Virtues of Craft: The Impact of Artisans With Vision

By Kyle Studstill.

"Milano," image courtesy of Brian Gretch

“Milano,” image courtesy of Brian Gretch

 

There is a blog called But Does It Float that has been running for about 5 or 6 years. In each post, one of three curators simply pairs images from online archives of visual art with a poetic quote from an intelligent thinker.

The below image is a typical example—photographer Andrea Grützner’s work matched by one of the curators with artist David Hockney’s observation: “The camera sees everything at once. We don’t.

 

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image courtesy of Andrea Grützner

 

Like a good comedian that knows better than to explain the joke, the site does a good job of letting observers make their own connections. But in this short reflection, I’m going to make the case that the designers and artisans I admire tend to think about perspective in a particular way.

It’s worth noting that one way to interpret Hockney’s line is that because the camera sees everything at once, it sees better than we do. But I’m not convinced that’s true. Many of us humans have a particular kind of experience viewing Grützner’s image  above—one of disorientation as our eyes are strewn back and forth across the scene, trying to find a place to focus, trying to find home. By seeing only one thing at a time rather than everything at once, we do more than just see—we feel.

And yet, I’ve found that we often experience strange pressures in our work to see all angles at once. Two such pressures, in particular, come to mind: one to create things that please any and all potential customers, and another to do creative work that can refute any possible criticism.

Both are traps that snare those who lack a meaningful perspective: a single and personal point of view about who the work is for. The confidence to account for inevitable flaws and critique.

Indeed, getting caught up in these pressures is why so many things in the world lack meaningful perspective. Avoiding these traps requires knowing that many critics are going to be both smart and correct, but one’s own perspective matters simply because it’s yours. It’s a scary thing to believe that our particular experience of the world is unique and important enough to be shared with others, because it requires we first do the difficult work of developing a strong sense of self-awareness—honesty with ourselves and the feelings we have about our experiences, such that we can share them with others in a meaningful way. Anything less is arrogance and narcissism.

Creating Work Others Want To Feel

Perhaps Jony Ive is a rather obvious choice here, but his note in a recent interview helps articulate why any of this even matters: “I think now more than ever it’s important to be clear, to be singular,” he says, “and to have a perspective, one you didn’t generate as the result of doing a lot of focus groups.” As technology and the tools for more people to become makers continue to spread, the hard technical qualities of things we make matter less; anyone can make a slightly faster computer, or slightly stronger mousetrap, or whatever is the equivalent in your world. But an authentic and unique point of view can’t be replicated; it’s what people build communities around—a flag in the ground that rallies those who see the world in a similar way: “people like us are here.” It turns out that this is the difference between work that catches on with people and work that doesn’t.

 

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Jan Tschichold, image courtesy of www.designhistory.org

 

As is the case with anything worth doing, everyone knows this is important, but most people don’t make the effort to actually do it because it’s genuinely difficult. As guidance, I find myself frequently pointing to this essay: Learning To See. It’s one of the best manuals on how to do meaningful work that I’ve come across, beginning, too, with how our human minds are unlike a camera, following with how one can use this knowledge to develop “trained taste, or what German speakers call Fin­ger­spit­zen­ge­fühl (literally, ‘finger-tip-feeling’).” It’s perhaps a daunting read but I think that even if skimmed, you’ll appreciate all the beautiful details.

Trust that following through with this idea is important. Because if we do our job right as designers and artisans, we’ve created work that lets people do more than see beautiful things, we’ve helped them feel beautiful things, as well.

 

Details

Kyle Studstill
Website: alwayscomposure.com
Tumblr: alwayscomposure.tumblr.com
Instagram: @alwayscomposure

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