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Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman

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In this moving account, we follow Korn's search for meaning as an Ivy-educated child of the middle class who finds employ- ment as a novice carpenter on Nantucket, morphs into a self- employed designer/craftsman of fine furniture, takes a right turn into teaching woodworking and design at Colorado's Anderson Ranch Arts Center, and finally founds a school in Maine: The Cent In this moving account, we follow Korn's search for meaning as an Ivy-educated child of the middle class who finds employ- ment as a novice carpenter on Nantucket, morphs into a self- employed designer/craftsman of fine furniture, takes a right turn into teaching woodworking and design at Colorado's Anderson Ranch Arts Center, and finally founds a school in Maine: The Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, an interna- tionally respected, non-profit institution teaching design, furniture making, and related arts to over 400 students a year. This is not a "how-to" book in any sense. Korn wants to get at the why of craft, in particular, and at the satisfactions of creative work, in general to understand their essential nature. How does the making of objects both reflect and refine our own identities? What is it about craft and creative work that makes them so rewarding? What is the nature of those rewards? How do the products of creative work inform society?


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In this moving account, we follow Korn's search for meaning as an Ivy-educated child of the middle class who finds employ- ment as a novice carpenter on Nantucket, morphs into a self- employed designer/craftsman of fine furniture, takes a right turn into teaching woodworking and design at Colorado's Anderson Ranch Arts Center, and finally founds a school in Maine: The Cent In this moving account, we follow Korn's search for meaning as an Ivy-educated child of the middle class who finds employ- ment as a novice carpenter on Nantucket, morphs into a self- employed designer/craftsman of fine furniture, takes a right turn into teaching woodworking and design at Colorado's Anderson Ranch Arts Center, and finally founds a school in Maine: The Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, an interna- tionally respected, non-profit institution teaching design, furniture making, and related arts to over 400 students a year. This is not a "how-to" book in any sense. Korn wants to get at the why of craft, in particular, and at the satisfactions of creative work, in general to understand their essential nature. How does the making of objects both reflect and refine our own identities? What is it about craft and creative work that makes them so rewarding? What is the nature of those rewards? How do the products of creative work inform society?

30 review for Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman

  1. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    This short, lucid book contains a pleasant combination of personal experience and philosophical musings on the millennia-old human drive to make things with our hands. Korn even includes black-and-white images and color plates of some of his signature pieces. Now that he is the director of the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine, his job is more administrative than artistic, but he still sees his role as being to shepherd new works of art into life. Anyone who has a creative as This short, lucid book contains a pleasant combination of personal experience and philosophical musings on the millennia-old human drive to make things with our hands. Korn even includes black-and-white images and color plates of some of his signature pieces. Now that he is the director of the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine, his job is more administrative than artistic, but he still sees his role as being to shepherd new works of art into life. Anyone who has a creative aspect to their work or a hobby that involves craftsmanship in some way will appreciate this book-length argument for how creativity enhances our lives, making them “richer in meaning and fulfillment than they might be otherwise.” See my full review at The Bookbag.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    I'm a craftsman in two worlds, as a writer and as a construction worker. I don't write the kind of novels that win highfalutin awards, and I don't build the kind of houses that win architectural honors, but I'm pretty good at what I do. I craft. I make a living. So I'm always interested in how other people integrate their values, their families, their simple need to earn a living into their passion for craft. Peter Korn is a writer, an educator, a furniture maker. As a craftsman he discovered th I'm a craftsman in two worlds, as a writer and as a construction worker. I don't write the kind of novels that win highfalutin awards, and I don't build the kind of houses that win architectural honors, but I'm pretty good at what I do. I craft. I make a living. So I'm always interested in how other people integrate their values, their families, their simple need to earn a living into their passion for craft. Peter Korn is a writer, an educator, a furniture maker. As a craftsman he discovered that he couldn't make a living -- or sustain a marriage -- chiseling mortise and tenon joints one by one, chair by chair. He could teach, though. And he could write. In this book, he's a philosopher as he tries to come to grips with what it means to be a craft worker. We view books through our own personal filters, so here's mine: what interested me was not the philosophy but the memoir aspect, the people Korn met and his own growth as a person and as a furniture maker. He started like me as a carpenter on a construction crew. He had some advantages I never had -- a private school education, Ivy League college, a father who continually bailed him out of business failures and personal setbacks. I envy that. He had Hodgkin's disease and chemotherapy -- twice. I don't envy that. He developed his own furniture style and then really found his calling as an educator, founding and running the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine. I applaud that. Korn traces the history of how society has changed its appreciation of craft -- first as work, then as skill, and finally as art. Eventually Korn realizes that by embracing a life of craft he was seeking self-fulfillment, seeking "a good life." He also realizes that craft alone is not salvation. He witnesses one man who is a great craftsman but fails in most other aspects of life. Craft itself can be an attempt at redemption. To create something good, one must know something good: Every man-made thing, be it a chair, a text, or a school, is thought made substance. It is the expression of someone's ... ideas and beliefs. This book, along with the furniture he made and the school he created, are the expressions of Peter Korn's beliefs. He found his good life. My father sang a song to me, and then we would sing it together: The bear went over the mountain (repeated three times). And what do you think he saw? He saw another mountain (repeated three times). And what do you think he did? The bear went over the mountain... And on we'd sing. And so it is. As a maker you put one foot in front of the other and you own the journey. Finding creative passion that governs your life may be a curse as well as a blessing, but I would not trade it for anything else I know.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Philippe

    ‘Why we make things’ is an eloquent and deeply felt memoir that puts our capacity to creatively bring forth novel and beautiful things at the center of the good life. Peter Korn started out as a carpenter, a craftsperson, but found his calling in his work as a creative applied artist, a furniture maker. His priorities were thrown in even sharper relief when he was diagnosed with Hodgkins’s Disease, a cancer of the lymphatic system. From then onwards furniture making became a true vocation. The a ‘Why we make things’ is an eloquent and deeply felt memoir that puts our capacity to creatively bring forth novel and beautiful things at the center of the good life. Peter Korn started out as a carpenter, a craftsperson, but found his calling in his work as a creative applied artist, a furniture maker. His priorities were thrown in even sharper relief when he was diagnosed with Hodgkins’s Disease, a cancer of the lymphatic system. From then onwards furniture making became a true vocation. The author is not only a master in woodworking but also in organising and presenting subtle ideas. His reflection on the nature of craft and its contribution to a good life are crisply articulate (particularly in the first half of the book; the latter half is somewhat more loosely organised). The book confidently engages in conversation with writers such as Richard Sennett, Matthew Crawford, Robert Pirsig, and John Ruskin, amongst others. For Korn the essential structure of creative practice is threefold: discovery, embodiment and communication. Correspondingly, it is an activity that harmonizes intellect, manual skill and character and provides a powerful platform for self-transformation. The product of that craftsmanship, however mundane, is something that utilises a language of materiality that is simultaneously visual, tactile, stylistic, spiritual, functional, and political. It is an object and a dynamic, multidimensional thought marker. It is a source of meaning for both maker and respondent. But in the real world the good life does not only involve producing beautiful objects in the splendid isolation of the artist’s workshop. It necessarily also entails building and maintaining relationships, and making a living. Painfully, through illness, divorce and lack of financial success, Korn had to reappraise the basic assumptions upon which he had founded his artisan life. He reframed his ideal of the craftsman, away from an existence as solitary, self-employed artisan to a person who functions as an extension of society, a cell within a larger organism. The reframing allowed him to come to terms with a position of administrator in a woodworking school. It is craft’s capacity to contribute to a continuous reappraisal of our most fundamentally held beliefs that defines its essential contribution to humanity.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Richard Newton

    What a thoroughly frustrating book. Frustrating not because it is bad, but because in parts it is actually very good but this is lost in a meandering structure and trying to do too many things. The title "why we make things & why it matters" would be more appropriate if it was "my life and some things I did on the way". Korn weaves several themes. He explains his craft and inspirations (interesting and well written), he gives a lot of autobiography (potentially interesting, but actually it over- What a thoroughly frustrating book. Frustrating not because it is bad, but because in parts it is actually very good but this is lost in a meandering structure and trying to do too many things. The title "why we make things & why it matters" would be more appropriate if it was "my life and some things I did on the way". Korn weaves several themes. He explains his craft and inspirations (interesting and well written), he gives a lot of autobiography (potentially interesting, but actually it over-powers the book and most is of no interest at all. Do I really want to know about his dogs? And isn't it a bit odd there seems to be more about his dogs than his wives?), he theorises about art and craft (attempts at intellectualising which for me do not quite work), he talks about selling work and setting up a craft business (nice to see the realistic side of being a crafts person, but I was not really interested in how he funded his school). In other words, there is not one book here, but several - some are potentially very good, others are really not that engaging. For me this was disappointing because Korn is a good wordsmith, and occasionally I was moved and inspired. Those bits are 5 star. Too much was peripheral and I was not sure why it was in the book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Peter Korn may be a skilled craftsman or whatever, but this book didn't feel like it delivered on the title. I'm an amateur woodworker - I've got a bunch of tools I'm learning to use, I've made a desk, a bookcase, an armoire, knife holders, a display case, etc... My wife's grandfather is a skilled woodworker and I've been learning a lot from him. I thought this might be a good philosophical look at the intrinsic value of making things vs purchasing them. Some deep journey through `maker culture` Peter Korn may be a skilled craftsman or whatever, but this book didn't feel like it delivered on the title. I'm an amateur woodworker - I've got a bunch of tools I'm learning to use, I've made a desk, a bookcase, an armoire, knife holders, a display case, etc... My wife's grandfather is a skilled woodworker and I've been learning a lot from him. I thought this might be a good philosophical look at the intrinsic value of making things vs purchasing them. Some deep journey through `maker culture` vs consumerism. Instead, I felt like I got an autobiography about some guy I'd never heard of before who occasionally said, "Making things is deeply spiritual!" and then talked about getting cancer again. From the start of the book he presents himself as someone who chased after passion instead of stability but by the end of the book his 'passion' has suspiciously transformed into a desk job from which he derives just as much fulfillment as furniture making despite rejecting office work as essentially soulless. His definition of 'making things' expanded until it covers essentially every action a person takes which means this book was attempting to answer the question, "what is the purpose of life" (spoiler alert: it didn't). Overall, it lacked a feeling equivalent to its title. I wouldn't read it again or recommend it to anyone else. If I'd paid more than $2 for it I'd be looking for a refund.

  6. 5 out of 5

    bibliotekker Holman

    Last year, I read Matthew Crawford's philosophical musing on the nature of manual work titled Shop Craft as Soulcraft and loved it. Crawford, a PhD. in philosophy who runs a motorcycle repair and restoration business, reflects on the nature and rewards of the many work worlds he has inhabited. At the same time, he laments the loss of basic mechanical and practical aptitude in our schools and society. His voice is a lone one in the wilderness that deserves follow up. I'm waiting for his next book Last year, I read Matthew Crawford's philosophical musing on the nature of manual work titled Shop Craft as Soulcraft and loved it. Crawford, a PhD. in philosophy who runs a motorcycle repair and restoration business, reflects on the nature and rewards of the many work worlds he has inhabited. At the same time, he laments the loss of basic mechanical and practical aptitude in our schools and society. His voice is a lone one in the wilderness that deserves follow up. I'm waiting for his next book. Despite the title, Korn's book is more autobiographical and self-reflective than I thought it would be. It is an interesting story about one man's journey, through singular focus, to become a premier maker and designer of handcrafted furniture. I had hoped for more along the lines of Crawford…but still worth a read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Fenna

    This is really more an autobiography than an answer to the title 'Why we make things and why it matters'. It tells the story of the author's journey into woodworking and furniture creation and offers an insight into the woodworking world at the time. It was interesting to learn about what the opportunities and information available were at the time that he started and he has some interesting insight into the woodworking world. That being said I think the title is a bit misleading. Still an enjoy This is really more an autobiography than an answer to the title 'Why we make things and why it matters'. It tells the story of the author's journey into woodworking and furniture creation and offers an insight into the woodworking world at the time. It was interesting to learn about what the opportunities and information available were at the time that he started and he has some interesting insight into the woodworking world. That being said I think the title is a bit misleading. Still an enjoyable read, just not necessarily what I had been expecting.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Godine Publisher & Black Sparrow Press

    In his beautiful book Why We Make Things and Why It Matters, Peter Korn invites us to understand craftsmanship as an activity that connects us to others, and affirms what is best in ourselves. --Matthew Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft What is the point of craft in a completely mass-produced world? Peter Korn's life, as told here, holds an answer. This fascinating account offers insights into the significance of the handmade object for the maker as well as for society as a whole. -- Ma In his beautiful book Why We Make Things and Why It Matters, Peter Korn invites us to understand craftsmanship as an activity that connects us to others, and affirms what is best in ourselves. --Matthew Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft What is the point of craft in a completely mass-produced world? Peter Korn's life, as told here, holds an answer. This fascinating account offers insights into the significance of the handmade object for the maker as well as for society as a whole. -- Martin Puryear Peter Korn writes that his work as a furniture-maker tries to accomplish three goals: integrity, simplicity, and grace. Fortunately, these qualities are also what distinguish his writing. In this book, he gives the reader an almost tangible sense of what it takes to be a creative craftsman, a homo faber, a maker of things, which is one of the central elements of the human condition. But he does much more than that: he explores what the search for self and for belonging entails in our rapidly changing times. -- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Peter Korn's brilliant new book resonates with me as a visual artist in a profound way. I share his passion for craft and admire his ability to take a plank of wood and fashion anything he sets his mind to. Throughout the centuries, furniture makers and painters have shared a set of belief systems centered on craft. The pleasure and calm that I get as a painter fashioning a complicated work from colored dirt on canvas is, I believe, the same pleasure and peace that Peter Korn and his students get as craftsmen. -- Chuck Close Here, furniture maker Korn shifts from how-to guides to a more philosophical approach to woodcraft. [...] This book documents Korn's personal philosophy, interweaves art and existence, and is based on a strong belief in his work.[...] An uplifting title for artisans, novice or skilled, who will benefit from the ideas of a kindred spirit. -- Library Journal

  9. 5 out of 5

    Beatriz

    Reactions to this book will probably vary a lot from reader to reader, according to their relationship with craft. For me, it resonated a lot with my life and experiences. As a craftsperson/artist, I struggle with a lot of the same questions, about balancing creation, isolation and life; how to earn a living and creating my own expressive language. The author doesn't shy away from relating how his relationships foundered and how he needed to be bailed out by his father several time. At the same t Reactions to this book will probably vary a lot from reader to reader, according to their relationship with craft. For me, it resonated a lot with my life and experiences. As a craftsperson/artist, I struggle with a lot of the same questions, about balancing creation, isolation and life; how to earn a living and creating my own expressive language. The author doesn't shy away from relating how his relationships foundered and how he needed to be bailed out by his father several time. At the same time, he isn't apologetic about it either. He recognizes his areas of privilege and also his short comings. For some of us, this book will be enlightening. For others, a probably slightly boring autobiography.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    I liked this. The author in the 1970's decided to become a furniture craftsmen without a lot of outside help, clear marketing ideas or furniture craft role models. A very 70's things to do...... This speaks to his ideas about Craft that he's honed as a craftsman,author, teacher and promoter/administrator . A mix of thought some which was down to earth and some which was in the clouds. I found it interesting that this was published in Jaffrey, NH, not far from me.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Brennan Letkeman

    I bought this book again just so I could have one to annotate. If they sold them in a five-pack I'd buy them just to give to everyone I know. Read it slowly, read it again. This is a book I'll come back to every few years in my life.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Yuvi Panda

    A few things stood out to me: 1. When you make something, it speaks for itself. No need to offer interpretations of yourself. 'a boy boasts, a man does not' or something to that effect. 2. The qualities the author was trying to bring to life with his art are the same qualities he was unintentionally trying to build for himself. This feels powerful. 3. He thought you can become a full person by mastering a craft, and found eventually that nope, does not work that way. I'm struggling to find a real p A few things stood out to me: 1. When you make something, it speaks for itself. No need to offer interpretations of yourself. 'a boy boasts, a man does not' or something to that effect. 2. The qualities the author was trying to bring to life with his art are the same qualities he was unintentionally trying to build for himself. This feels powerful. 3. He thought you can become a full person by mastering a craft, and found eventually that nope, does not work that way. I'm struggling to find a real personality after realizing just being really good at a craft isn't enough. I'm struggling to re-find my love for my craft, and this was a good stopping point in my journey.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Nowadays people spend inordinate amounts of time in front of computers supposedly creating things and whilst some of these things can be satisfying, quite a lot of the time it isn’t. Peter Korn has had a lifetime of creating objects, when he began as a carpenter against his father's wishes. After a few years doing that, he suddenly had a desire to make a create furniture, to move from making things to creating things. These changes in career meant relocating to different parts of the States, tak Nowadays people spend inordinate amounts of time in front of computers supposedly creating things and whilst some of these things can be satisfying, quite a lot of the time it isn’t. Peter Korn has had a lifetime of creating objects, when he began as a carpenter against his father's wishes. After a few years doing that, he suddenly had a desire to make a create furniture, to move from making things to creating things. These changes in career meant relocating to different parts of the States, taking each new venture in his stride and discovering his voice when it came to producing exquisite items of furniture. One thing that wasn’t in the plan though was the discovery of cancer. He is a fighter, though, and thankfully he survives. But this is more than a memoir of his life, profession and a critique of his creations. He sets about answering the questions that he poses in the title of the book, describing what he and the people that he has taught through the school that he has set up, gain from the process of creating functional and beautiful things, and learning from the experience of others. It is quite a philosophical book, with a nod towards Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but much more eloquently written as he explores just how the creative process can bring fulfilment.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jonna Higgins-Freese

    This was so, so, so much better than _Shop Class as Soul Craft_. Korn accepts who he is, as opposed to the other author, who seems to wish he were still a policy wonk but wants to write about the joys of being a motorcycle mechanic. Favorite parts: "What lures [my students] is the hope of finding a deeper meaning by learning to make things well with their own hands" (9) "self-expressive, creative disciplines may not lead to profound transfigurations . . . yet their satisfactions are well matched to This was so, so, so much better than _Shop Class as Soul Craft_. Korn accepts who he is, as opposed to the other author, who seems to wish he were still a policy wonk but wants to write about the joys of being a motorcycle mechanic. Favorite parts: "What lures [my students] is the hope of finding a deeper meaning by learning to make things well with their own hands" (9) "self-expressive, creative disciplines may not lead to profound transfigurations . . . yet their satisfactions are well matched to the earthly nature of our spiritual appetites" (10) "my experience has been that the effort to bring something new and meaningful into the world -- whether in the arts, the kitchen, or the marketplace -- is exactly what generates the sense of meaning and fulfillment for which meany of us yearn so deeply" (13) "Premodern craft was made to satisfy culturally prescribed, functional purposes. A hatbox held a hat, a snuff box held snuff, a clothespress held clothes. Contemporary craft, being economically marginal, is created primarily to address the spiritual needs of its maker" (30 - but quilts have rarely made economic sense) "I was becoming aware that a good life was not some Shangri-La waiting to be stumbled upon. One constructed it from the materials at hand" (39) "The customer was as essential to my identity as a furniture maker as a reader is to a writer's identity as a novelist. Had I been making the furniture and just keeping it for myself, I would have lacked the validation and connection that sending my creations out into the world provided" (46). "In the workshop, wishing just won't make it so. The craftsman is forced to come to terms with the physical properties of materials, the mechanical properties of tools, and the real capacity and limits of his own dexterity, discipline, and imagination. In this way, craft's materiality imposes cooperation on the sometimes discordant factions of the mind. by necessity it reconciles the desire to interpret the world in ways that are emotionally gratifying with the countervailing need for accurate information to facilitate effective decision making. Thus the holistic quality of raft lies not only in engagint the whole person, but also in harmonizing his understanding of himself in the world. Matthew Crawford expresses this well in _Shop Class as Soulcraft_ where he writes: The satisfactions of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy. They seem to relieve him of the felt need to offer chattering interpretations of himself to vindicate his worth. He can simply point: the building stands, the car now runs, the lights are on. Boasting is what a boy does, who has no real effect in the world. But craftsmanship must reckon with the infallible judgment of reality, where one's failures or shortcomings cannot be interpreted away. (56). "We may want, as I did, to cultivate personal characteristics such as integrity. We may want to add meaning to our lives by making heirlooms that will keep us alive in family memory down through generations. We may want to feel more sexually desirable, financially successful, or famous. We may want to contribute saving the world. We may simply want to enjoy a feeling of competence. There are many motivations, often overlapping and not necessarily rational or conscious or even admirable. But whatever our motivations may be, the bottom line is always the same: we engage in the creative process to become more of whom we'd like to be and, just as important, to discover more of whom we might become. We may make things because we enjoy the process, but our underlying intent, inevitably, is self-transformation. "One reason this has proven to be such a powerful understanding for me is that it positions all creative arts as phenomena that originate with the will of the individual. this is quite different from the usual public and intellectual discussion, which tends to focus on the social functions of the products of art - how objects and performances affect their audiences, how they uplift, bind together, sell, signify, inform, ennoble, enrich, enlighten, or interrelate. Surely, it seemed to me in 1991 (and seems to me still), the place to begin to understand the arts is to ask why and how they come into being. The question of what motivates the maker leads one to consider craft and art within the broadest contexts of history, philosophy, biology, sociology, and psychology -- perspectives that join art making to the central conversations of our time regarding the nature of humanity." (105). "When we make a hash of things, as we so often do, it is generally because our yearning for mental comfort has once again trumped our commitment to unbiased observation. Most of the time, the facts of the world knock politely at the gates of our mental fortresses and we pretend not to hear them -- a tactic sometimes called cognitive dissonance . . . . [sometimes something] shock[s our] mental maps into closer alignment with the actuality of things. Creative practice, as we shall see, can be a far more satisfactory way to facilitate the same beneficial result" (119). "I find administrative work to be a far different form of reative expression than makign furniture and writing books. there is still the deep magic of draming up new ideas, doing the hard work to make them real, and seeing them manifest in thew orld -- I still get to exercise my creative will in ways that are fulfilling and meaningful -- but there are huge differences, too. the questions I ask are different, the material I work with has changed, and the process has become collaborative. "The raw material with which I work as an administrator changes, too. Instead of being wood or words, it is human nature. Person by person, I spend my time building a community of support around the school's mission and the various programs through which it takes shape . . . . creating and maintaining a successful institution turns out to be a process of social engineering . . . . working in harness with other people entails considerably more compromise, but the real-world effects of one's inventiveness may be multiplied a thousandfold" (145). "Commerce is far more than an exchange of goods between those who make and those who acquire. [Vendors] bring their own hopes and dreams to the table. Just as makers create to construct meaning and identity for themselves, and buyers purchase to bolster their personal narratives, so vendors shape their own identities through the exercise of taste and the conduct of business. Taste, after all, is a matter of defining oneself through one's likes and dislikes, and the craft merchant exercises taste above all else in selecting his inventory. . . . To the extent that a merchant challenges the status quo -- by promoting innovative work, by inventing new business models, by reaching new audiences -- he alters social consciousness." (150) The maker says, "Here are objects that express what I've been thinking about. Do they engage you enough to pay for them and fund further investigation?" Society votes yes or no with credit cards, cash, and checks. If I seem to be equating products with ideas, it is because every manmade object embodies the worldview from which it originates. I have already argued this in regard to craft, but it seems equaly true of industrial products. When I buy a simple loaf of bread, I am purchasing a complex thought marker -- a bit of nutrition imbued with the narratives of wheat growers (how and why they grew it), commodities traders, grain silo operators, transport workers, bakers, advertising professionals, store owners, etc." The fact that wheat has been baked to become Wonder Bread, a bagel, or a boule -- "or even the fact that we eat bread at all -- makes it a cultural expression" (151). "Working in the realm of words comes with risks and rewards. At the workbench I cannot bullshit a plank of white oak or a chisel; as mediums for thought they stubbornly ground me in the actuality of things. At the keyboard, the immateriality of words confers a mixed blessing. On the upside, their imprecision is conducive to wonderful flights of imagination and association. On the downside, that same malleability puts me at risk of ambiguity and self-deception. The strongest suit of thinking with words is its transmissibility, its viral infectiousness. Words disseminate ideas more easily than objects." (155). [Making furniture, writing, and administration are all [ways in which I actively participate in thinking my own self and our shared world into being. From the beginning, furniture making seemed miraculous because it was a process through which spirit became flesh. A chair that began as a mere glimmer of inspiration would finally stand before me and everyone else, concrete, permanent, useful, and perhaps delightful . . . I think through whatever is at hand [wood or words], and words turn out to be only one among many possible media (159). "What, then, does all my vaporing about craft as a profound source of meaning and fulfillment amount to? Let me be clear: people who are creatively engaged are not necessarily happier, more fully realized human beings than the rest of us. To master a craft is not to achieve a state of enlightenment, despite my youthful expectation to the contrary. Creative practice simply makes our lives richer in meaning and fulfillment than they might be otherwise. Neither does being adept at a craft or any other creative art necessary make one an especially likeable person (166).

  15. 5 out of 5

    Chris Kleinfelter

    This was an interesting journey in the evolution of a craftsman. Mr. Korn has followed a path built on his passion and that has clearly given him a satisfaction with life. The decision to live a life as an individual crafting quality goods when so many markets have devolved to machine-made expediency is brave. This book is an exemplar of integrity and growth through being open to the evolutions of ones life.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Thom

    This brief book is roughly one half autobiography, one third history of the craft movement, and one sixth philosophy. Each is interesting - the author was there at the beginning - and a little disjointed. His maker ideology feels like half of a conversation, though I cannot participate or even hear the other half. A solid 2½ stars.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Greg Davis

    Some time ago I learned a very little bit about furniture building, even completed a serviceable cherry bed frame that we used for several years. Later I became smitten (still am) with handbuilt guitars, and against this strictly amateur backdrop, I thus loved this first person account of the process, philosophy, introspection, and spirituality of making things.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tara

    What a pithy, beautiful book about one man’s quest to design furniture and himself. (“We may make things because we enjoy the process, but our underlying intent, inevitably, is self-transformation.”)

  19. 5 out of 5

    Katrina Sark

    Introduction: p.7 – I belong to a generation of furniture makers to whom woodworking initially presented itself as a lost art from a more authentic time. When I turned my first clear pine board into a cradle, and for many years thereafter, I was beguiled by rediscovering the how of craft. How do you sharpen a chisel? How do you cut a sliding dovetail? How do you make a chair comfortable? Eventually, though, I also began to wonder about the why? What is craft and why does it matter? Why do we make Introduction: p.7 – I belong to a generation of furniture makers to whom woodworking initially presented itself as a lost art from a more authentic time. When I turned my first clear pine board into a cradle, and for many years thereafter, I was beguiled by rediscovering the how of craft. How do you sharpen a chisel? How do you cut a sliding dovetail? How do you make a chair comfortable? Eventually, though, I also began to wonder about the why? What is craft and why does it matter? Why do we make things? Or, more specifically, why do we choose the spiritually, emotionally, and physically demanding work of bringing new objects into the world with creativity and skill? The answers I have found – through considering the work of my own hands, through the practical education of a life in craft, and through the shared experiences of others – all seem to lead back to one fundamental truth: we practice contemporary craft as a process of self-transformation. Why this should be so and what its ramifications are, not only for craft and other creative fields, but also for understanding our own humanity, is the subject of this book. Chapter 1 – A Shared Hunger p.10 – I encounter many people who express the same sort of longing. The banquet of work, leisure, and consumption that society prescribes has left some essential part of them undernourished. They are hungry for avenues of engagement that provide more wholesome sustenance. The craft of furniture making is not a cure-all for this condition, but it functions as a source of meaning, authenticity, fulfillment. […] The same is true for other self-expressive, creative disciplines. p.11 – Sociologist Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman asks what the process of making things reveals to us about ourselves. In particular, Sennett critiques current social and economic conditions for depriving workers of the satisfactions inherent to “doing a job well for its own sake,” which is the essence he distills from craft. His solution is to cultivate an “aspiration for quality” in our workplaces and schools. Like Robert Pirsig [Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance], Sennett employs the ideal of quality, in the sense of caring about what one does, to address broad philosophical questions: What is the nature of work? What is the nature of good life? These same questions animate Shop Class as Soulcraft, in which author Matthew Crawford argues that our educational system and out occupational structures are deformed by a prejudice against manual labor. He punctures the myth of white-collar superiority by pointing out that today’s corporate workplace has been rationalized as relentlessly as the industrial factory of a century earlier. Creative thought and decision making are centralized into the hands of small cohorts of experts, so that only rote work gets distributed among the worker bees. As a result, the average white-collar employee feels, accurately, like a replaceable cog in a soulless machine; work has been stripped of its potential to provide meaning and fulfillment. p.12 – Really, what Pirsig, Sennett, and Crawford are asking us not where quality has gone, but how we can cultivate the aspiration for quality in today’s world. Chapter 5 – Heart, Head, Hand p.53 – In The Craftsman, Richard Sennett defines craftsmanship as “learning to do something well, for its own sake” and makes a plea for extending this attitude into all areas of human endeavor.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    7/10 “The good life is not some Shangri-La to stumble upon, one constructs it.” In this book of philosophical rambling on the meanging of work, Korn begins with the question: Why do we choose the demanding work of bringing things into being? Because as we bring them into being, they bring part of us into being. Essentially, they change us as we are changing them, and as we pour ourselves into them, they reflect us, and as we are opened, we take part of them into us. We want to transform the worl 7/10 “The good life is not some Shangri-La to stumble upon, one constructs it.” In this book of philosophical rambling on the meanging of work, Korn begins with the question: Why do we choose the demanding work of bringing things into being? Because as we bring them into being, they bring part of us into being. Essentially, they change us as we are changing them, and as we pour ourselves into them, they reflect us, and as we are opened, we take part of them into us. We want to transform the world into our image, our more generally, to reflect what is important to us into the world. Caring about what you do is more important than how you do it. If you care about your job, then doing it well becomes a moral imperative. Manual trades typically have higher levels of job satisfaction, and lower overall turnover. Part of this is likely due to the time you must invest to become competent, but you would not spend that time if you did not have a prior commitment to it, and that commitment comes from desire. In manual trades as well, you have a specific metric for quality, rather than in most of the white-collar working world, where everything is shades of gray. Working with your hands shows you your value, as your skill is reflected directly back at you in the quality of your craft. There is no wall to hide your failings behind, they are on display for the world, and the demand you improve. But in this demand is the implicit thought that you can improve, that your best has not yet been shown, and that you can be truly excellent. This is why the mundane and dispassionate is so terrible, because when greatness is an option, and we choose to settle for mediocrity only because greatness is difficult, we have committed the greatest of errors: we have settled. To pit yourself against the world and test your mettle is the one of the highest of callings. Craft is a holistic experience that utilizes the mind and body in unity. How you do your work is how you do life. You are the same person the whole time, an integrated self, rather than two separate individuals; the work you, and the non-work you. We work on things to form them, along with ourselves, into the image we have set for ourselves. We cannot help but change while we work, though this can be either an active or passive process. When transforming thought into being, we do so both in the work we do, and in ourselves. Unfortunately, Korn falls into the trap of talking about himself too much. He’s at his best when philosophizing, but more than half the book is his life story, which is fine, but is certainly the weaker half of the book. Some general thoughts I had, or quotes included within: The tension between deciding to either go with what you know will work, or step into the unknown. Risk in inherent with any new venture, and new ventures are what make life interesting. ‘The steep front end of the learning curve’ –The dangers of a hierarchy in profession What makes life meaningful is bringing meaning into by shaping it into something meaningful says Korn. As a Christian, to me this correlates directly with the concept of bringing the kingdom of heaven into being through our actions. All joy is wrapped in perspective, and comes from the cessation of desire. We should be meaning making machines, not want creating machines. Our wants will never fulfil us, even if they are fulfilled, but the meaning me make will.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Clayton Morrow

    As mentioned by many, at least half of this book is a memoir/biography. That's fine, but was maybe slightly unexpected. I had a very difficult time with the fact that author basically lived off of stipends from his father until his mid-30s. He seems to have failed to realize or acknowledge his relative life of privilege. His bouts with Hodgkins are certainly un-enviable, but in every other way through life he seems to have stepped in it and come out smelling like a rose. Congratulations Peter Ko As mentioned by many, at least half of this book is a memoir/biography. That's fine, but was maybe slightly unexpected. I had a very difficult time with the fact that author basically lived off of stipends from his father until his mid-30s. He seems to have failed to realize or acknowledge his relative life of privilege. His bouts with Hodgkins are certainly un-enviable, but in every other way through life he seems to have stepped in it and come out smelling like a rose. Congratulations Peter Korn, I am glad you have found relative success and fulfillment in life, please add a touch more humility in your next book and a few less thesaurus-induced ramblings about craft that never seemed too fully formed. I did enjoy some of the final reflection in the last chapter when he gives an anecdote about the potter who basically fell out of his vehicle (thankfully driven by someone else) on arrival for a demonstration - due to some form of substance abuse, but then continued to make a massive and beautiful vase - his points about being a maker/craftsman and not necessarily an enlightened individual are definitely worth hearing and reminding oneself. Overall, not horrible, and I would like to pick up the book and re-read it sometime as I worry that my opinion was skewed by thinking very early on that the author was essentially given the ability to go into a failure-prone field with multiple factors of his background allowing relative low-risk fallback. I just kept waiting for him to have some sort of great epiphany that never materialized.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Katelyn O'Friel

    I found this book very intriguing! I listened on audible and thoroughly enjoyed the narration. His voice was sincere and absolutely perfect for a book of this context. I have always been an avid DIYer and I am fascinated by the art of making things. Its so interesting to hear the authors point of view and the history of his love for craftsmanship as well. I really like to dig a little deeper and find meaning in why we like what we like or why we do what we do. This book for me, was an introducti I found this book very intriguing! I listened on audible and thoroughly enjoyed the narration. His voice was sincere and absolutely perfect for a book of this context. I have always been an avid DIYer and I am fascinated by the art of making things. Its so interesting to hear the authors point of view and the history of his love for craftsmanship as well. I really like to dig a little deeper and find meaning in why we like what we like or why we do what we do. This book for me, was an introduction into learning my why. It helped me understand it is not necessarily the peice I crafted or the furniture I painted that holds sentimental value but that it is the connection I have to the process of creativitely making each peice my very own. That may be an obvious cliche to some people, but hearing his words brought that to life for me and gave me an even greater and new found appreciation for craftsmanship. Bringing something broken into something beautiful again. Taking home trash and turning it into a treasure ♡ Its a metaphor for how I view most things in life, trying to always see the good and recognizing that everything whether it'd be furniture, art work or even people are all unfinished projects that could use a little work and a whole lot of love. With that being said I will 100% order a physical copy of this book so that I can always reference it and have it on display to remember what it taught me.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rich Yavorsky

    Master craftsman Peter Korn has lived self-determined, intentional life in which he has found value and meaning, and hopes to share his lessons with others. WWMT is at times inspiring with moving epiphanies and candid life stories, and at other times dry with the mechanics of his life and decisions. Overall, the book is easily worth the credit. Korn describes his two epiphanies: turning ideas into objects, and the creation of objects actually being a projection of the self he was trying to create Master craftsman Peter Korn has lived self-determined, intentional life in which he has found value and meaning, and hopes to share his lessons with others. WWMT is at times inspiring with moving epiphanies and candid life stories, and at other times dry with the mechanics of his life and decisions. Overall, the book is easily worth the credit. Korn describes his two epiphanies: turning ideas into objects, and the creation of objects actually being a projection of the self he was trying to create. I actually found some of his other experiences to be enlightening: the joy he felt with the absence of want after his first bout with cancer, the difference between happiness and contentment, the importance of other people and their ideas, and the like. His narrative on the creative process changing your mental maps and yourself is interesting as well. I think Korn is fair with his self-criticisms, and overall a very self-reflective individual. He clearly cares about his work, be it a dining room table, woodworking school or a published book. In the end, its caring about your work that matters. Traber Burns is a perfect fit for this title. There should be a radio station that streams his reading of inspirational words ("integrity," "quality," "craftsmanship," etc.) 24 hours a day. Well done.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Richard Brand

    I put this book as a three because it was well done, but it was a bit out of my passion. I have two hobbies: wood working and book binding and I have to confess that none of the questions or concerns that Peter worried about have ever crossed my mind. I am not sure that I create to try to change myself. I have recently undertaken a woodworking project that called for procedures that I had never done before and thus challenged myself with a new project but I do not sell my work and I do not try t I put this book as a three because it was well done, but it was a bit out of my passion. I have two hobbies: wood working and book binding and I have to confess that none of the questions or concerns that Peter worried about have ever crossed my mind. I am not sure that I create to try to change myself. I have recently undertaken a woodworking project that called for procedures that I had never done before and thus challenged myself with a new project but I do not sell my work and I do not try to make a living from it. Perhaps that was one of the great divides as he seemed to be talking about those who wanted their crafts to be their lives. There is a lot of biography in this book which Peter thinks helps to demonstrate his points but there were many times when I did not see the connection. I am one of those who would have probably preferred his book on woodworking itself and how to do it.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Louise

    Really really really good. How I found myself in a book written by a 58 year old furniture maker....I'd like to say I have no idea but I know exactly....is because I always knew in another life I'd be a craftsman. I read this book as an aspiring engineering and while it didn't help me understand things on that front as I was hoping it would it helped me to understand why craft has always been a hobby of mine. I related to so many of the themes such as rebelling to find happiness and the fulfilment Really really really good. How I found myself in a book written by a 58 year old furniture maker....I'd like to say I have no idea but I know exactly....is because I always knew in another life I'd be a craftsman. I read this book as an aspiring engineering and while it didn't help me understand things on that front as I was hoping it would it helped me to understand why craft has always been a hobby of mine. I related to so many of the themes such as rebelling to find happiness and the fulfilment that comes with a project but I guess these aren't singular to me at all. Such beautiful explorations of mental maps, a concept I think I won't forget about for a while now. A really interesting read for anyone that is my kind of person. Definitely not overwhelming or difficult to read. I'm a teenage girl and I loved it. Also just a beautiful autobiography of a life's adventures and works.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Betsy

    I saw this book in the addition to the bookstore in Mendocino, and immediately thought I'd like it - and I did! Korn decided to become a craftsman, making furniture, rather than pursuing the family expectation of being a "desk professional." This book traces his evolution into a woodworker and craftsman, and eventually, into the founder and director of a school for craft. Korn is also a writer and thinker; this book reflects the thinking behind this evolution, including the "why" of craft. Altho I saw this book in the addition to the bookstore in Mendocino, and immediately thought I'd like it - and I did! Korn decided to become a craftsman, making furniture, rather than pursuing the family expectation of being a "desk professional." This book traces his evolution into a woodworker and craftsman, and eventually, into the founder and director of a school for craft. Korn is also a writer and thinker; this book reflects the thinking behind this evolution, including the "why" of craft. Although we pursue different crafts, I valued Korn's thinking about the process. Although his craft is vocation and mine avocation - though more central in retirement, I understand the deep fulfillment to be gained from craft. I have not had the opportunity to explore this process or practice intellectually, and Korn's book began to do so for me. Perhaps that was its greatest gift.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Miguel

    The owner of the NW Woodworking Studio told our joinery class that the only effective way to get by as a woodworker was to work for an industrial firm for a steady paycheck, become one of the top one or two well-known furniture makers in the country, make kitchen cabinets, starve, or open a woodworking school and get punters to pay to dabble in the craft. After reading this book, I’m not convinced he was wrong. Along the way and especially in the final third when Korn sets his Maine school up as The owner of the NW Woodworking Studio told our joinery class that the only effective way to get by as a woodworker was to work for an industrial firm for a steady paycheck, become one of the top one or two well-known furniture makers in the country, make kitchen cabinets, starve, or open a woodworking school and get punters to pay to dabble in the craft. After reading this book, I’m not convinced he was wrong. Along the way and especially in the final third when Korn sets his Maine school up as a non-profit, I was wholeheartedly in his camp in support for his vision. It wasn’t just a money making endeavor - one gets the real sense that Korn placed ideals before personal enrichment which was a breath of fresh air. Oh, and tails before pins, always.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Josh Childs

    Someday I will write a book called Why We Fix Things And Why It Matters. Until then, this book serves as a fair stand-in; exploring the motivation and meaning we find in work, beauty, and craftsmanship. We draw some different conclusions, as he seems to approach making as an end in itself, using it to find his sense of meaning and identity; while I find my meaning and identity secure as a steward of a higher Being. My sense of value and beauty are submitted and expressed through working out that Someday I will write a book called Why We Fix Things And Why It Matters. Until then, this book serves as a fair stand-in; exploring the motivation and meaning we find in work, beauty, and craftsmanship. We draw some different conclusions, as he seems to approach making as an end in itself, using it to find his sense of meaning and identity; while I find my meaning and identity secure as a steward of a higher Being. My sense of value and beauty are submitted and expressed through working out that friendship. But either way, creating with our hands and minds and sharing our creations and skills with our felliws allows us to be a part of something much bigger and longer lasting than ourselves.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Deb

    Explains so well the difference between doing a job and crafting work. The thought processes that go into pride of work and spark creativity. Many schools have been forced to cancel vital classes like art and music so in addition to not having those skills, we can not even consider adding classes such as Ethics, Philosophy and Craftsmanship. These classes teach how to consider, how to learn how to plan, skills that last a lifetime.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

    Rounding down from a 3.49999. :) Overall, I enjoyed the book. It's an interesting perspective on craft. It would have been interesting if the author had done more to grasp and explain his lifetime of patrons that pushed his work forward. He mentions the support from his father in a few places and mentions the later support by the community he builds, but never connects the dots as an artist supported by patrons through a large part of his career.

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