Shop Class as Soulcraft

Posted by on Apr 26, 2013 in concrete design house, design, misc, training
Shop Class as Soulcraft

As stated on our about page we at Set in Stone “are just simple designer/makers trying to do better.” Though this may seem simple and benign enough, the truth is that defining what “better” is and following through is anything but simple. We live in a time full of choice and all the distractions that come with that. Though, fundamentally we do not value novelty or new things for new thing’s sake, we have to fight to keep focused and not be derailed by the consumer mindset surrounding us. Occasionally, we happen across like minded individuals that help clarify our purpose and spur us on to live the life we value. One such person is Matthew B. Crawford. His book Shop Class as Soulcraft is a treasure trove of wisdom and insight. We highly recommend this book if you are given to such things, but if digital and immediate is more your speed then fortunately he has also written an article for The New Atlantis that would serve as a great introduction. Click here for original article.


He speaks of the loss of the appreciation for skilled manual labor, craftsmanship. He briefly touches on the economic and social consequences, but his main focus is on the effects on the individual. This arguably is where it is most valuable. He speaks of the deep seated satisfaction and confidence that comes when you step back and see that what you have just “created” is good. It is honorable. It is sacred in the sense that you just poured your whole self into something. Your skill, your innovation, your sweat, and possibly even your blood is now incarnate and exists for all to see. All of its triumphs and failures are there to be witnessed. This can be a scary and humbling thing, but it is also valuable.


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.

-M. Crawford


It takes time, commitment and a certain comfort with risk to recieve these rewards. The fundamental problem is that these rewards are largely undervalued or not acknowledged. We talk of richer lives and honesty of materials and all of this can seem very romantic and sentimental, but these ideas are grounded in the materiality of everyday. This “groundedness” saves us from the coercion of marketing and other frivolous influences. It enables us to resist being made into a commodity ourselves. The dirt under our fingernails and the grit in our teeth at the end of the day reminds us that we did something concrete and of consequence. We can look at our life and clearly demarcate success from failure. And this is important; perhaps more important than maybe we understand. How often does it seem that our work or even our life in general is just dragging us along and we can’t tell what headway, if any, we are making.


Working with our hands; making, crafting, loving are relatively simple ways to affect the deep things inside of ourselves. Things that are largely hidden and not wholly evident. Things that change the way we interact and influence the world in which we live. These are the truths that we have discovered in concrete, through many triumphs, failures and frustrations. Each of us at Set in Stone have tread different paths to arrive at the same truth. Life is better, more meaningful, when we create, especially when we share in creation. This is our love and our passion and something that we want to share. We want to facilitate not only our creative spirits but others’ too. We want to help others find and understand these ideas. Sometimes this is through working directly alongside clients and sometimes it is more like being their hands, enabling them to bring their own visions to life. We believe that it is through individuals developing and understanding their creative process and becoming a “craftsperson” in their own right that quality of life is improved, singularly and collectively. Crawford says this: “Since the standards of craftsmanship issue from the logic of things rather than the art of persuasion, practiced submission to them perhaps gives the craftsman some psychic ground to stand on against fantastic hopes aroused by demagogues, whether commercial or political. The craftsman’s habitual deference is not toward the New, but toward the distinction between the Right Way and the Wrong Way.” Once we understand the difference between the right and wrong way, only then can we have convictions that are worth standing on. Having people willing and able to stand on their own thinking and convictions can only mean good things for a community, society and culture. Sorry, I digress, Matthew Crawford’s article and book are rich with thoughts, ideas and convictions that I think we need more of. This was only a taste. Check his book out and give us call. Let’s make something good happen.

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