The Psychology of Craft

The woodworker is engaged in a craft that draws on the head as well as the hands. You imagine the final form of the work, you imagine the shape of the carving, before you ever pick up a tool. The chisel is guided by physical strength and coordination, but is also guided by your head.

John Ruskin was a 19th-century writer and social thinker who captured some of the foundational concepts of the Arts and Crafts movement. In "The Stones of Venice", he wrote “. . . no good work whatever can be perfect, and the demand for perfection is always a sign of a misunderstanding of the ends of art. . . . no great man ever stops working till he has reached his point of failure: that is to say, his mind is always far in advance of his powers of execution"

You can always imagine a finer finish, a tighter joint, more perfect proportions, and thus we are never fully satisfied with the final outcome. The psychological theory of "flow" proposes that there is a tension between skill and challenge that affects our state of mind. If a task is too easy, we get bored and distracted. Too hard and we get frustrated and give up. If however, the task at hand challenges our physical skill while still being potentially doable--we can experience the "flow state." Also called "being in the zone", you can be hyperfocused on the project, lose track of time, and experience a rush of self-efficacy--"Look at this, I CAN build it!"

 The Joy of Woodworking--head and hand working in finely balanced harmony.