On Craft

Exploring the crafty convergence of effort, care, knowledge, and workmanship

Periodically, we like to share insights from the heart of Real Art. Straight from the source, these “wiretaps” feature experts in the Real Art tribe, offering an inside look at the personalities and passions flowing through our home and pervading our work. In this piece, Real Art Senior Designer Andrew Althouse discusses the role of craft.

Craft is care combined with knowledge.
When you really care about something, you put all your heart and soul into creating it. Combining that level of effort with knowledge is key to getting a good result. What people think and feel about a product comes from the craft and execution, not just the concept. When something is done well, that care comes through. Craft is what makes something last. Craft is what makes something loved. It’s evident on every level. It translates into how long people stay entertained. You know when it works without even thinking about it.

There are amateurs and there are pros.
There are different levels of craft, a whole spectrum. There’s the kid’s type of craft—macaroni glued onto paper with animal shapes—all the way to the realm of the craftsman with decades of experience. You can see these same levels in sports. There’s a big difference between playing soccer with friends and being in the World Cup. Professionalism doesn’t make a good craftsmen, the time and experience spent perfecting a craft will. Somebody who works with carpentry, even in their spare time, can be just as good as the person who does it professionally. It’s the level of care, knowledge, attention to detail, and practice that makes someone a pro—title or not.

No detail left undone.
Perfectionism is a subjective thing. Some people will only bother with the front side of a piece of art, because the other side will live against the wall. Others will use the same great care with the back as they did with the front. I’m one of those people who tries to care for both sides equally. I’ll know the other side is back there, you know? Someone might take it down and move it someday. Maybe they’ll notice the back, maybe they won’t. But you need to be able to live with what you make. The care you take creating says something about you.

Apprentice yourself to a master craftsman (or forty).
Parents are usually proud of their kids regardless of craft. You do what you can and it’s good enough. You do the best you can do and if that’s not good enough, you practice. To get better, you have to find someone who will help challenge you, who has higher expectations. They’re not just there to pat you on the back. They push you and make suggestions about execution, “Have you thought about doing it this way?” You can get ten, twelve steps ahead just by listening to different people, trying to figure out the best way to do something. If you start in a vacuum, your level of craft is going to reflect it. It may turn out fine, but just imagine how much better or faster it would be if you talked to somebody and also used what they know.

Cultivate patience and don’t limit yourself.
Sometimes you have to just take a breath and walk away. It’s not worth it to rush something and end up with a poor result. It takes a lot of work to do something well and you can blow it in the blink of an eye. So just relax. I often ask myself, “How can I make this project the best it can be?” or more frequently, “How can I make this project the best it can be given the time I have?” Sometimes the constraint of time can actually force you to make a more simple and elegant solution. Other times, the right solution is to find more time. You find time for the things that are truly valuable. Craft is one of those things.

Got you hooked? Here’s more insight from the inside:

The World At Night
See craft at work in Andrew Alhouse’s glow-in-the-dark map of the globe


The magic of brainpower, deductive abilities, and curiosity
Chris Wire discusses creativity and curiosity at TEDxDayton

Lessons From Tesla
Enduring insights from the 20th century’s mad scientist extraordinaire

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