here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Six Sentences

Stumbled upon a web site devoted to Six Sentence Stories today. After a long spell in which everything I thought about writing looked either too big to attempt or too small to matter, six sentences seems like just enough to bite off and chew. So by way of working myself back into writing shape, and by way of celebrating day one of the new school year, here's one for today:

I’m becoming better at reading the tea leaves. That little cluster over there, for example, looks a lot like the knot that Aristotle refers to when he says, in his Metaphysics, “To have stated well the difficulties is a good start for those who wish to overcome them; for what follows is, of course, the solution of those very difficulties, and no one can untangle a knot which he does not see.” And that long thin open space over there at the bottom, may very well the gap between what we might wish for and what we are actually going to get. The dark moist sheen on the threaded leaves in the middle is in all likelihood the visual analogue of the first-day spirit of optimism which will, by the end of next week, have dried up and blown away. If you stick your nose into the cup and breathe in the fat green smell of the tea leaves, it will probably bring to mind for you, as it did for me, the image of a man and a woman in straw hats, knee deep in a rice paddy, bent over their work as the sun sinks toward the mountains beyond them. And, there, at the bottom of the cup, the leaves are forming a tiny bridge, the one that sooner or later we're going to have to try to cross.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

House of Blues

So here's something new and different. This is a work which has been through a lot of changes. I just kept slapping stuff onto it and into it and it eventually got completely overloaded with odd details that didn't hold together, so I worked back into it with a grey wash I thought would be transparent but turned out not to be. Then I worked out the geometrical elements and started pushing different layers of blue into each element, and the blues began sort of talking to one another around what I came to think of as the central houselike structure. (The blues are a lot more vibrant in the painting than in the reproduction.) So now there's a horizontal conversation going on between the brighter colors and more random shapes across the middle - perhaps a conversation about the geometry of domesticity - and a different set of more muted dialogues in the intersecting watery and airy blue planes.

BTW, I found myself last night, more or less by accident, on a web site devoted to Joseph Giunta, a Canadian painter I had never heard of, but who is my new hero. He's the guy I want to be when I grow up.