Practice Makes Perfect: Skills Satisfy Body and Soul
Aug 31, 2011 10:08AM
By Judith Fertig
The difference between a crafter wielding a glue gun obtained from a hobby store and a craftsperson hand-planing a piece of cherry wood to make fine furniture might seem wide, but “It is one of degree, not kind,” advises Monica Moses, editor-in-chief of American Craft magazine. Some people get schooling in their craft, while others are self-taught, with or without a mentor.
Sociologist Richard Sennett estimates that about 10,000 hours of experience are required to produce a master carpenter or musician. He observes in his book, The Craftsman, “As skill progresses, it becomes more problem-attuned, such as the lab technician worrying about procedure, whereas people with primitive levels of skill struggle just to get things to work. At its higher reaches, technique is no longer a mechanical activity; people can feel fully and think deeply about what they are doing, once they do it well.”
Sam Chung, assistant professor of ceramics at Arizona State University, in Tempe, says that he has put in approximately that length of time in working with clay. Today, he exhibits distinctive contemporary forms of pottery nationally (SamChungCeramics.com).
While not everyone can become a master craftsperson, Sennett attests that any skill can be improved upon. He maintains that, “There is no fixed line between the gifted few and the incompetent masses. This is because skill is a capacity that we develop, and all of us can draw on basic human talents to do so.” He further observes that competence and engagement—the craftsman’s ethos—appear to be the most solid sources of adult self-respect.
Grounded, productive, happy individuals can’t help but contribute to a better society. Sennett points out that making time for making things continues to pay big benefits in today’s world, as individuals realize the satisfaction of self-expression, the self-respect that comes with mastery, and a sense of tangible connection to their lives.