The Artisan and the "Third Place"
A place of transition to doing work that matters
Unless we’re very lucky, rich, or determined, the route to being an artisan is paved with compromise. We leave our teenage years to enter a workplace in circumstances largely determined by others - our family, community, education and location, complicated by the need to service any debt, and other obligations, social and financial, we have picked up along the way.
The early years of independence, the excitement of promotion and the sense of career progression are intoxicating. As Nassim Taleb wrote, the “three most dangerous drugs are crack cocaine, carbohydrates, and a regular monthly salary.”
For most of us, getting ahead of the curve of the obligations we gather in a consumer lifestyle necessitates compliance and hitching a ride on an employer’s story. Before we know it, our children are leaving school, we have a pension to protect, and change seems like a very big step indeed.
At the same time, for many, the way we have earned our living to get to this point palls as the absolute need for a minimum level of income and the satisfaction we derive from consumption is replaced by a sense of something missing.
We used to term it a mid-life crisis, something that could be cured by more consumption, from retail therapy to reckless affairs, until the disenchantment wears off and we can get back to normal. It is a convenient diagnosis for an economy predicated on perpetual consumption-based growth.
James Hollis, a psychoanalyst, describes what he terms a “provisional personality”, one that is shaped by our circumstances of birth and upbringing that, for a while, masks our true personality. That true personality, though, wants expression via what we do with our brief time here, what we do to acknowledge the gift of life we have received from those before us and owe to those who follow. Other models are available, but I like Hollis’s view as I find it a simple, resonant and practical dogma-free basis for thinking about the nature and purpose of our lives.
The question it asks is, what do we do when we find ourselves wanting to move our “provisional license” to a full one?
I like the idea of a “third space”. It is a term I have learned from those I know in education, where it describes a place where “professionals” meet the “non-professionals” who shape their environment on equal terms. A place where academics meet those who use their work, where teachers meet those who shape the society into which their students will graduate, and where the “great and good” of the “Establishment” meet heretics. A liminal space where the cold currents of tradition meet the warm currents of the emergent and host evolution. A place that some people work in for a while, and some become full-time professionals working with them.
Whether our provisional license has suddenly expired, or we have a sense of a need for a full license, we need a place to evolve; somewhere we can explore, experiment, and ask questions alongside the work we do now until such time as we are willing, or in certain conditions, have to find a way to live and work differently. A place where the artisan in us can emerge in whatever form it needs so that we are ready to exercise our full license.
This feels to me like an important idea is developing, so I’m going to bring it to the centre of my thinking and share thoughts on how “New Artisans” might provide a third space. (I also think that we need to think about “third spaces” in the plural. New Artisans may be one; there will be others, and they can learn from and support each other.)
Enough for today. I’ll expand this some more towards the end of the month in a longer form “Journal” post, but until then, would welcome thoughts and ideas, either in chat or notes or a direct mail.