Did craft make us Human?

Posted by scott alexander on

What separates humans from other animals? Well… one thing for certain, for millennia we have crafted tools, crafted objects, homes, transportation, art, etc. from those tools. We have made tools to make better tools to make pretty much anything people have dreamt up. You could say that our ability to craft has made us human.


For the past several decades, we have been moving further and further away from crafting items by hand. Factory-made production has replaced the need for highly skilled artisans/craftsmen. There's nothing inherently wrong with items made with extremely modern tools, computers, etc. If items are designed and constructed as they should be, they will stand the test of time just as well as handmade goods.  To me... those items just feel a bit cold in comparison to truly handmade work. Sterile items you purchase at a big box store, items that have been pumped out on a massive scale to hit a specific price point and quality level. Unfortunately, most items produced today are made to fail, made to go out of style, destined to be shoved to the back of a closet at best, or be landfill at worst.


There's an inherent warmth in an object that's been crafted by human hands. Perfectly imperfect is how I like to describe the feel of something crafted to an expert level by human hands. To me, it makes items more, well... just more. Maybe they somehow become more human, or at the least, an extension of who we all are. I've always believed that a craftsman's soul leaves a mark on the work he/she does. Something that can be felt by everyone that touches it if they just stop for a moment to admire what is in their hands. Whether it's a handcrafted leather wallet, a fine wooden chair, a wooden bowl, desk, table, etc..


As a society, we are quickly losing our ability to craft by hand and eye. My hometown is full of amazing architecture made of cut stone that likely couldn't be crafted/built today both because of a lack of craftsmen to build it and by the labor and material costs to do so. As you drive through your town or city, look for the older architecture. The attention to detail and craftsmanship of construction is for the most part far superior to the buildings of today. Or … look at cars from 40+ years ago… rolling sculptures that celebrated our ability to travel in great style. Those vehicles had soul, they had personality, they had style.


As we have been speeding towards a world driven by technology, machines, speed, and efficiency over all else, perhaps we should ask the question… What are we losing in this transition? Are we perhaps losing our humanity? If so, how can we hold on to it? Perhaps the answer is to at least occasionally, enjoy something made slower, more deliberate, made with hard-earned skills, blood sweat, and tears. Made by a true craftsman. Maybe that’s how we hold on to our humanity.


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