The Value of Working With Your Hands

I’ve finally gotten to the Judith Schaechter article in my American Craft magazine from two months ago (have I mentioned I’m behind in my magazine reading?) and so many things that she said struck a cord with me.  What hit the most was her quote:

I think people equate this kind of handwork and labor with a kind of stupidity…But for a certain segment of the population this is a way to your intelligence and handwork is where it’s at.

Being in Tyler’s metals program in the second half of the 90s, this is an attitude that was a part of my life for awhile.  Some of you jewelers out there may remember a little back and forth between Stanley Lechtzin (the head of Tyler’s metals dept) and Bruce Metcalf about the value of working with your hands.  I won’t get into specifics here, but it soured me on CAD/CAM for quite sometime.

This attitude doesn’t exist solely in the world of jewelry or craft either.  In the non-art world there are people who look down on blue collar workers simply for the physicality of their job.  “How could a smart person be happy with a physical job?”  They discount the fact that one can work in a physical job and then go home, forget about work, and read or do whatever they want.  Yes, it can be tiring, but there’s a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when you finish your task.  You end a project with something to  actually touch.

Another reason to favor working with your hands is the meditative quality it can have.  I always remember a story I read once about a Buddhist monk who had to wash dishes everyday.  Day in, day out, that was what he did at the monestary.  It became a kind of meditation to him and he eventually reached enlightenment – by washing dishes.  For me, hammering is my form of dishwashing meditation.  I do get tired and frustrated sometimes when I’m filing or sanding a piece, but hammering is just where it’s at with me.  I get in the zone and things just flow (usually!).  That isn’t something that happens to me when I’m working with numbers, filing, dealing with office issues and the like.  That doesn’t mean that I’m not any good at those kinds of things or that I’m not that smart.  I just have a different preference.

What about you?  What kind of work do you prefer to do?  Do you work all day at an office job and then come home and do physical things like garden or exercise for stress relief?  Or do you work hard all day with your body and then come home and relax with a good book?  Or is there some other combination that brings you the most satisfaction?