Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Craftsman

After 12 years of working for a Bank I needed a change. I was mid 30’s, had just gone through a divorce, and I hated my job. I was also in debt up to my eyeballs, but had just met another beautiful blond babe and things were looking up.

We moved in together and started planning a new life. Layoffs came at the bank and I was more than ready to desert that sinking ship. I took a severance package and moved from the city to a small town in Oregon with my new wife and a horizon full of possibilities. What meager retirement from the bank I took in cash to live off of and embarked on my new career as a custom clock maker and woodworker. To say that I was naive about the potential success of my newly chosen career would be an understatement.

I had designed a wooden cube clock with a brass face. The “creative” aspect was that the numbers on the face looked as if they had all fallen off the face in a jumbled pile at the bottom of the clock. I thought it was pretty clever. It required that I make a cubicle oak case, hand letter the face and insert the works behind a glass bezel. Not high woodworking sill, but it took a bit of time to assemble each one by hand.

I had remodeled the garage of my new wife’s home as a shop. One of the first things I noticed was that it was a bit lonely to work at home alone every day. The guy across the street was a self-employed potter so I went over and visited with him when time permitted. Occasionally he needed help with his pottery business so I worked for him unloading the kiln and dipping pots into the glazing. We were artists and in production… making a living from our crafts. I thought I was pretty cool.

In reality, the money wasn’t coming in. At one point I booked booth space at a nearby town that had an open crafts market. I constructed a booth, paid the booth fees, and hauled my inventory to the market. These were long days of standing around watching shoppers slip into and out of my booth, browsing my merchandise, selling an occasional clock. On a good day, I made almost enough to cover my booth fee. No profit to speak of.

A few feet away there was usually some homeless guy who sat on a bench or on the ground, flailing away on an out-of-tune guitar. This guy would throw a hat out in front of him and soon it would fill up with $1 and $5 dollar bills. He paid no booth fee, no overhead costs whatsoever. The same people who would wander through my booth, but not buy anything, would happily drop money into this guy's hat... money for nothing!! He was making a lot of money. I was clearly backing the wrong business model.

It became remarkably apparent: people didn’t know talent from no talent, no idea of craftsmanship from crap. They would buy the clock made of a slice of wood with no more than a hole drilled into it for the clockworks. They had no appreciation of workmanship that went into an item versus stamping out a piece of garbage.

I believe generally that artists have the capability to appreciate the work of other artists. But the general public doesn’t know shit from Shineola. I believe this is why so many high grossing films and books hit the market each year… people buy into them because they are popular, not because they are good. Quality is lost on the common man.

Sherlock Holmes said it best: “Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself - talent instantly recognizes genius".

1 comment:

Charlie said...

Lemmings. They're all lemmings, minus the intelligence of a lemming—at least they were smart enough to jump and free up some space and air.