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The Craftsman

Sennett, Richard

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Defining craftsmanship far more broadly than “skilled manual labor,” Richard Sennett maintains that the computer programmer, the doctor, the artist, and even the parent and citizen engage in a craftsman’s work. Craftsmanship names the basic human impulse to do a job well for its own sake, says the author, and good craftsmanship involves developing skills and focusing on the work rather than ourselves. In this thought-provoking book, one of our most distinguished public intellectuals explores the work of craftsmen past and present, identifies deep connections between material consciousness and ethical values, and challenges received ideas about what constitutes good work in today’s world.

 

The Craftsman engages the many dimensions of skill—from the technical demands to the obsessive energy required to do good work. Craftsmanship leads Sennett across time and space, from ancient Roman brickmakers to Renaissance goldsmiths to the printing presses of Enlightenment Paris and the factories of industrial London; in the modern world he explores what experiences of good work are shared by computer programmers, nurses and doctors, musicians, glassblowers, and cooks. Unique in the scope of his thinking, Sennett expands previous notions of crafts and craftsmen and apprises us of the surprising extent to which we can learn about ourselves through the labor of making physical things.

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Craftsmanship, says Richard Sennett, names the basic human impulse to do a job well for its own sake, and good craftsmanship involves developing skills and focusing on the work rather than ourselves. The computer programmer, the doctor, the artist, and even the parent and citizen all engage in a craftsman’s work. In this thought-provoking book, Sennett explores the work of craftsmen past and present, identifies deep connections between material consciousness and ethical values, and challenges received ideas about what constitutes good work in today’s world.   The Craftsman engages the many dimensions of skill—from the technical demands to the obsessive energy required to do good work. Craftsmanship leads Sennett across time and space, from ancient Roman brickmakers to Renaissance goldsmiths to the printing presses of Enlightenment Paris and the factories of industrial London; in the modern world he explores what experiences of good work are shared by computer programmers, nurses and doctors, musicians, glassblowers, and cooks. Unique in the scope of his thinking, Sennett expands previous notions of crafts and craftsmen and apprises us of the surprising extent to which we can learn about ourselves through the labor of making physical things.  

From the Author:

A conversation with Richard Sennett

 

Q:  What do you mean by craftsmanship?

A:  Craftsmanship names both the desire for quality and the skill to deliver it. A nurse or a computer programmer can think about his or her skill as a craft to which he or she is committed, just like a potter. In my book I try to show in particular what the traditional realm of artisans, making things by hand, reveals about craftsmanship in this larger sense of “doing something well for its own sake.”

 

Q:  Why does craftsmanship matter today?
A:  Most individuals, businesses, and organizations would claim they are driven by the desire to do good quality-work, but you’d be right to be suspicious about this claim. In the book I show how and why many modern institutions produce mediocre work; I show how the education system can provide students only superficial skills and little sense of commitment. “Craftsmanship” names more a desire than a reality we know how to put into practice.

 

Q: How does craft relate to art?

A: There is no art without craft, no expression without technique. So, in my book, I focus on the musician practicing scales, the architect working with problems at a building site, the writer cutting excess words from a paragraph. I do not discuss inspiration.

 

Q: The Craftsman is the first book in a trilogy; how do you think about the series?
A: I want to make sense of material things and material culture in a different way than the Marxist writers of the 20th century did. They concentrated on power relations. I want to broaden cultural materialism to include the sensations and puzzles aroused by material things themselves; the ways in which abstract thinking and belief develop through practice and practical activity; the forms of social behavior which emerge from shared physical experience. The trilogy explores the crafting of objects, ritual and religion, and society’s relation to natural resources. I am by conviction a pragmatist and these books are my contribution to the pragmatist tradition in America.

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