One of my favorite PBS shows is A Craftsman’s Legacy. After a devastating health crisis in the late ‘9o’s, the host, Eric Gorges, a self-confessed IT nerd, walked away from a lucrative corporate career for good. He sought out Ron Fournier at Fournier Enterprise in Detroit and signed on as to apprentice as a metal shaper. In April of 1999, he decided to strike out on his own and Voodoo Choppers, a custom motorcycle business located in Auburn Hills, MI. was born. Now Eric travels across the United States to gain insight into craftsmanship in the 21st century, focusing on the history of a traditional craft and its importance in the U.S. today. Each week on the series he apprentices with someone and learns their craft, celebrating unique skills passed down by generations.
During each show, Eric asks the person he is interviewing, “How did you become the craftsman you are today?” The answer always includes “I keep trying until I get it right.” He also asks if the person sees himself or herself as an artist or a craftsman. This question has haunted me as long as I have watched the show. What is the difference between an artist and a craftsman? Why does it matter if you are one or the other – or both?
Today, some answers came to me in the form of a theological brain storm. It does matter that someone can be both an artist and a craftsman, because God is both. A craftsman is a person who creates with skill and dexterity and perseverance. As a perfect craftsman, God created a world that is mathematically sound and scientifically successful. What was set in motion millions of years ago still works perfectly and in sync. Creatures born become creatures adapting to their surroundings. Whatever problems we have with the envi- ronment we live in are man-made! The Original Craftsman’s plan and execution were faultless.
Artistry is a person’s creative skill. It is a flair, an imagination and a vision that drives their craft. Eric Gorges’s interviewees usually answer that they are craftsmen and craftswomen first, but they also always speak about the artistic vision that sets them apart. Many of them refer in some way to a gift or vision from God. God, of course, is also the Original Artist. It was not enough for God that the universe work properly; it also had to be beautiful. Our artistic vision comes from our Creator God, whether we acknowledge that or not. We rarely speak of theoretical mathematicians or physicists or research scientists as being artists, but many talk about the beauty of numbers or the beauty of a concept in physics or the beauty of the workings of the human body.
As a writer for most of my 75 years, I have grounded myself in my craft: grammatical knowledge, vocabulary, stylistic skills, proper punctuation, clarity of sentence structure, structure,and organizational skills. I honed that craft as a re-write specialist for a mag- azine. However, as Artificial Intelligence algorithms have taught us, perfectly crafted sentences don’t have to make sense. Computer programmers have been tasked with finding a way for college entrance essays to be graded by computers. However, they are learning that they write can a perfectly crafted essay that is unintelligible or logically flawed, and the computer program will still give it an A+.
So in addition to my techniques, I need a creative, artistic side to dream up a concept and apply an imaginative, even poetic, sensibility to the writing. “Successful” writing needs to be not only well crafted, but also inspired. Even technical writers have to go beyond clarity and create picture-forming sentences so that their directions can be easily followed.
So what’s the point of 600+ words on craftsmanship and artistry? The point is that our God is the master of both! That mastery invokes awe in his children; just read through the book of Psalms. If we have lost our awe over the God’s masterful creation of a working, yet beautiful, universe we are missing a vital piece of our faith. And since we are made in his image, we are capable of being both craftsmen and women and artists. We are at our best when we are both at the same time. Developing craftsmanship and artistry – whether in engineering or architecture or fine art or quilting or writing a blog post – helps us tap into everything God has created us to be.