Tool Illuminati

by Alberic on June 16, 2010

We all know the old art-school saw about “there are two kinds of artists…”  For those who’ve missed this hoary old goat, the two kinds would be those who are interested in the finished product, and don’t much care how they get there, and those for whom the making is far more interesting than the end product.  In short, “destination” people, and “journey” people. This dichotomy is repeated so often that it’s accepted as gospel, without much thought as to whether there might be other ways of working, or other mindsets of equal validity.

I had a conversation the other week with a good friend of mine, regarding a craftsman of our mutual acquaintance, and his mental approach to his work.  The details are unimportant.  What matters is the upshot:  it caused an idea to crystallize in my fevered brain.

There is at least one more type, and one more motivation for making art/craft:  gnosis.

There may well be more valid reasons, but gnosis (greek for knowledge) is the one that came to me last week.

Our friend collects tools.  No sin, I’m more guilty of that than most.  He doesn’t seem to use them much either.  What he does do is study them.  He wants to understand them, to know the how’s and why’s of their use.  For him, it’s not actually about making things at all, although he does; it’s about understanding the inner mysteries of the tools themselves.  It’s about being initiated into the realm of “those who know” just what, exactly a Stanley #55 plane is, what it’s for, and why it’s different than a Stanley #45 plane.  These are subjects steeped in arcane lore, and mystic knowledge.  It’s that element of secret knowledge that attracts him, and so many like him to the more obscure corners of the crafts world.  It’s about becoming one of the “Tool Illuminati”.  For him, the pieces he makes are not so much finished goals, or even pieces made as an excuse to use the tools.  They’re examples of his mastery of the arcana of a given tool.  A physical proof of his initiation into the mysteries of his craft.

Think back to all the craftspeople you’ve known.  I’m sure there must be a few of them who suddenly seem less like “journey” people, and are now looking to you like Tool Illuminati.

I’m not sure where to go with this bit of knowledge, or even if there is anywhere to go with it.  I seek only to spread the illumination of the idea.




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