I was reading some email posts on a list service to which I subscribe. The topic of the site is Letterpress Printing. One particular thread caught my eye. It made me think about the topics of technology and craftsmanship in a new light.
Several older members of the board were lamenting about how newer technologies require less craftsmanship than the older ones. If you think about it, there is something essentially true about what they are saying. If you look at ads for new technologies they all promise ease of use (today “user friendly” is the common term), and time/work saving advantages. Think about when the sewing machine (not a new technology now, but at the time…) became commercially available. The idea was to reduce the amount of time that women had to spend sewing clothing for their families. While sewing machines make perfect stitches with ease, there is also a loss of the craftsmanship and skill required for hand sewing articles. The concept of new technology is production over hand-made quality. Efficiency over skill.
The printers on the list were discussing how new, computer-based printing practices require less skill and lower craft than the older, traditional printing methods. In some aspects they are correct. In the old day, all printing was done by skilled professionals who understood typesetting, design elements, paper selection, and inking practices to create extraordinary prints. Today, many publications are produced using manufacturer templates by office workers with little or no training in the craft of printing. On the freelance job sites like Guru.com, professional printers and designers are being underbid by high school students who have computers and software that they are not really trained to use properly. They are getting the jobs without having the craftsmanship to do excellent work.
The question is: how do all of these new technologies that reduce the amount of craftsmanship required for production affect school children? As a teacher, I see that the most prevalent quality that I observe is that students want to get things done quickly and sloppily to move on to the next project. They spend very little time crafting good work in any subject. As an art teacher, I am trying to reverse that trend. I stress quality over quantity…handcrafted works over manufacturer templates. Students are asked to take their time to produce well crafted works in my classroom. A part of that is introducing them to my letterpress equipment where they need to take time to set and lock in the type, to add their hand-carved illustrations, and to ink and press beautiful artworks.
In a day and age when students have difficulty taking the time to craft a good essay or to solve an engineering problem in a new way, it is a shame that the art classroom has been reduced to a fluffy add-on activity or eliminated in many schools and districts. To get students to think about their craftsmanship in a metacognitive way, art is an essential subject that should constitute more of a student’s workload, not less.
New technologies could be used in conjunction with craftsmanship, but people need to understand why they shouldn’t let the technology do all the work without much input or skill from the user. Art education can help people rethink how they craft things in all areas of school and work.