Matthew Crawford is a philosopher and a mechanic and an entrepreneur. Although an examination of work might seem ill-suited to a blog that proclaims to be about the exploration of creative play, I don’t believe that work and play are opposite ends of a continuum or two sides of a coin–any more than I believe that philosophy and mechanics are two entirely distinct disciplines.
Crawford’s book tackles education, economics, morality, and work. As I read, I intend to capture in a series of posts excerpts that speak directly to questions about creative work/play. If you’d like to enter into a conversation with me about these words through the comments, please do.
“I want to avoid the precious images of manual work that intellectuals sometimes traffic in. I also have little interest in wistful notions of a “simpler” life that is somehow more authentic, or more democratically valorous for being “working class.” I do, in fact, want to rehabilitate the honor of the trades, as being choice-worthy work, but to do so from my own experience, which I find is not illuminated by any of these fraught cultural ideals.”
“Introduction,” page 6
Hmmm…is this why I sometimes chafe against simple living blogs–especially the especially beautiful ones? I come from working-class people. My people made things from necessity, not for play–although I find evidence of artful intention in their works that remain. As I attempt to cultivate the same skills–for example, to learn to knit and sew with craftsmanship, or to grow food and preserve it–I feel more comfortable when I label those activities as play than work. The thing is, I get to choose in a way that those who came before me did not. I am engaging in those activities for pleasure, not necessity. Is that the only real difference between work and play? In some ways, I feel more inauthentic when I do those things, as if I am playing house. It reminds me of my college days, when I was “poor.” True, I lived on very little. I lived in some pretty terrible places. But I don’t presume that I really know anything about living in poverty. I always knew that if I were really in dire straits, I had a safety net of family to catch me, and I think that makes all the difference in whether or not one is truly poor. So I don’t think I can know what value it adds to a life to make things ourselves when there is no other choice but to do so.
“The satisfactions of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy. They seem to relieve him of the felt need to offer chattering interpretations of himself to vindicate his worth. he can simply point: the building stands, the car now runs, the lights are on.”
“A Brief Case for the Useful Arts,” page 15
Yes. I would like to be relieved of the need to offer chattering interpretations of myself.
“…creativity is a by-product of mastery of the sort that is cultivated through long practice. It seems to be built up through submission (think a musician practicing scales, or Einstein learning tensor algebra).”
“The Separation of Thinking from Doing,” page 51
“The musician’s power of expression is founded upon a prior obedience; her musical agency is built up from an on-going submission. To what? To her teacher, perhaps, but this is incidental rather than primary–there is such a thing as the self-taught musician. Her obedience rather is 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 that are not of our making….
In any hard discipline, whether it be gardening, structural engineering, or Russian, one submits to things that have their own intractable ways.”
“To Be Master of One’s Own Stuff,” pages 64-65
“Creativity is the byproduct of mastery”–This is why I feel the need to do exercises as I embark on this journey to explore creativity, especially in areas in which I have little experience. It is easy to look at the creative work of those who are accomplished and think, “I can do that.” And then, I sit down at a table with my gathered materials and feel blocked. I have no ideas of my own. I have no vision. The vision comes from the doing, not the other way around.
What is it we submit to? As Crawford says, the laws of our materials, the “concrete limits that are not of our making.” But also, I think, to the truth that we must submit before we can create. We have to learn and try and fail. We have to do, we can’t just look.
That’s all for this entry. I will add others as I continue reading.