July 29, 2014

some conception of a finally perfected work (1990)

The standards of achievement within any craft are justified historically. They have emerged from the criticism of their predecessors and they are justified because and insofar as they have remedied the defects and transcended the limitations of those predecessors as guides to excellent achievement within that particular craft. Every craft is informed by some conception of a finally perfected work which serves as the shared telos of that craft. And what are actually produced as the best judgments or actions or objects so far are judged so because they stand in some determinate relationship to that telos, which furnishes them with their final cause. So it is within forms of intellectual enquiry, telos of such an enquiry is a conception of a perfected science or hierarchy of such sciences, in which theoretical or practical truths are deductively ordered by derivation from first principles. Those successive partial and imperfect versions of the science or sciences, which are elaborated at different stages in the history of the craft, provide frameworks within which claimants to truth succeed to fail by finding or failing to find a place in those deductive schemes. But the overall schemes themselves are justified by their ability to do better than any rival competitor so far, both in organizing the experience of those who have up to this point made the craft what it is and in supplying correction and improvement where some need for these has been identified.
whether theoretical or practical, which issue at any particular stage in their history in types of judgment and activity which are rationally justified as the best so far, in the light of those formulations of the relevant standards of achievement which are rationally justified as the best so far. And this is no less true when the

Alasdair MacIntyre, 1990

April 18, 2014

between usefulness and beauty (1973)

Octavio Paz by Arturo Espinosa
In craftsmanship there is a continuous movement back and forth between usefulness and beauty; this back-and-forth motion has a name: pleasure. Things are pleasing because they are useful and beautiful.

Octavio Paz (1973)

April 1, 2014

only the earnest and free man (1860)

John Sokol, word portrait of Thoreau (1982)
We seem to have forgotten that the expression “a liberal education” originally meant among the Romans one worthy of free men; while the learning of trades and professions by which to get your livelihood merely was considered worthy of slaves only. But taking a hint from the word, I would go a step further, and say that it is not the man of wealth and leisure simply, though devoted to art, or science, or literature, who, in a true sense, is liberally educated, but only the earnest and free man. In a slaveholding country like this, there can be no such thing as a liberal education tolerated by the State; and those scholars of Austria and France who, however learned they may be, are contented under their tyrannies have received only a servile education.

Henry David Thoreau (1860)

March 25, 2014

freedom rooted in vitality (1967)

Marianne Moore by Luis Quintanilla
       What is a college?
a place where freedom is rooted in vitality,
where faith is the substance of things hoped for,
where things seen were not made with hands –

Marianne Moore (1967)

March 22, 2014

the deepest human life (1900)

In God’s eyes, the differences of social position, of intellect, of culture, of cleanliness, of dress, which different men exhibit, and all the other rarities and exceptions on which they so fantastically pin their pride, must be so small as, practically, quite to vanish; and all that should remain is the common fact that here we are, a countless multitude of vessels of life, each of us pent in to peculiar difficulties, with which we must severally struggle by using whatever of fortitude and goodness we can summon up. The exercise of the courage, patience, and kindness, must be the significant portion of the whole business; and the distinctions of position can only be a manner of diversifying the phenomenal surface upon which these underground virtues may manifest their effects. At this rate, the deepest human life is everywhere, is eternal. 

William James (1900)

March 20, 2014

craft is the skill of making (1974)

I think technique is different from craft. Craft is what you can learn from other verse. Craft is the skill of making. It wins competitions in the Irish Times or the New Statesman. It can be deployed without reference to the feelings or the self. It knows how to keep up a capable verbal athletic display; it can be content to be vox et praeterea nihil-all voice and nothing else-but not voice as in 'finding a voice'. Learning the craft is learning to turn the windlass at the well of poetry. Usually you begin by dropping the bucket halfway down the shaft and winding up a taking of air. You are miming the real thing until one day the chain draws unexpectedly tight and you have dipped into waters that will continue to entice you back. You'll have broken the skin on the pool of yourself. Your pratices will be 'fit for digging'.

At that point it becomes appropriate to speak of technique rather than craft. Technique, as I would define it, involves not only a poet's way with words, his management of metre, rhythm and verbal texture; it involves also a definition of his stance towards life, a definition of his own reality. It involves the discovery of ways to go out of his normal cognitive bounds and raid the inarticulate: a dynamic alertness that mediates between the origins of feeling in memory and experience and the formal ploys that express these in a work of art. Technique entails the watermarking of your essential patterns of perception, voice and thought into the touch and texture of your lines; it is that whole creative effort of the mind's and body's resources to bring the meaning of experience within the jurisdiction of form. Technique is what turns, in Yeats's phrase, 'the bundle of accident and incoherence that sits down to breakfast' into 'an idea, something intended, complete.

Seamus Heaney (1974)

March 19, 2014

the art of being free (1835)

It cannot be repeated too often that nothing is more fertile in prodigies than the art of being free; but there is nothing more arduous than the apprenticeship of liberty. It is not so with despotism: despotism often promises to make amends for a thousand previous ills; it supports the right, it protects the oppressed, and it maintains public order. The nation is lulled by the temporary prosperity that it produces, until it is roused to a sense of its misery. Liberty, on the contrary, is generally established with difficulty in the midst of storms; it is perfected by civil discord; and its benefits cannot be appreciated until it is already old.

Alexis de Tocqueville (1835)

March 18, 2014

touch the body of books (1855)

When the psalm sings instead of the singer,
When the script preaches instead of the preacher,
When the pulpit descends and goes instead of the carver that 
         carved the supporting desk, 
When I can touch the body of books by night or by day, and 
         when they touch my body back again, 
When a university course convinces like a slumbering woman and 
         child convince, 
When the minted gold in the vault smiles like the night-watchman's 
         daughter, 
When warrantee deeds loafe in chairs opposite and are my friendly 
         companions, 
I intend to reach them my hand, and make as much of them as 
         I do of men and women like you. 

Walt Whitman (1855)

March 17, 2014

style hates waste (1929)

 · Alfred North Whitehead ·

Finally, there should grow the most austere of all mental qualities; I mean the sense for style. It is an aesthetic sense, based on admiration for the direct attainment of a foreseen end, simply and without waste. Style in art, style in literature, style in science, style in logic, style in practical execution have fundamentally the same aesthetic qualities, namely, attainment and restraint. . . .

Here we are brought back to the position from which we started, the utility of education. Style, in its finest sense, is the last acquirement of the educated mind; it is also the most useful. It pervades the whole being. The administrator with a sense for style hates waste; the engineer with a sense for style economises his material; the artisan with a sense for style prefers good work. Style is the ultimate morality of mind.

But above style, and above knowledge, there is something, a vague shape like fate above the Greek gods. That something is Power. Style is the fashioning of power, the restraining of power. But, after all, the power of attainment of the desired end is fundamental. The first thing is to get there. Do not bother about your style, but solve your problem, justify the ways of God to man, administer your province, or do whatever else is set before you.

-- Alfred North Whitehead (1929)

imitating the best work of your betters (2012)

Perhaps the old academies were right after all: don't learn by copying nature, copy art. It's not that nature gets it wrong, it's that good artists show you how to get nature right. They know what changes you have to make to a thing to make it look like itself, but in another medium. What a chisel has to do to make marble flowers look like flowers, what a paintbrush has to do to bring a face to life in two dimensions. No matter what direction you take later, imitating the best work of your betters makes a good beginning. Maybe my eighteenth-century motto got it backward. Don't imitate Homer, imitate the Iliad.

David Esterly (2012)

March 16, 2014

see the table vanish (1958)

To live together in the world means essentially that a world of things is between those who have it in common, as the table is located between those who sit around it, the world like every inbetween relates and separates men at the same time. What makes mass society so difficult to bear is not the number of people involved, or at least not primarily, but the fact that the world between them has lost its power to gather them together, to relate and to separate them. The weirdness of this situation resembles a spiritual séance where a number of people gathered around a table might suddenly, through some magic trick, see the table vanish from their midst, so that two persons sitting opposite each other were no longer separated but also would be entirely unrelated to each other by anything tangible.

Hannah Arendt (1958)

March 15, 2014

conversation flowing through time (2013)

The best way to understand craft, I believe, is to think of it as a conversation flowing through time. Or, more precisely, as a recent eddy in a broad conversation about object-making that began at least 25 million years ago, when our hominid ancestors were making tools . . . Knowledge gained through experience has accreted from generation to generation (along with their beliefs, values, and aesthetic ideals), passed on by example and explanation. This flow of information through millennia is the conversation of object making. We participate in it every time we make an object and, to a lesser extent, every time we interact with one.

Peter Korn (2013)

March 14, 2014

on intellectual craftsmanship (1959)

. . . whether he knows it or not, the intellectual workman forms his own self as he works toward the perfection of his own craft; to realize his own potentialities, and any opportunities that come his way, he constructs a character which has at its core the qualities of the good workman.

What this means is that you must learn to use your life experience in your intellectual work: continually examine and interpret it. In this sense craftsmanship is the center of yourself and you are personally involved in every intellectual product upon which you may work . . .

Imagination is often successfully invited by putting together hitherto isolated items, by finding unsuspected connections . . . I do not know the full social conditions of the best intellectual worksmanship, but certainly surrounding oneself by a circle of people who will listen and talk – and at times they have to be imaginary characters – is one of them . . .

There is an unexpected quality about [imagination], perhaps because its essence is the combination of ideas that no one expected were combinable . . . There is a playfulness of mind back of such combining as well as a truly fierce drive to make sense of the world, which a technician usually lacks. Perhaps he is too well trained, too precisely trained. Since one can be trained only in what is already known, training sometimes incapacitates one from learning new ways; it makes one rebel against what is bound to be at first loose and even sloppy. But you must cling to such vague images and notions, if they are yours, and you must work them out. For it is in such forms that original ideas, if any, almost always first appear . . .

Thinking is a struggle for order and at the same time for comprehensiveness. You must not stop thinking too soon – or you will fail to know all that you should; you cannot leave it to go on forever, or you yourself will burst. It is this dilemma, I suppose, that makes reflection, on those rare occasions when it is more or less successful, the most passionate endeavor of which the human being is capable.

Be a good craftsman: Avoid any rigid set of procedures. Above all, seek to develop and to use the . . . imagination. Avoid the fetishism of method and technique. Urge the rehabilitation of the unpretentious intellectual craftsman, and try to become such a craftsman yourself.

C. Wright Mills (1959)

March 13, 2014

you cannot make both (1853)

And this is what we have to do with all our labourers; to look for the thoughtful part of them, and get that out of them, whatever we lose for it, whatever faults and errors we are obliged to take with it. For the best that is in them cannot manifest itself, but in company with much error. Understand this clearly: You can teach a man to draw a straight line, and to cut one; to strike a curved line, and to carve it; and to copy and carve any number of given lines or forms, with admirable speed and perfect precision; and you find his work perfect of its kind: but if you ask him to think about any of those forms, to consider if he cannot find any better in his head, he stops; his execution becomes hesitating; he thinks, and ten to one he thinks wrong; ten to one he makes a mistake in the first touches he gives to his work as a thinking being. But you have made a man of him for all that. He was only a machine before, an animated tool.

And observe, you are put to stern choice in this matter. You must either make a tool of the creature, or a man of him. You cannot make both. Men are not intended to work with the accuracy of tools, to be precise and perfect in all their actions. If you will have that precision out of them, and make their fingers measure degrees like cogwheels, and their arms strike curves like compasses, you must unhumanize them. All the energy of their spirits must be given to make cogs and compasses of themselves. All their attention and strength must go to the accomplishment of the mean act. The eye of the soul must be bent upon the finger point, and the soul's force must fill all the invisible nerves that guide it, ten hours a day, that it may not err from its steely precision, and so soul and sight be worn away, and the whole human being be lost at last – a heap of sawdust, so far as its intellectual work in this world is concerned: saved only by its Heart, which cannot go into the form of cogs and compasses, but expands, after the ten hours are over, into fireside humanity. On the other hand, if you will make a man of the working creature, you cannot make a tool.

John Ruskin (1853)

March 12, 2014

demand intellectual engagement (2007)

"Deliverance from a Gilded Cage" (1994)


. . . the case for craft education at the college level should be addressed to a generalized liberal arts university. Why? Because liberal arts institutions place a rigorous intellectual demand (in theory, if not quite in practice) on subjects taught in that environment. To justify a subject within the liberal arts one must answer specific questions about the subject's place in the larger society, and its ability to demand intellectual engagement. If craft can answer the questions imposed by the liberal arts framework, it can answer similar questions raised by small colleges, art schools – and in fact, almost any educational setting. . . . 

Bruce Metcalf (2007)

March 11, 2014

right thinking (19 BCE)

scribendi recte sapere est et principium et fons
["the source and fountainhead of good writing is right thinking"]

Horace (19 BCE)

the craft of reading (2002)

One becomes a crafty reader by learning the craft of reading. I believe that it is in our interest as individuals to become crafty readers, and in the interest of the nation to educate citizens in the craft of reading. The craft, not the art. Art is high, craft is low. Art is unique; it can't be taught. Craft is common; it can be learned. There are virtuoso readers, who produce readings that are breathtakingly original, but the more original these readers become, the less they remain readers. Their readings become new works, writings, if you will, for which the originals were only pretexts, and those who create them become authors. I am not interested in producing such readings myself, nor do I believe that anyone can teach others to produce them. What can be studied, learned, and taught is the craft of reading. . . . What is the craft of reading? As with any craft, reading depends on the use of certain tools, handled with skill. But the tools of reading are not simply there, like a hammer or a chisel; they must be acquired, through practice.

Robert Scholes (2002)

a creature divided (1979)

Patrick Haines
Caught – the bubble
in the spirit level,
a creature divided;
and the compass needle
wobbling and wavering,
undecided.
Freed – the broken
thermometer's mercury
running away;
and the rainbow-bird
from the narrow bevel
of the empty mirror,
flying wherever
it feels like, gay!


Elizabeth Bishop (1979)




March 10, 2014

a holding environment (2012)

So what is the bargain you're establishing to be? A holding environment? That's what Winnicott calls it, and a classroom is also kind of holding environment. I mean you are not going to settle everything here, but we're going to admit that we're in this mess together. Some things we can do, some things we can't do, but some things we're going to hold onto.

Stanley Cavell (2012)

find excitement in discovery and creation (2014)

In a reasonable graduate seminar, you don’t expect students to copy it down and repeat whatever you say; you expect them to tell you when you’re wrong or to come up with new ideas, to challenge, to pursue some direction that hadn’t been thought of before. That’s what real education is at every level, and that’s what ought to be encouraged. That ought to be the purpose of education. It’s not to pour information into somebody’s head which will then leak out but to enable them to become creative, independent people who can find excitement in discovery and creation and creativity at whatever level or in whatever domain their interests carry them.

Noam Chomsky (2014)

know no such liberty (1642)

When Love with unconfinèd wings
   Hovers within my Gates,
And my divine Althea brings
   To whisper at the Grates;
When I lie tangled in her hair,
   And fettered to her eye,
The Gods that wanton in the Air,
   Know no such Liberty.


When flowing Cups run swiftly round
   With no allaying Thames,
Our careless heads with Roses bound,
   Our hearts with Loyal Flames;
When thirsty grief in Wine we steep,
   When Healths and draughts go free,
Fishes that tipple in the Deep
   Know no such Liberty.


When (like committed linnets) I
   With shriller throat shall sing
The sweetness, Mercy, Majesty,
   And glories of my King;
When I shall voice aloud how good
   He is, how Great should be,
Enlargèd Winds, that curl the Flood,
   Know no such Liberty.


Stone Walls do not a Prison make,
   Nor Iron bars a Cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
   That for an Hermitage.
If I have freedom in my Love,
   And in my soul am free,
Angels alone that soar above,
   Enjoy such Liberty.

Richard Lovelace (1642)

March 9, 2014

thinking is a handicraft (1968)

We are trying to learn thinking. Perhaps thinking, too, is just something like building a cabinet. At any rate, it is a craft, a "handicraft." "Craft" literally means strength and skill in our hands. The hand is a peculiar thing. . . . Only a being who can speak, that is, think, can have hands and can be handy in achieving works of handicraft. 
But the craft of the hand is richer than we commonly imagine. The hand does not only grasp and catch, or push and pull. The hand reaches and extends, receives, and welcomes – and not just things: the hand extends itself, and receives its own welcome in the hands of others. The hand holds. The hand carries. The hand designs and signs, presumably because man is a sign. Two hands are folded into one, a gesture meant to carry man into the great oneness. The hand is all thing, and this is the handicraft. Everything is rooted here that is commonly known as handicraft, and commonly we go no further. But the hand's gestures run everywhere through language, in their most perfect purity precisely when man speaks by being silent. And only when man speaks, does he think – not the other way around, as metaphysics still believes. Every motion of the hand in every one of its works carries itself through the element of thinking, every hearing of the hand bears itself in that element. All the work of the hand is rooted in thinking. Therefore, thinking itself is man's simplest, and for that reason hardest, handiwork, if it would be accomplished at its proper time.

Martin Heidegger (1968)



we became our own faculty (1995)

In the struggle, Robben Island was known as the University. This is not only because of what we learned from books, or because prisoners studied English, Afrikaans, art, geography, and mathematics, or because so many of our men . . . earned multiple degrees. Robben Island was known as the University because of what we learned from each other. We became our own faculty, with our own professors, our own curriculum, our own courses. . . .

Teaching conditions were not ideal. Study groups would work together on the quarry and station themselves in a circle around the leader of the seminar. The style of teaching was Socratic in nature; ideas and theories were elucidated through the leaders asking and answering questions. . . .

As these courses became known in the general section, we began to get queries from our men on the other side. This started what became a kind of correspondence course with the prisoners in the general section. The teachers would smuggle lectures over to them and they would respond with questions and comments.

This was beneficial for us as well as for them. These men had little formal education, but a great knowledge of the hardships of the world. Their concerns tended to be practical rather than philosophical. . . . Such questions were immensely valuable and forced one to think hard about one's views.

Nelson Mandela (1995)

to think for one's self is very difficult (1947)

It seems to me that education has a two-fold function to perform in the life of man and in society: the one is utility and the other is culture. Education must enable a man to become more efficient, to achieve with increasing facility the legitimate goals of his life.

Education must also train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking. To think incisively and to think for one's self is very difficult. We are prone to let our mental life become invaded by legions of half truths, prejudices, and propaganda. At this point, I often wonder whether or not education is fulfilling its purpose. A great majority of the so-called educated people do not think logically and scientifically. Even the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths. To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.

The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. . . . We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.


the problem of freedom (1960)

Whether we know it or not, the question of politics is always present when we speak of the problem of freedom; and we can hardly touch a single political issue without, implicitly or explicitly, touching upon an issue of man's liberty. For freedom, which is only seldom – in times of crisis or revolution – the direct aim of political action, is actually the reason why men live together in political organization at all; without it, political life as such would be meaningless. The raison d'être of politics is freedom, and its field of experience is action.

– Hannah Arendt (1960)

material at hand (1974)

Sometime look at a novice workman or a bad workman and compare his expression with that of a craftsman whose work you know is excellent and you'll see the difference. The craftsman isn't ever following a single line of instruction. He's making decisions as he goes along. For that reason he'll be absorbed and attentive to what he's doing even though he doesn't deliberately contrive this. His motions and the machine are in a kind of harmony. He isn't following any set of written instructions because the nature of the material at hand determines his thoughts and motions, which simultaneously change the nature of the material at hand. The material and his thoughts are changing together in a progression of changes until his mind's at rest at the same time the material's right.

Robert Pirsig (1974)

truth must be common to all (1792)

William Blake (1791)
illustration to Wollstonecraft's
Original Stories from Real Life
Contending for the rights of woman, my main argument is built on this simple principle, that if she be not prepared by education to become the companion of man, she will stop the progress of knowledge, for truth must be common to all, or it will be inefficacious with respect to its influence on general practice. And how can woman be expected to co-operate unless she knows why she ought to be virtuous? unless freedom strengthens her reason till she comprehend her duty, and see in what manner it is connected with her real good? If children are to be educated to understand the true principle of patriotism, their mother must be a patriot; and the love of mankind, from which an orderly train of virtues spring, can only be produced by considering the moral and civil interest of mankind; but the education and situation of woman, at present, shuts her out from such investigations.

Mary Wollstonecraft (1792)

freedom for a few (1877)

I do not want art for a few, any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few.

William Morris (1877)

put your own signature on your own work (1983)

When one finds in schools a climate that makes it possible to take pride in one's craft, when one has the permission to pursue what one's educational imagination adumbrates, when one receives from students the kind of glow that says you have touched my life, satisfactions flow that exceed whatever it is that sabbaticals and vacations can provide. The aesthetic in teaching is the experience secured from being able to put your own signature on your own work – to look at it and say it was good. . . . It means being swept up in the task of making something beautiful – and teachers do make their own spaces and places. . . . Craftspersons and artists tend to care a great deal about what they do, they get a great deal of satisfaction from the journey as well as from the destination, they take pride in their work, and they are among the first to appreciate quality. Is such an image really inappropriate today? I hope not. I hope such an image always has a place in our schools.

Elliott Eisner (1983)

craft, like all knowledge, reliably produces results (1995)

. . . the crafts Plato most frequently used are ones that have objects on which they work, on which they carry out their function. The objects can be either animate or inanimate. This distinction among objects allows a distinction among crafts and their functions and goals. When objects are inanimate, the function of the craft is to produce ten and its goal is a separate material object. When the objects are animate, the function of the craft is not to produce them but to improve or perfect them; the goal, then, is the improved state of the object. . . . In the early dialogues, Plato tends to use craft (techne) interchangeably with knowledge (episteme). The interchangeability implies that craft, like all knowledge, reliably produces results. Moreover, knowledge in the context of craft does not mean just knowing how to accomplish the goal of the craft, but includes a theoretical component as well. In the Apology (22d), craftsmen are said to know what they do because they can explain their craft; presumably they can explain why they do what they do. In the Gorgias (465a; 501a), Socrates says that craft can give a rational account of the nature of what it prescribes.

Richard D. Parry (1995)

every kind of work will be judged (1937)

The time will come when every kind of work will be judged by two measurements: one by the product itself, as is now done, and the other by the effect of the work on the producer. I believe this leads us to some realization that there is hope for the future and that we do not have to be puppets of our culture and technology, but can be forceful in redirecting the thought and movement of our society, if we, as individual craftsmen, set an example by means of our attitudes to our work and towards others.

Allen Eaton (1937)

freedom is of the mind (1943)

For we cannot win a true victory unless there exists in this country a large body of liberally educated citizens. This is a war for freedom – freedom here and freedom elsewhere. But if we are going to risk our lives for freedom, we must at the same time do all we can to preserve the deep springs from which it flows. Recently we have been prone to think of freedom in purely economic terms. It is true that a man cannot be free unless he has a job and a decent income. But this job and this income are not the sources of his freedom. They only implement it. Freedom is of the mind. Freedom is in that library of yours, around which this campus is built. When you range back and forth through the centuries, when you weigh the utterance of some great thinker or absorb the meaning of some great composition, in painting or music or poetry; when you live these things within yourself and measure yourself against them – only then do you become an initiate in the world of the free. It is in the liberal arts that you acquire the ability to make a truly free and individual choice. . . . 

In pleading for the humanities I am not preaching any gospel of high-browism. The relationship between a liberal education and freedom is good sound American doctrine. . . .

Too many of the planners, I feel, are trying to look ahead by looking backward. Too many are seeking the future in the past. I find in many of their speeches an attempt to solve everything by their pet economic theories – the same attempt that has nearly ruined us during the last ten or fifteen years. The study and practice of sound economics is indispensable to a successful solution of the peace. And yet even sound economics cannot define the aim of the peace, nor the aim of the war. To discover that aim we must go deeper. We must establish beyond any doubt the equality of men. And we shall find this equality, not in the different talents which we severally possess, nor in the different incomes which we severally earn, but in the great franchise of the mind, the universal franchise, which is bounded neither by color, nor by creed, nor by social status. Open the books, if you wish to be free.

Wendell Willkie (1943)

bring the right people together (2014)

Isolated from the people who carry them out, programs, practices and pedagogies seem to have little impact. What matters instead is who meets whom and when. Programs succeed only when they bring the right people together. If the right people are involved, a variety of curricula can serve colleges well. If they aren’t, no curriculum will work.

Daniel Chambliss and Christopher Takacs (2014)

the freedom to choose his next choice (1998)

The first great advantage of an arts and humanities curriculum is that the typical objects studied in it teach students both to recognize in the world and to cultivate within themselves a deep existential spirit of freedom and possibility. By “existential freedom” I do not mean to say that students of the arts and humanities learn particular views of or theories about political freedom. They may, but I am using “existential” in its root sense to refer to the most basic features and conditions of existence, and I am using “freedom” to refer to something different from and deeper than politics.

Both in the process by which arts and humanities objects are created and in the contents they express, these objects evade determinism and predictability. No one can ever predict, determine, or reduce to the operation of laws either how a poem, philosophical argument, or painting will be created or what it will say. Once an object of humanistic study has been created – an object, say, such as a breakthrough theorem in calculus or a Shakespearean sonnet or a new musical composition – that object teaches us the rightness of the placement and content of each of its parts and in that sense it seems predictable, but we only acquire this sense of the inevitability after we have seen the finished product. In the process of creation itself, the mathematician working on the theorem, Shakespeare working on his sonnet, or the composer working on her symphony literally does not know what is going to come next into his head or out of her mouth. No scheme of analysis or theory of creativity could ever have predicted that the opening line of Shakespeare's Sonnet 73, "That time of year thou mayst in me behold", would be followed by “When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, / Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.” The first line, “That time of year thou mayst in me behold,” could have been followed by comparisons to grass, to clocks, to the sun, to wind, to some kind of human activity, or to almost anything. Once we see what actually does follow we then see the rightness of it but we never could have predicted it because in the moments during which Shakespeare wrote his second, third, and fourth lines he was exercising a deep kind of existential freedom: the freedom to choose his next word one at a time, the freedom to choose his next image, the freedom, in short, to choose his next choiceIn his capacity as a poet, as a maker of the kinds of objects studied in a liberal arts curriculum, Shakespeare is not predictable. There is no law of psychology or economics or history or sociology which would have allowed us to predict that in Sonnet 73 these words in this order would come into the world as a consequence of someone’s poetic choices or that William Shakespeare would be that poetic someone. Not even Shakespeare could have predicted it. He did not know what the specific lines of his sonnet were going to be until he had written them, and the unpredictability of that act of creation is paradigmatic of a deep spirit of existential freedom that lies at the heart of the objects studied in an arts and humanities curriculum.

Marshall Gregory (1998)

craft is a starting place (2011)

Craft is a starting place, a set of possibilities.
It avoids absolutes, certainties, over-robust definitions, solace.
It offers places, interstices, where objects and people meet.
It is unstable, contingent.
It is about experience. It is about desire.
It can be beautiful.

Edmund de Waal (2011)

March 7, 2014

frees us to act (1998)

Education for human freedom is also education for human community. The two cannot exist without each other. Each of the qualities I have described is a craft or a skill or a way of being in the world that frees us to act with greater knowledge or power.

William Cronon (1998)

used to call a liberal art (1989)

Thirty years ago, the English scientist and novelist C. P. Snow talked of the 'two cultures' of contemporary society. Management, however, fits neither Snow's 'humanist' nor his 'scientist.' It deals with action and application; and its test is its results. This makes it a technology. But management also deals with people, their values, their growth and development – and this makes it a humanity. So does its concern with, and impact on, social structure and the community. Indeed as has been learnt by everyone who, like this author, has been working with managers of all kinds of institutions for long years, management is deeply involved in spiritual concerns – the nature of man, good and evil.

Management is thus what tradition used to call a liberal art: 'liberal' because it deals with the fundamentals of knowledge, self-knowledge, wisdom, and leadership; 'art' because it is practice and application. Managers draw on all the knowledge and insights of the humanities and the social sciences – on psychology and philosophy, on economics and on history, on the physical sciences and on ethics. But they have to focus this knowledge on effectiveness and results – on healing a sick patient, teaching a student, building a bridge, designing and selling a 'user-friendly' software program.

For all these reasons, management will increasingly be the discipline and the practice through and in which the 'humanities' will again acquire recognition, impact, and relevance. 


– Peter Drucker (1989)

curious, thoughtful, and skeptical (2014)

The Chinese have come to believe the mantra of many American colleges that the best leaders are those with the broadest education in the liberal arts. The goal of a liberal education is not to train specialists but to educate the whole person to be curious, thoughtful, and skeptical. Today, all Peking University students, even in its Guanghua School of Management, take multiple courses in the liberal arts, including literature, philosophy, and history. The University also boasts an elite liberal arts curriculum . . . The most important revolution in Chinese higher education today may not be its size and scope but the fact that even under the leadership of engineers, top institutions have come to understand that an education in the absence of the humanities is incomplete.

Harvard Business Review (2014)

think into language (2006)

You can write only with your brain . . . good writing depends on extensive reading . . . To write, you need first to read . . . everything you have ever read provides the thought and vocabulary of your own writing . . . you are allowed to think as you write . . . How do you find what to say? Obviously by reading and thinking and note-taking . . . Honest writing always involves hard thinking: there are no shortcuts to originality . . . Think into language . . . Revision need never stop . . . Sometimes writing proves difficult because you don't know enough . . . Summon all your powers of lateral thinking . . . Writing, unlike the universe, doesn't come from nothing . . .

Alastair Fowler (2006)

March 6, 2014

practice needs craft (1951)

Everything here is the path of a responding that examines as it listens. Any path always risks going astray, leading astray. To follow such paths takes practice in going. Practice needs craft. Stay on the path, in genuine need, and learn the craft of thinking, unswerving, yet erring.

– Martin Heidegger (1951)

a craft of thinking (2000)

Most of this knowledge cannot even be set down in words; it must be learned by practicing, over and over again. Monastic education is best understood, I think, on this apprenticeship model, more like masonry or carpentry than anything in the modern academy. It is an apprenticeship to a craft which is also a way of life. It is "practice" both in the sense of being "preparation" for a perfect craft mastery which can never be fully achieved, and in the sense of "working in a particular way." . . .  Meditation is a craft of thinking. People use it to make things, such as interpretations and ideas, as well as buildings and prayers. . . . the basic craft involved in making thoughts, including thoughts about the significance of texts, has been treated as though it were in itself unproblematical, even straightforward. It is neither. In the idiom of monasticism, people do not "have" ideas, they "make" them. The work (and I include both process and product in my use of this word) is no better than the skillful hand, or in this case the mind, of its user. . . . Toolmaking is an essential part of the orthopraxis of the craft.


Mary Carruthers (2000)

mental capacity, art, science (1903)

A very interesting knowledge-word is English craft ("skill, ability, trade") which in Middle English signified "might, power, ability, art, craft, deceit" – and the corresponding M. H. G. adjective crafi, "skillful, sly," our crafty, "cunning, sly." The cognate Modern High German word Kraft signifies, like Dutch Kracht and Danish kraft, "power, strength, force of an army, multitude, abundance" and the Anglo-Saxon craeft, besides these, meant also "mental capacity, art, science." The final etymology of craft is doubtful, but Skeat suggests kinship with cramp, and derivation from the Teutonic krap, "to draw forcibly together." If this etymology be true, it is curious that the verb "to cram" is cognate. Craft is evidently a word which has undergone, as Kluge points out, specialisation within the mental sphere, the English crafty being the latest development.

Alexander F. Chamberlin (1903)

in my craft or sullen art (1946)


In my craft or sullen art  
Exercised in the still night  
When only the moon rages  
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labour by singing light  
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms  
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages  
Of their most secret heart.

Not for the proud man apart  
From the raging moon I write  
On these spindrift pages  
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms  
But for the lovers, their arms  
Round the griefs of the ages,  
Who pay no praise or wages  
Nor heed my craft or art.

Dylan Thomas (1946)


the instrument of labour (1867)

Marx had good reason to stress the great fluidity of the connection between segments in artisanal labour. This connection appears to the factory worker on an assembly line in a detached, reified form. Independently of the worker's volition, the object being worked upon, comes within his range of action. And it moves away from him just as arbitrarily. "Every kind of capitalist production," writes Marx, "has this in common, that it is not the workman that employs the instrument of labour, but the instrument of labour that employs the workman. But it is only in the factory system that this reversal for the first time acquires technical and palpable reality. In working with machines workers learn to coordinate their own movement to the uniform, unceasing motion of an automaton."

Walter Benjamin, citing Karl Marx (1867)

March 5, 2014

the atmosphere of craftsmanship (1936)


Ain Sakhri lovers figurine (British Museum)
The intellectual picture of the atmosphere of craftsmanship from which the storyteller comes has perhaps never been sketched in such a significant way as by Paul Valéry: “This patient process of Nature was once imitated by men. Miniatures, ivory carvings, elaborated to the point of greatest perfection, stones that are perfect in polish and engraving, lacquer work or paintings in which a series of thin transparent layers are placed one on top of the other – all these products of sustained, sacrificing effort are vanishing, and the time is past in which time did not matter. Modern man no longer works at what cannot be abbreviated. . . . It is almost as if the decline of the idea of eternity coincided with the increasing aversion to sustained effort.”

Paul Valéry, cited by Walter Benjamin (1936)


craft of the mind (1989)

In an important and general sense, any art or technique may be said to be liberating. . . . any art liberates certain characteristics of the material it works on . . . the artisan by continued practice of his art acquires skill or, as it might be said, he liberates his own powers to make and apply his knowledge . . . Finally, it may be said that art is self-liberating . . . The liberal arts are not the special prerogative of the humanities nor of medieval professors, and pursuit of them does not turn a scientist into a literary man, nor a philosopher into a pedant. They may be understood – and properly understand, I should like to maintain – as arts, ways of making things, ways of producing a product. Among university people, instructors as well as students, I do not find a secure grasp upon the liberal arts in this sense. Usually courses in them are regarding as ways of acknowledging a subject matter that is not quite worth prolonged study or of touching ceremonially upon an area honored by a probably outworn tradition. They are not ways of actively producing something, but are rather a passive viewing which convention recommends from old habit. Nevertheless, the ancient conviction has it that they are arts in the proper sense, ways of making, only in their instance ways of making an internal, intellectual, and moral, product. I believe this tradition to be correct, and that we acquiesce in its loss to our peril. The liberal arts compose the craft of the mind and are practiced successfully whenever anyone succeeds in an intellectual or linguistic endeavor, whether in science, technology, the humanities, or in a fine art. . . . the arts of using language . . . are the arts of achieving such material, operative, and productive liberation as the human mind is capable. They define the craft of the mind in whatever context that mind happens to labor, whether scientific, technological, literary, or philosophic. Lumping the liberal arts vaguely together with the humanities and opposing them to the sciences is productive only of confusion and ultimately of disaster, for thus the primary ground of the unity of the mind's operation is concealed. 

E. G. Ballard (1989)

March 4, 2014

elevate your craft (2011)

Once you decide on your occupation . . . you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That's the secret of success. . . . I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit. There is always a yearning to achieve more. I'll continue to climb, trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is.

– Jiro Ono



Always look ahead and above yourself. Always try to improve on yourself. Always strive to elevate your craft. That's what he taught me.

– Yoshikazu Onu



Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

March 3, 2014

network of learning (1977)

In a society which emphasizes teaching, children and students – and adults – become passive and unable to think or act for themselves. Creative, active individuals can only grow up in a society which emphasizes learning instead of teaching. . . . the educational system so radically decentralized becomes congruent with the urban structure itself. People of all walks of life come forth, and offer a class in the things they know and love . . . Living and learning are the same. . . 

Therefore:

Instead of the lock-step of compulsory schooling in a fixed place, work in piecemeal ways to decentralize the process of learning and enrich it through contact with many places and people all over the city: workshops, teachers at home or walking through the city, professionals willing to take on the young as helpers, older children teaching younger children, museums, youth groups traveling, scholarly seminars, industrial workshops, old people, and so on. Conceive of all these situations as forming the backbone of the learning process; survey all these situations, describe them, and publish them as the city's "curriculum"; then let students, children, their families and neighborhoods weave together for themselves the situations that comprise their "school" . . . Build new educational facilities in a way which extends and enriches this network. 
 
Above all, encourage the formation of seminars and workshops in people's homes . . .


Christopher Alexander (1977)

education is an end in itself (1889)

[Education] has lost sight of the most important thing: the end as well as the means to the end. That schooling, education is an end in itself . . . that to this end educators are needed – and not grammar-school teachers or university scholars – people have forgotten this . . . What is needed is educators who have educated themselves: superior, noble minds, proven at every moment, proved by their words and silences, mature cultures grown sweetnot the learned louts whom grammar school and university set up to the youth of today as 'higher nurse-maids.' Apart from the rarest of exceptions, educators – the foremost precondition for education – are lacking . . . schools actually achieve a brutal kind of training aimed at losing as little time as possible in making a multitude of young men usable, exploitable for public service. . . . our 'high' schools are without exception geared to the most ambiguous mediocrity, with teachers, teaching plans, teaching objectives.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1889)

March 1, 2014

difficulty and labor (1601)

But it is not only the difficulty and labor, which men take in finding out of truth, nor again, that when it is found, it imposeth upon men's thoughts, that doth bring lies in favor; but a natural though corrupt love, of the lie itself.

Francis Bacon (1601)