Apr 21, 2011
Zelda Harrison

Lightspeed and the Human Hand, No. 4

Jonathan Arena explores art, craft and design in Japan: Entry # 4


How are the terms art and craft perceived today, when the lines between traditional silos are becoming more and more indistinguishable ? These perpetual questions can perhaps be understood if we discover the essence of autonomy in the human psyche – the drive from within that compels us to work creatively, by ourselves.

Richard Sennett, author of The Craftsman, suggests that although the craftsman and the artists share common processes, the craftsman, turned outwardly towards the community, has a fundamentally different mind set than the artist – turned inward upon himself. This division leads into a deeper discussion concerning creativity and originality as well. Originality, coming from the Greek word “poesis”, which Plato used to mean “something where before there was nothing, ” went through a monumental shift in its perception after the renaissance.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the International Bestseller “Eat, Pray, Love,” preaches that creativity was never linked to human beings, but that it came to humans from some distance, unknowable source for distant and unknowable reasons. The romans called this disembodied entity a genius. She says that this was a psychological construct of sorts, to protect the individual from the results of their work.

This also gave balance to common effects of art today, such as narcissism; the artist could not take all of the credit for the outcome. This was how people thought about creativity in the west for a very long time. After the renaissance – this idea changed and was replaced by the master stroke of rational humanism – the idea that humans were at the center of the universe, and subsequently that creativity came completely from the self. This translates directly into business context today, when today there has been set a standard of largely unmanageable expectations. In the business of design, success is now measured by hourly productivity rather than creative value. Sennett suggests that creativity, in this sense, was a victim of the western supposition that the head is superior to the hand, the theorist better than the craftsman, because ideas last.

Yet in Japan, temples that have served local communities for more than two millennia, made completely of wood, still stand today as tributes to perfect craft and the power of the human hand.

Jonathan Arena attended the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island where he received a BFA Graphic Design in 2009. He is most inspired by creative workspaces, uncommon food combinations, and perfect dovetail joints. In his free time, he likes to build things by hand, use his polaroid land camera, and create small experimental websites. Jonathan currently works as a UI/UX designer in San Francisco, California.

1 Comment

  • […] Jonathan Arena attended the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island where he received a BFA Graphic Design in 2009. He is most inspired by creative workspaces, uncommon food combinations, and perfect dovetail joints. In his free time, he likes to build things by hand, use his polaroid land camera, and create small experimental websites. Jonathan currently works as a UI/UX designer in San Francisco, California. […]

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