My official title is “artwork specialist”. But the irony is that I don’t ever touch, see, or feel any artwork in the course of my day. The artwork is reduced to data in a chart – what it is, where it is, where it’s supposed to be, and when it’s supposed to be there. My job is to manipulate the data, repackage it into filtered and sorted lists, then pass it on to the appropriate parties.
In the earlier part of my career, I processed the mechanicals (artwork), put them in for camera work and proofs, spec’d the job, created the print layout, ordered the paper stock, scheduled the press, routed the proofs, watched the sheets come off the press and then followed them through final binding, finishing, and delivery.
So from the hand-off of that initial art, I learned and developed the ability to imagine the entire job from start to finish, including the machinery, labor, and time needed to produce it along with the various advantages and limitations of each step of the process.
But as we’ve developed a reliance on digital processing, from tracking to actual manufacturing, we seem to have become more isolated from the process. We’ve lost the use of our hands as we move towards a world dominated by the needs of convenience and price that’s serviced more by robots and apps. It’s now far too easy to pull out a “credit card”, literally and figuratively, either as consumers or professionals, and put in an order. Even the phrase “phoning it in” has become archaic…too much work.
I wonder, without that investment of time to make something, without the labor of both process and thought, how can we really appreciate, or put a value on, what’s put in front of us.
Yet I do sense the beginning of a resistance to the buying culture. A growing cadre of young artisans and artists are repairing and rebuilding machinery and tools left behind by the digital revolution. There’s a developing sense of how things are made and why they’re made that way. Yes, online tools are still used to both sell and educate. There’s no getting away from that. But there’s an influence now of hand-made rather than mass-made, the labor of time rather than convenience, tactile rather than virtual. In a reach back into history, these craftsmen and women are now even referred to as “makers” in a testament to both substance and process.
There are those days I truly miss working with my hands…