Sometimes working makes me philosophical.
Recently I’ve read work by Freudian psychologists which centers around the balance of id and ego. (Traditionally they say the third domain is Super-Ego, however if you’d like to read an essay-ish discourse on why Super-Ego does not exist, I’ll post it sometime). The whims of id are instinctive and impulsive. Ego is focused on its self-image, who we want to be rather than what our basal instincts are. Both are needed to get by. Woodworking is a realm of human endeavor that exemplifies the concept of balance and compromise in the mind.
Creativity and Discipline
The primary motivation of any woodworker or craftsman is to create. Be it art, utility, preservation or innovation, generating an object is champion. This is 2012–the future, now–where an industrial complex full of automated robots can produce nearly anything from any material. Of what purpose is the craftsman? Machines can generate, so what is our role?
Only the human mind can readily be creative and even amongst us it is a prized skill. Both the shear desire to make something, and the goal to make things better drives us. Oddly still is the affect of tools on our ability to create. Teach someone to use a scroll saw and suddenly their world includes intricate designs. Show them lathe work and more possibilities arise. We can also invent a tool which may spur more thoughts on how to make. This creation is very useless of its own, just thinking and doodling yields an empty shop and unfulfilled desires to make an object.
Discipline, more and more often treated as a negative, makes humans useful. It is the bridge between “I’d like to” and “I did.” Discipline, like creativity, comes in a compound form. It is the backbone of the application of our creativity and the experience we’ve gained. Discipline wakes me in the morning, sets me about in the shop, commits me to dimensions, purchases materials, etc. Discipline also sums the experience of learning; making those marks, holding a saw, truing a board, etc. Given that most work requires many related skills and great subtlety, it is no wonder it takes years for even the most eager craftsman to reach sufficient skill. We also can lose command of skills, requiring yet more discipline to maintain techniques over time.
Katharsis of Execution
When a fair balance is struck between creativity and discipline we generate, we begin doing. And in that process so many a craftsman gains their joy and purpose. Thinking a great design and struggling to make the first cut doesn’t fulfill us. Neither does sawing perfectly square firewood. The combination of these two realms and the resolution of their struggle with one another is our katharsis of execution.
We all have our balance between those two domains. Some are skilled workers before they’ve created any design worthy of review. Others have great ideas which spur them to first pick up a discipline. I can admit that I am design-heavy and work at being disciplined. I like learning as much a doing, maybe more. But when in balance I feel the subtle bliss of the process.
While other factors may play in, I believe this concept is the reason why some of us are attracted to hand-work. The creativity can be directly applied without the cold interface of machines. The skill is in the direct effort not in the rigging of a tool. Having struck this balance we are in the katharsis state our two domains of generation working together and hand-work sustains this feeling. It gives us no multi-axis whirling cutter to project the pride of work onto, away from ourselves. It is our work, a human task. There is no need to rush it, ruin the experience complying to the paradigm of a mechanical engineering. We want to feel the organic connection of a device designed for a human to use on another organic form, wood.
Why would we not form an attachment to those basic extensions of our work, tools? Making ought to be as much an emotional experience as utilitarian, after all our efforts are bringing something new into the world. Who isn’t emotionally attached to their closest working partners, those in their own hands?