The Nature and Art of Workmanship

Notes from The Nature and Art of Workmanship by David Pye. Exploring the concept of 'the workmanship of risk'.


§ Foreword:

§ Workmanship of risk = any moment workman is liable to ruin the job

§ Workmanship of certainty = quality of result predetermined and beyond control of the operative

§ Design in the service of workmanship

§ Diversity in the made environment is the tonic our weary souls require

§ Highly regulated work made by the workmanship of risk

§ Ideas of John Ruskin and William Morris are resurgent, nostalgic yearning for a simpler time and in the popular respect of crudely made and even dysfunctional craft works.

§ James Krenov

§ 1

§ Design can be conveyed in words/drawing, workmanship can’t.

§ Designer can have defects of workmanship corrected, but no designer can make a bad workman produce good workmanship.

§ Quality of environment does not depend solely on its design, can be nullified by workmen

§ Designers have only been able to exist by exploiting what workmen have evolved or intended

§ Only worked material has quality, material in the raw is nothing much

§ In speaking of good material we are paying an unconscious tribute to the enormous strength of the traditions of workmanship

§ Some materials promise more than others, but only workmen can bring out what they promise

§ Mass production not bad workmanship, range of qualities capable of = restrictive – uniform, lacks depth/diversity.

§ 2

§ Good workmanship = craftsmanship

§ Craftsmanship = backward and opposed to new technology world depends on? Or deep spiritual value and valuable ingredient of civilization?

§ Craftmanship = quality of work not predetermined, depends on judgement, dexterity, and care of maker. Quality = at risk during process of making

§ Care counts for more than judgement and dexterity; care may become habitual and unconscious

§ When workmanship of certainty remakes our environment, will change the visible quality of it.

§ All workmen using workmanship of risk are constantly devising ways to limit the risk.

§ Certainty used for time saving or accuracy

§ Distinction between = Is result predetermined and unalterable once production begins?

§ Risk not always valuable, waste of time/expensive/poor quality

§ People demand individuality so risk won’t die, but possibilities may be neglected.

§ Risk no longer = quality

§ 3

§ Distinguishing ways made – hand or machine = meaningless. But estimate degree of risk to the quality of result = useful basis for comparison.

§ Done by hand = what? Hand-tools not machine? Potter’s wheel?

§ Made by hand-guided tools? Write off every drill, lathe etc with shape-determining systems.

§ Handicrafts and hand-made are historical or social terms, not technical ones. Their use now refers to workmanship of any kind which could have been found before the Industrial Revolution.

§ Current idea of handicraft deeply coloured by the arts and crafts movement; became a movement of protest against the workmanship and aesthetics of the industrial revolution.

§ To William Morris, handicraft = primarily work without division of labour, made the workman ‘a mere part of the machine’.

§ Medieval period, workman worked for himself and no capitalistic employer and tools were to help hand-labour not to supplement it = period of pure handicraft.

§ Workmanship in different trades differs v widely.

§ 4

§ ‘good’ ‘bad’ ‘precise’ ‘rough’, rough not = bad and precise not =good. Soundness and comeliness = whether something good or bad.

§ Soundness = ability to transmit and resist forces as the designer intended, no hidden flaws

§ Comeliness = ability to give aesthetic expression which designer intended, or add it

§ Good workmanship = carries out or improves upon the intended design

§ Designs = ideal, flawless, take to a workman to show how near can get.

§ Rough work less laborious, so in the west often seen inferior to the perfect

§ In workmanship of risk, rough work = necessary basis for perfect work

§ Workmanship of risk, there is no rough work. perfect result achieved directly without preliminary approximation.

§ If rough work looks like an intrusion (carelessness) job is spoilt

§ Effect of approximations contributes to aesthetic quality of workmanship ‘diversity’, flat surface not quite flat and faint pattern of tool marks

§ ‘free’ workmanship = evident and usually intentional disparities, precise repetition avoided

§ Tin can = workmanship of certainty, cabinet = risk. But unevenness in can = free workmanship that contrasts with completely regulate elements elsewhere. Cabinet more regulated

§ Finished picture often lacks freshness of a sketch, free workmanship = nature of a sketch

§ Risk not necessarily = free and certainty not necessarily = regulated.

§ Designer = decide contents of drawings and specifications and what info to convey

§ Intended design = what designer sees in mind’s eye, the ideal. Unattainable intention

§ By reference to the intended design, we judge the quality of workmanship

§ Ideal form = highly regulated. Conceivable but not attainable. Perfect cylinder etc

§ Possible to put highly regulated and free workmanship side by side, but unless evidently dissociated, regulated make free look careless.

§ Technique = knowledge that informs workmanship

§ Technology = scientific study and extension of technique

§ Workmanship = application of technique

§ Regulated workmanship = achievement appears to correspond exactly with idea. Evident disparity between = free/rough

§ For workman to determine what designer means after he’d done his best

§ 5

§ Size, shape, reflectance, colour and translucency important

§ Cost of designing in quantity-production is high, strong incentive to design in shapes that are easy to communicate. Standardised.

§ 6

§ Each leaf different, but species look recognisable. Free workmanship – underlying idea, the ideal form ‘pattern of the species’ and see individual expression because of approximate workmanship. See natural order reflected in works of man in free workmanship

§ Common things were fairly free/rough workmanship, precise and regular were worshipful. So strove for precision and regulation to = mastery

§ Opposition of art to nature, more beautiful when stronger than

§ Now make things to reflect natural order, before must have been trivial. Regulation once had a meaning which it no longer has; while free workmanship begins to mean what it can never have meant before.

§ 7

§ Every formal element has a maximum and minimum effective range. Can only be perceived for what it is within those limits

§ In nature and good design, diversity in scale of the formal elements. As approach, new elements appear and come into play aesthetically. Keep going until eyes too close to focus.

§ “A thing properly designed and made, continually reveals new complexes of newly perceived formal elements the nearer you get to it”

§ No ordered elements = no quality of art. E.g. rubbish heap

§ In the relating together and often in the subtlety of those relations that the art lies.

§ Though may not take much notice of it, we need to have

§ Contrast and tension between regulation and diversity = half the art of diversity

§ Don’t like things to be affected by age and wear – maybe because we ourselves are scared of aging and project this onto our possessions? Renew them, imagine renewing ourselves?

§ Like new because of what it symbolises rather than special aesthetic qualities.

§ Damage = accidental change which thwarts design

§ Japanese cult of ‘sabi’ – the love of imperfection as a measure of perfection

§ 8

§ Durability doesn’t require as much regulation as often thought

§ Things we inherit from the past remind us that the people who made them were like us and give us a link to them – a thought to offset the knowledge that life is short

§ 9

§ Truth to material = bringing out its properties e.g metallic of metal

§ Any material takes certain shapes easily or directly. These unforced shapes are natural to it and are the right shapes to aim at. Mustn’t torture your material.

§ Don’t want to express properties of materials, but their qualities. Properties = objective and measurable, qualities = subjective.

§ Bad workmanship = making mistakes through a hurry, carelessness or ineptitude that thwart the design

§ Cant have any direct rapport with any material – can only see the surface. So extract info from just the look of a surface. Rough/smooth, light/heavy, cold/hot etc. when find have misjudged, get a shock.

§ Surface qualities we deem unpleasant without considering why are often those shown on the edges of light reflections and still in need of cleaning off or smoothing down. Something not done that should have been.

§ 10

§ “men were 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 you must unhumanize them” pp.115 - Ruskin

§ 11

§ Highly regulated workmanship shows us a thing done in style: evident intention achieved with evident success. Belief that doing anything = has own aesthetic importance of its own independent of the importance of what is done.

§ Design = matter of imposing order on things

§ Early days of civilisation, highly regulated = admirable because rare, difficult and exceptional. Now reversed, might try make environment more concord with our natural one.



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