As I recall it was at the Saltfork Craftsmen conference in 1999 when I heard Peter Ross suggest reading David Pye’s books on craftsmanship and design. I took his advice and read them both.
Recently I started thinking about those subjects again and decided to take another look at the books.
Pye was a skilled wood artist. He suggested that craftsmanship might mean “using any kind of technique or apparatus, in which the quality of the result is not predetermined, but depends on the judgement, dexterity and care which the maker exercises as he works. The essential idea is that the quality of the result is continually at risk during the process of making;”
He designated the process of craftsmanship “the workmanship of risk.” The contrasting idea is “workmanship of certainty.” Quality machine manufacturing certainly has it’s place. The wide availability of inexpensive standard machine screws and other hardware is an obvious example. Hand-crafted can’t compete in that venue.
Pye goes on to discuss quality of workmanship and how finished work can vary from idealized designs and to discuss craftwork in terms of being free or regulated. In all of this there is a lot of middle ground and the ends of the spectrum are essentially theoretical.
In my forging and other metalworking projects I am responsible for both the design and the forming - the craftsmanship. I like working that way. As I work through a project from design to finish work I think about the visual impression I’m targeting. Every project involves modifying some parent metal stock using various tools. It is often my intent to arrive at a finished piece in which it is not easy to determine what the parent stock was and what tools and techniques were used. Some element of mystery seems to increase interest.
I was recently engaged in a conversation with some members of an art-craft co-op gallery regarding what types of work could be displayed. I think one firm criteria was that skilled hand work would be obvious in the finished piece. I think Pye would agree with that.