Start Your Day With a Rethink

DSC_0053For decades and through over a century we’ve seen disparity in thinking through what educationalists, economists and of course politicians present to us through media we have no real understanding of whether they present truth or bias toward things we might not understand the bias of. Through these long decades the people I speak of together with unions, local councillors, governors and so on some how manage more to split society and categorise determinate courses for people without recognising them as much more than statistics. This in turn directly affects the art of real craft and apprenticing and training future craftspeople for worklife outside of anything they control. In recent months I pointed out that people ask me how much I sell my this or that piece of work for. I say the rocking chair costs $6500 and the next question is, “How long does it take to make?” I say I can make one comfortably in two six-day weeks. Immediately I get locked into their only way of evaluating who and what I am and why I do what I do. They have no sense of how long a design takes to develop or how skilled I am or, really, economy and I am evaluated as to whether I am worth knowing or not. Bit like someone asking the same question and receiving the answer, “I’m a doctor.” or, “I am an architect.” Again, two occupations accepted as worthy of note and evaluated as worth knowing. “I work a fork lift.” Doesn’t really grab you as much and so too many other spheres of life. Rethinking things through these past weeks I thought you might like to see a piece I used in a blog I posted 4 1/2 years ago here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4UI think it’s worthy of resurrecting because the message says so much. Let me know what you think.

22 thoughts on “Start Your Day With a Rethink”

  1. Great comments today. I especially enjoyed your point about people not understanding the amount of work that goes on before the working of wood begins. Excellent topic about thinking as well. My educational background is quite diverse from structural engineering to Accounting (I am a corporate accountant by profession). However, my great grandfather, grandfather and father were/are all woodworkers, my father being a master cabinet maker and so I grew up in wood shops and going along for installation jobs (mainly kitchens and wall units).

    Currently, I am remodeling my house from the bottom to the top. My neighbor is dumbfounded that I am able to do the work myself – from building a quartersawn mahogany fireplace mantel, to setting ceramic tile, to installing crown moulding. I tell him I remember two very important things that were told to me years ago. The first, one of my engineering professors told us on the first day, “If you learn nothing during your time in this college, we will teach you to think” and the second is from my grandfather – he said that if a person can work with their hands, they’ll never go hungry. Speaking to the point about preparing children for the future economy in your video, I can say that while in college, to make ends meet, I would cut down trees, chop wood, install floors, build decks, furniture – anything I could that someone wanted so that I could make ends meet.

    People have become accustomed to going to the store and buying a product without much thought about what went into the building or creation of that project. Hours of research and development, possibly years of a craftsman honing their skills, and if a person is so inclined, hours of meditation of the project (I don’t “meditate” per se, but I visualize and build the entire project in my head before even putting it to paper).

    Excellent comments and video.

  2. I could not agree more.
    That’s exactly how our western society works.
    You have to be streamlined, and you are worth (as a whole) the money you earn.

    Poor, anaemic society that is.

    Thankfully anyone can make a difference, at least in his/hers behaviour.

  3. David Devereux

    You were too honest. In response to the question ‘how long did it take’ either give a vague answer or say ’50 years – that’s how long it’s taken to develop the skills to make the chair’.

  4. Thomas Tieffenbacher

    Paul,

    When I need my plumber because his knowledge is beyond mine I still ask how much time and what is the charge. I’m willing to pay for his knowledge. To me knowledge is not what I read,it’s what I learned from doing. This is a hard lesson. I use working in life examples as metaphors for what people need to learn and practice in changing their lives.

    The meaning of words comes from experience as well. James Krenov gave me new meaning to symphony when he applied it to making a piece of furniture.

    David’s comment of “50 years” is more appropriate. As long as that 50 years was full of learning new things that apply? Furniture design is also part of original building.

    Ignorant people need enlightenment. Keep on philosophizing while you work!

  5. Hello
    Difficult argument. All I Have seen of your work Paul is beautiful, so how can anyone ´evaluaté it. Beautiful craftmanship, beautiful scenery, beautiful engineering can’t be ´valued´. You are not obliged to buy it, but you can appreciate it.
    Chris from Belgium

  6. You go to the shop and look at a piece of furnature made by a Craftsman costing $1000+ .”Thats too much”, so you go next door and buy something for $250 made of cheap wood and staples. Do you then wonder why it falls to bits after a year? I call myself a bush carpenter(Australian). I work wood for recreation and so do not put in the hours that true artisans put in to get the perfection and quality required for a piece of furnature to last the 100 years+ as Paul will tell us. Even in my humble shed, I spend hours planning a piece which cannot be seen in the finished product by a casual onlooker. So yes I agree that a fine piece of worked wood is worthy of the price tag being asked.
    AND We are quickly losing the skills of our forfathers. What happened to Apprenticeships? Why can’t people see the lose to society in this cheap factory manufaturing, this throw away society

    1. I would say people do see the loss, and that is why we see the resurgence in the crafts.

  7. Mick Alexander

    The RSAAnimate piece about Ken Robinson’s talk has left my head buzzing. As a life long learner myself it left me stimulated and frustrated in equal measures. As a parent, and more especially a grand parent, it troubled me, for my grand children are on the conveyor belt. No disrespect to Beddgelert school; I would bet good money that it is well above average in respecting divergent needs and in stimulating curiosity. But it’s still part of the education factory. There seems to be a yawning gulf between great thinkers and activists like Sir Ken Robinson, and the political leaders who create and maintain industrialised education. I pray for that gap to be closed, for all our kids’ sakes.
    By the way, I watched a TED talk called how to escape education’s Death Valley (or something like that) by Ken Robinson. He was from Liverpool originally and here he shows that he is a native wit.

  8. Steve Patterson

    The issue of how to make something that is handmade, beautiful, useful and affordable has been something the arts and crafts movement has struggled with since its inception over 100 years ago.

    If anyone is lucky enough to make a living doing something they love then the money if often secondary, but to be able to say what any piece of work is worth in absolute terms is a very difficult thing. There are two extreme views; – either everything is worth exactly what the market is willing to pay for it, no more no less, or: – all work is ultimately of equal value, as someone has to do the boring, menial stuff and not everyone can make a living doing only the creative and engaging stuff, but they’re still giving up a huge amount of their life to do it.

  9. In response to the education side of things. The secondary school I attended literally had the smartest student in the country and quite possibly some of the dumbest- according to the grading system in place. Working with your hands was not put into an overall context that could be understood in any real sense. Students who couldn’t make the term for graduation were shunted to ‘non academic jobs’ usually involving manual work described as unskilled or semi-skilled. It was a bit like the detritus left behind that had little to no value because the value in what it was did not comply with the accepted definition set by the education system juggernaut. What really got me was that some of the manual art teachers (as they were catergorised) who were good at their job moved to lower socioeconomic areas to teach as they were of ‘greater value’ there. In Australia we have a skills shortage in trades and apprentices. I had a conversation with a roof plumber who refused to have another apprentice. He had two, both who committed suicide. This was at least twenty years ago. His knowledge and methods were not going to be passed on, they were worth something. In the military now my cousin was instructed to inform cadets that he would touch them so as to not offend them when instructing. I would hate to see how they would be offended in a combat situation. There are aspects of real which cannot be understood until a bit of experience in living is undertaken. I am afraid that the divide that academia has installed is so comprehensive that the damage done will take longer to undo than the current generation in school has time for. At one point when younger I was thinking of joining the army reserves, there were a number of reasons why I didn’t in the end but one thing stuck with me. Apparently I was officer material according to the recruitment officer, based purely on having a tertiary degree. Some of the most incapable practically but brilliant academically people I know have multiple degrees and they would be atrocious officers and I certainly would not wish them to lead anyone. I hope that these small soundbites make sense with the manner in which I have patched them together. The most effective learning I have encountered is hands on and applied. Practical application of theoretical subjects in daily use for me makes more sense which took me a while to realise. It won’t work for the next person in the same way yet I don’t see the current system working as well as it could either. The unseen divisions that creep through society are pervasive in many ways that until you are on the receiving end you don’t really think about it. When you are not even equipped to think about it that would be far worse. Free thought is the most powerful thing we have and yet so easy to be dissuaded from along the way – without even knowing.

  10. You can’t build anything without a decent foundation.

    A few years ago in the UK, there was a great deal of concern when it became apparent that about 20% of children were leaving school ‘functionally illiterate’ – they couldn’t read, write or cope with basic maths to an acceptable standard.

    We’ve had several decades of (no doubt well-meaning) educational theories being bandied about in the world of education. If the result is 20% of school leavers incapable of the basics, they clearly don’t work very well. ‘Education’ has completely failed that 20%.

    Sort out the basics first. Until 100% of school children can read, write and add up, there’s no point worrying about anything else. All the fancy ‘educational theories’ like that in the video are just so much hot air, and should be treated as such.

    1. Whichever way you slice it,there’s a problem in our culture and different responsibilities can make the difference whether it’s slick graphics or Paul’s blog expressing concerns. You know something, school and college played no part in my education. It was a man stood on the other side of a workbench that made a difference. When I was 14 my parents were told that I was ineducable. I left school and I apprenticed and I grew up. Mentoring makes the difference. Something about Sir Ken sparked support for what I do so I felt it might help others.

      1. Well, if you left school able to read, write and cope with basic arithmetic, it wasn’t a complete failure – it gave you a foundation to build on. Everything since is your achievement (with an appreciative nod to the skilled men you worked with during your apprenticeship), but you didn’t start from zero at age 14. It was the same for most people of your generation – illiteracy at age 14 was rare.

        For about 20% of recent school-leavers, they can’t even read, write and add up to a reasonable standard. Education really has failed them – after several decades of theories, and any amount of political fiddling and public money spent on it.

        As for life-long learning – absolutely! Bring it on! You should never let school get in the way of a good education.

        1. I could read before I went to school so no real credit there. I am not sure if education is to blame for disciplines that should have been concluded in the home. Teachers and schools are blamed for a great deal when their role and responsibility is to teach not potty train and teach shoe-lace tying and how to put a coat on. Is education solely to blame or even blame at all? This anonymous thing called education can often be undefined? Isn’t it the result of neglect elsewhere before the schools are involved at all? I think that these are just questions really, but I think teachers,, at least the ones I know, work hard for the benefit of the kids and really do care about the outcome of their teaching them and the schools have a tremendous job on their hands. I think perhaps many systems are the result of party politics and experimentation through the years and decades and that education has become more an industrialising process beyond the parental control.

  11. Reminds me of a story of a man who was called to a factory to fix a piece of machinery. He examined it for a couple of minutes, then hit it with a hammer and it started working again.
    He later presented an invoice: “Fixing Machine – £500”, which the factory owner queried as excessive – “It only took a couple of minutes!”.
    So he rewrote the invoice: “Fixing Machine – £50; Knowing How to Fix Machine – £450”.

  12. Greta words as alw
    #

    Great words as always Paul.

    How can anyone be a school teacher of children and only just out of childhood oneself?

    Industrialised teaching, to once provide a basic education to the masses, a good idea has been further ruined by the need to meet statistics.
    I too learnt far more once leaving school and finding out the way that i needed to learn.

    Thanks,

  13. David Devereux

    Paul, can I try to give a different perspective to the view of the people who didn’t seem to get the ‘value’ of your $6,500 (£4,000) rocking chair. Yesterday I visited Bodnant Gardens (you must know it well) which has a craft shop. One of the exhibitors was selling hand crafted furniture including a very nice looking spindle-backed arm chair priced at £350. I heard someone else looking at it say ‘that seems rather expensive’. In one sense they were right. A good quality factory made chair costs much, much less. My son has a set of second-hand chairs which cost him £5 each. I looked closely at them. Although factory made, they are real wood, very solid and a real bargain. When I looked closely at the ‘craft’ chair, it was more crudely made and I doubt would last as well as these factory made chairs. So it’s not a simple craft v factory, and of course your protagonists are going to ask themselves ‘What on earth makes this chair worth £4,000?’ They need to perceive the quality in it, which can be very difficult to assess unless they are expert craftsmen themselves, so one proxy for this can be the time it took to make. Another might be the provenance of the maker (a very common substitute for quality in the art field). They need to understand the quality and equally you need to give them the time and space to appreciate what went into the chair and what’s its real value is.

    1. I really do understand all of the nuances to this. I am not really bothered that someone might think my chair was expensive because I think that the design was well worth the price because you couldn’t find one like it because it was my design. I would say that during the time when I was building this design we sold somewhere around 8 chairs a year. I know the past US President has three of them and that several other people who can afford them own them. But that’s not waht makes them successful. A few months ago I was selling off an old display model at a much lower price and a surgeon walked in and bought it. The British are far more reluctant to buy individual art work than say in the US where craft and artisan made furniture sells for much higher. I don’t necessarily feel that hand made means well made and I often visit craft shows and am very disappointed in what’s offered at craft shows anyway. The whole point I was making is that people evaluate our worth and our success by how much we make an hour and that often determines whether we are worth knowing. In actuality, if the man at Bodnant finds support, and he is finding the reward as a crafting artisan in a lifestyle he is determining to the best of his ability then that might well be the better way to measure success. The people that asked the questions didn’t really stay around enough to gauge anything in that particular case. In general I know that most people coming into my workshop really appreciate the work we do and the efforts to keep the craft alive for others so in general I am contented.

  14. Paul,
    I just discovered your blog and youtube channel. Thank you for the excellent teaching. I think the video on education is spot on. We have somehow been brainwashed that the salary one makes somehow determines their worth as human beings. I believe that God created us all for two things. Work and worship. Where did we get the idea that someone that doesn’t wear a suit and tie to work is of less work than Dr. or Lawyer. We all have different talents and they need to be developed. As someone wiser than I has said “Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life” Whether that is cutting grass or being president of a bank.

    Thanks for all you do,
    Bob

  15. Jean-Luc Coulon

    I would try to advocate on behalf of those people who ask for price and time.

    People ask for that because they are looking for what they can afford.

    And, for that, they compare to what they know: their own wages and the amount of time they need to earn such amount of money.

    Most people doesnt fix themself [please excuse my bad grammar] their wages and are not able to set a real value to their own experience and time passed to learn, etc.

    I’m an engineer in a big company. Learning got me many years and I’ve four decades of experience. Do you think my wages are really related to this experience?

    At the opposite, my son is a photographer, fortunately (for him), he doesnt ask money for the time of a click… 1/1000 sec related to one hour would be crazy.

    If the price is USD 6000 and they earn USD 2000 a month, automatically, people – if they are regular employees – think “it is a 3 months value”; not more.

    Anyway, *I* can understand what you say but there is probably a kind of “border” between people that dont share the same lifestyle…

    Regards

    Jean-Luc

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