Richard Sennett on craftsmanship

The CraftsmanDuring his lectures in Belgium, Ken Parker recommended a book to the audience: “The Craftsman” by Richard Sennett.

A few weeks later I got a pdf and Dutch version of the book and started to read. Sennet is a sociologist who did extensive research after the role work plays in people’s lives. How we are defined by our work. Gold smiths, musicians, luthiers, masons, the writers of the encyclopedie and many more pass the footlight.

In earlier blogs (“Tired” and “Philosophy pt. I & II“) I referred to quotes from the book. Sennett’s work shows how craftsmanship is a driving force for doing good work. That craftsmanship is deeply rooted in the human nature and how it has been the foundation of arts and discoveries.

“[The] […]aim of this study is to explore what happens when
hand and head,
technique and science,
art and craft are separated.
I will show how the head then suffers;
both understanding and expression are impaired.”

– Richard Sennett –

I have read and re-read this book over and over again over the years, and have seen that Sennett is right in many ways. There are only a few points on which I disagree with him, (like his notion that inspiration doesn’t exist, but only a result of hard work).

Beside a picture of craftsmanship over the centuries, Sennett also describes how skills, crafts and craftsmanship have declined after the second World War.

“Western civilization has had a deep-routed trouble in making connections between head and hand,
in recognizing and encouraging the impulse of craftsmanship.”

and:

“The craftsman is a more inclusive category than the artisan;
he or she represents in each of us
the desire to do something well, concretely, for its own sake.

Developments in high technology
reflect an ancient model for craftsmanship,
but the reality on the ground is that
people who aspire to be good craftsmen
are depressed, ignored, or misunderstood
by social institutions.”

– Richard Sennett – “The Craftsman”

It fits in nicely with “Guitar Makers” by Kathryn Marie Dudley and “Shop Class as Soul Craft” by Matthew B. Crawford.

A book I can highly recommend, just as these two lectures he gave for the Getty Museum and Berkley University.

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