“I love the tools made for mechanics. I stop at the windows of hardware stores. If I could only find an excuse to buy many more of them than I have already bought on the pretense that I might have use for them! They are so beautiful, so simple and plain and straight to their meaning. There is no ‘Art’ about them, they have not been made beautiful, they are beautiful.”
“Someone has defined a work of art as a ‘thing beautifully done.’ I like it better if we cut away the adverb and preserve the word ‘done,’ and let it stand alone in its fullest meaning. Things are not done beautifully. The beauty is an integral part of their being done.”[i]
A wrench, a brace or a pair of pliers, along with pencils and brushes, are all literal extensions of the human hand. Metaphorically, as artists we also speak of finding our own hand, or discovering one’s touch. Poets speak of finding their own voice. This is often a difficult process, which takes a lot of work. To accomplish this work, we use the tools that are near at hand.
This idea has echoes both across and beyond our borders. Whether it might be the great simplicity in a Shaker building or chair, or the profound Japanese insight into beauty, the tools that allow us to produce the hand-made object are of utmost importance.
In his great treatise on craftsmanship and the making of certain objects, Soetsu Yanagi wrote that: “They are made without obsessive consciousness of beauty; thus we catch a glimpse of what is meant by ‘no-mindedness,’ whereby all things become simplified, natural, and without contrivance.”[ii]
Similarly, Faith and Edward Demming Andrews have observed the work and the laws of the Shakers: “All beauty that has not a foundation in use, soon grows distasteful, and needs continual replacement with something new. That which has in itself the highest use possesses the greatest beauty.”[iii]
“The craftsmanship of the Shakers was an integral part of the life and thought of a humble but consecrated folk. They did not think of the work of their hands—in building, in joinery, in industrial pursuit of every kind—as an art, something special or exclusive, but rather as the right way of sustaining their church order, the ideal of a better society. For them the machine or tool was a ‘servant force.’ It was the purpose of work which was important. This led to a manner of work, which in turn gave a common character—an integrity, a harmony, a subtle but identifiable quality to all the labor of their hands.”[iv]
And in the end, it is a reminder to all artists that “The thing shines, not the maker.…and therefore whatever is made is lovely.”[v]
[i] Henri, Robert; The Art Spirit, Basic Books, New York, New York; 2007; p. 53.
[ii] Yanagi, Soetsu; The Unknown Craftsman; Kodansha International; Tokyo, New York and London; 1972 & 1989; p. 203.
[iii] Andrews, Edward Deming, and Faith Andrews; Religion in Wood: A Book of Shaker Furniture; Indiana University Press; Bloomington and London; 1966; p. 15.
[iv] Andrews, Edward Deming, and Faith Andrews; Religion in Wood: A Book of Shaker Furniture; p. 14.
[v] Yanagi, Soetsu; The Unknown Craftsman; p. 200.