7 min read

New Craft - Part 1

New Craft - Part 1

We have covered a lot of ground over recent months. We have strolled around the space generated by the idea of "New Artisans". We have considered who they might be, why they matter, where we might find them and where they might belong.

There's one last area I want to revisit before considering where we might take the idea of New Artisans in the future. More of that later in the month.

One of the pleasures of working with the idea of New Artisans is that it is in a way, fractal - every time I come to it, there's a new facet to be considered. The downside, of course, is that it can be a very deep rabbit hole.

In this post, I want to explore some thoughts on what modern craft, the product of the Artisan, might look like at the moment in the knowledge of how incomplete my thoughts will be and how much more will emerge as we work on it.

But as with all things, one foot in front of the other...

I'm going to approach this with three questions - Why? How? and What? All very Simon Sinek, I know, but it seems a good place to start.

Also in this post:

  • Recording of the "Circle of Impact" session with Dr. Ed Brenegar
  • Coming up - Conversation on "Quiet Disruption" with Sue Heatherington next month
  • Alan Moore's new Design School

In order to keep these posts to a sensible length, I'm going to answer one of these questions each Friday, with How? on the 25th Nov, and What? on the 2nd of December.

Why is "craft" so important to New Artisans?

Let's start with what we mean by craft. The utilitarian, reductive definition is straightforward. "skill and experience, especially in relation to making objects; a job or activity that needs skill and experience, or something produced using skill and experience" So far, so tepid.

I prefer Alan Moore's insights:

"We were all born inherently creative.  We all have the capacity to bring beautiful things into this world and should be unapologetic about wanting to create them, whatever they are."
"Craftsmanship as a philosophy is the bringer of peace, the maker of civilisation. Why is the idea of craftsmanship significant at this epochal moment in time? Because it is about shaping our future and the 'engaged' craftsman brings the full power of humanity to bear upon his or her work."

...and Aristotle's view

a craft product, when well designed and produced by a good craftsman, is not merely useful, but also has such elements as balance, proportion and harmony.’

If that is what craft means to us, why do we pursue it?

I think part of it is about our psyche. There is something in all of us that we cannot explain, something perhaps we do not understand ourselves.

The story of Wheelwright Pian, from a chapter of the Zhuangzi known as the Tian Dao(天道), meaning ‘Heaven’s Way’ or ‘The Way of Heaven’, effectively illustrates this perspective on creativity as it pertains to artists or artisans. In this short vignette, a wheelwright known as Pian (扁) tells a duke that the book of sages’ advice he’s reading is nothing but ‘chaff and dregs’. Angered, the duke demands an explanation. The wheelwright responds that, at least concerning his craft, he can create what he does only because he’s developed a ‘knack’ for it that can’t be wholly conveyed in words. If the blows of his mallet are too gentle, his chisel slides and won’t take hold. If they’re too hard, it bites in and won’t budge. ‘Not too gentle, not too hard – you can get it in your hand and feel it in your mind,’ he says. ‘So, I’ve gone along for 70 years and at my age I’m still chiselling wheels. When the men of old died, they took with them the things that couldn’t be handed down. So, what you are reading there must be nothing but the chaff and dregs of the men of old. Source

This resonates with Alan's quotes and Aristotle's balance and harmony. There is something about our relationship to, and place in, the world that can be expressed through our work that is beyond words. In previous posts, I have spoken about the "signature" of our work. My Jungian friends could no doubt talk about craft as a way of bringing our unconscious into the conscious. It all suggests that we cannot choose to become a craftsperson but must find the craft already in us and find a way to express it. It is part of us.

Let's come up a level, and work on an assumption that we have a sense of our craft, even if only a glimpse of it. What motivates us to pursue it in the world of work?


We all need to be seen, to have a voice, and for that voice to be heard. In Homo Ludens Huizinga talks about the importance of play as being a space to find and test our capabilities and find out "where we might be first" (p105). In my opinion, where might our craft have the most impact, whatever it may be?

In Shopcraft as Soulcraft, Matthew Crawford talks compellingly about "becoming the master of one's own stuff". Peter Korn, in "Why we make stuff, and why it matters", says, "Creative persons differ from one another in a variety of ways, but in one respect, they are unanimous. They all love what they do. It is not the hope of achieving fame or making money that drives them; rather, it is the opportunity to do the work that they enjoy doing."


In "The Hacker Ethic", a classic on programmer culture, Pekka Himanen identifies three main motivations of the hacker; after "survival" comes "entertainment" (the origin of the Silicon Valley "Move fast and break things" culture) and then, most importantly, "social ties" - the need to do the work they do with others doing the same. The same need is emphasised by Richard Sennett in "The Craftsman", one of the best explorations into craft I have read.

And it's not just people; it's far more systemic. It's about relationships with materials, the source of those materials and the natural world. It's about respecting what we make, its longevity and sustainability. It's about community and teaching. It's about avoiding the fate of Stradivari, who kept his secrets so close that non of his apprentices, great though they were, learned the essentials of his secrets.


It's about what we create. In "It must be Beautiful, the Great Equations of Modern Science Graham Farmelo talks about "the expression of beauty as the perfect balance of science and poetry", and Alan Moore subtitles his book "Do Design" "Why beauty is the key to everything."

As he often does, David Whyte simplifies it in Consolations:

“Beauty is the harvest of presence.”

I'll leave the (almost) last word to Peter Korn.

“In the workshop, wishing won't make it so. The craftsman is forced to come to terms with the physical properties of materials, the mechanical properties of tools, and the real capacity and limits of his own dexterity, discipline and imagination. In this way, craft's materiality imposes cooperation on the sometimes discordant factions of the mind. By necessity, it reconciles the desire to interpret the world in ways that are emotionally gratifying with the countervailing need for accurate information to facilitate effective decisions. Thus the holistic quality of craft lies not only in engaging the whole person but also in harmonising his understanding of himself in the world.”

The topic of Why? is a very deep rabbit hole and very different for each of us, so what I've written here barely scratches the surface, but as I say, it's a start.

If our motivations are bounded by identity, relationships and beauty, then it is clear that there are no courses, no training, and no qualifications for being a New Artisan. Yes, we can train the skills, but we cannot train the presence, only evoke it.

Artisans are not defined by their skill, sector, or rank.

They are defined by their sense of who they are, and their relationship with the world. As artisans, we create, sign and take responsibility for our work. We may be commissioned by others, but we don't work for them because we are accountable to our work. Our work is the work. If we're Artisans, then we're on the hook. We can let busy work and logic keep it down and obedient for a while, but sooner or later, it will have its way.

New Artisans and the Circle of Impact

We had an excellent evening with Ed Brenegar on Wednesday talking about his "Circle of Impact" model, and its implications for the New Artisan.

You can contact Ed direct for any follow-up questions you may have.

Mail. ed@edbrenegar.com

Web. https://edbrenegar.com

Substack. https://edbrenegar.substack.com

Coming up

On the 14th of December, Sue Heatherington will be with us to talk about her developing work on “The Art of Quiet Disruption". Those of you who know her will be aware of her ability to drop something into a conversation that quietly alters its direction or her daily pauses from The Waterside. In a noisy world, quiet disruption is a powerful thing. Here's a link to her Waterside website.

Home - The Waterside
breathing space for teams

The call will be on Zoom, and if everyone is happy, it will be recorded for those who can't make it.

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We are not Alone

I love this initiative from Alan Moore. He is a part of New Artisans, and his unrelenting efforts are an inspiration. I first came to know his work when he wrote "No Straight Lines", and became inspired by Do Design and our conversations together as he wrote Do Build.

DS4BB is the next iteration at a time when we need this type of leadership. Have a look, and spread the word.

Designing the Designers for a More Regenerative Future
Why I am launching The Design School for Beautiful Business

Have a great week.