Friday, November 26, 2010

Striving For Imperfection

"There is hope in honest error, none in the icy perfections of a mere stylist." -- C. R. Mackintosh

I've been thinking a good bit about why we, as craftspeople, do what we do.  If you were to look at the cumulative cost of our tools, books, and stashes of lumber it just doesn't add up. Even the best-known woodworkers, those who teach classes, publish articles, sell their own line of tools, live modest lives.  In fact, there seems to be an inverse relationship between commitment to the craft, and success as defined by society at large. Yet, we persevere in an impractical pursuit for questionable rewards.

The world values perfection -- perfect teeth, perfect grades, perfect furniture.  Yet the things that mean the most to me are flawed, either by use or design.  It has taken a while for me to realize that success will come, both professionally and personally, if I learn to embrace this imperfection.  Not that I'm advocating shoddy workmanship, I'm saying that what we can do as individual artisans is to look at a piece of wood and understand how it might speak to the human condition.

The above bowl was turned from an imperfect piece of burl I saw on a neighbor's downed tree.  I knew it had flaws, but I thought it might be interesting.  Turning it was work -- the void in the middle made it impossible to ride the bevel and acheive a perfect surface.  In fact, I couldn't hollow it to the degree I wanted to as it was becoming increasingly unstable.  As a green piece of wood, it will move and warp -- hopefully not to the point where it breaks apart.

But knowing the why of making it made the how enjoyable.  This bowl is a gift to friends with whom we shared Thanksgiving dinner.  Having been to their house, I knew that the objects that they valued were things that had some meaning.  I'm convinced that the only way we can proceed as craftspeople is if we stay true to that credo -- what does this piece mean?  There's no way we can stand up to the pace or efficiencies of a factory, but we can create pieces that mean something to us or to those who take them into their homes.

Nothing original here, I guess. James Krenov, John Ruskin, and William Morris have said the same thing for generations, and that elusive coupling of art and technique is what keeps me in the shop (and being my own harsh critic.)


  1. I timely post for me since I am trying to figuring out how to deal with some warped lumber. Nice looking bowl :)

  2. hey chris,
    just saw this link and thought of you-

    you may know it already...

  3. Wow labor of love, thank you for your article very inspiring