I happened upon this series called 'Raw Craft'. It is a collaboration between Balvenie whiskey distillery and Anthony Bourdain, chef and writer whose journalistic work about food and its gateway to culture and politics I enjoy following. It's an online film series documenting the remarkable stories of true craftsmen, people who make amazing things from scratch, by hand, stich-by-stich, and with boundless amounts of passion to make something good. Real Good. Doing it the best way it's done and making it right. Capiche?
The term 'good' seems to have lost its significance of meaning because of the overuse of other terminology. But Bourdain makes us re-examine the term as he travels throughout the States to meet one-of-a-kind cast-iron skillet makers, a saxophone designer / repair specialist, a master blade smith, a suit tailor, and master book maker. They all toil over their craft, go back to the drawing board everyday to get it just right, and do it so artfully - it's a beautiful thing. It is a reminder of how important it is to pursue excellence and quality in what we do, and it's profound effect on us as artists and the people around us. The entire series is great, but the episode I'm posting below features the master typographers and printers of Arion Press, one of the last of its kind in the United States. For many of us, looking for information on our smart devices happens with such subconscious ease. Google is inherently faster than reaching for a book. And while watching this, I realized how unaware I was about how artfully books are made and the stories they often have behind the one printed on its pages. At the end of each episode, there's a happy toast with Balvenie whiskey which seems like perfect product placement, but hey, they are the ones who made the series and who doesn't like a toast to whiskey?
Admittedly, I have been a part of my generation's technological obsession. I've gone through my fair share of iPads, tablets, smart phones and for a short while, stopped buying books. I even transferred all my scores to my iPad. But there was a two year period, from 2012-2014, where I gave up on smart technology altogether went back to connecting with the real thing. Weirdly, I found myself appreciating the slightly faded etchings of old pencil and eraser marks or written in side notes because it was a stamp of a time and place. Pressing 'delete' never left a trace.
I've since then reconnected with technology in all its Instagram and FaceTime glory. I'm not knocking it. But watching this episode reveals how beautiful a craft such as book making (or any of those skills featured on the series) can be. The tedious process carefully pieced together. Any musician or artist will know what that's like, pouring countless hours into a work or concert program, toiling over the same phrase or passage, shaping and coloring our sound to get closer to the expression we want, and getting frustrated throughout the process. And when you think you've 'got it' and come to a point where it feels good, it's only a matter of time before you discover there's so much further to go. It's why you get up the next morning to do it all over again. What's your craft?