Friday, 21 January 2011

I Make, Therefore I Am

I worry about the society we find ourselves in today. Many people have become spectators of life rather than participants and as a result, find themselves disconnected and struggling to find a purpose.

While there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution there are, in my opinion, things that can be done to provide us once more with a sense of being, doing, contributing and probably most importantly, with that sense of purpose while we are here and knowledge of leaving our mark for when we’re not; something that speaks of our existence and identity.

Today the media is full to bursting, of programmes and articles dedicated to the tangible achievements of the past, where experts extol the virtues of craftsmen and craftsmanship. They talk about the detail, the design, the skill, the workmanship and the fact that many of these items are still in working use, literally hundreds of years later.

We are fully aware of the significance and importance of those exertions, which I repeat; we celebrate on a regular basis. However, we have forgotten that manual occupation is still one of the best ways to satisfy this primeval need and there is nothing wrong in going to bed tired, maybe even aching a little, knowing that the day has been used to its full advantage and there is something to show at the end of it. We have become obsessed with jumping the gun, to get to the destination without going on the journey, let alone enjoying it.

We have become obsessed with the idea that physical struggle is wrong and bad, so much so that we are desperately trying to eliminate it (in the western world at least) to our cost. What we need to realise is that a certain amount of physical exertion, struggle even, is necessary in every human life. When that is not present an emotional as well as a physical vacuum is created, which as we all know, must be filled.

Are our lives any ‘easier’ today?  I doubt it. We’ve simply replaced physical struggle with mental anxiety. I would argue that a lot of that anxiety occurs because we are not satisfying that innate need to be manually and creatively occupied. Art, Craft and Manual Production satisfy that need on every level.

Using our hands and indeed all our faculties to create things of beauty, use or both, is of immense value. Using the raw materials we find around us, where a battle of wills ensues between maker and material, grappling and tussling with that material, until a truce – a compromise and an understanding is achieved and something beautiful emerges. It is this struggle that helps define us as human beings and we need this affirmation, pretty much on a daily basis, to keep us sane and healthy.
Gillian Montegrande, is founder of Made by Hands of Britain which is dedicated to showcasing the heritage, traditions and contemporary interpretations of British craftsmanship. 


  1. Gillian thank you for this superb post. I could not agree more that we have replaced physical toil with mental anxiety.
    I still cook all our food from scratch, which can be an effort but it's well worth it, I find it creative too.
    I live in Canada now and like the feeling in my aching muscles having shovelled all the snow on our drive. I found myself saying "Thank you for our washing machine" on Monday as I hung up our laundry, I realised how grateful I was that I did not have to wash all our clothes by hand. Life is a wonderful journey and I am in no hurry to reach the destination!

  2. Joanna, how nice of you to comment and I am delighted you feel the same - that's two of us at least :)

    We too still eat all our meals made from scratch, my husband is Italian, so you can imagine! It's about taking one's time and considering the processes and consequences, good and bad, of what we do.

    You are so right about physical exertion, I never feel more alive than when I am working really hard - I love to garden, as much for the way it makes me feel as the aesthetic result.

    In the end, what do we do if we're not doing?

  3. Make that 3 of us in agreement!
    I live in New Zealand and gardening (especially food) is my first love although I spend most of the week inside with a computer. I sleep so much better at weekends after a day of fresh air and physical work.
    My next love is knitting, though I have so many clothes (mostly gifted by my mother who knows I dislike shopping, and many more than a decade old) that I usually use 'wool' remnants and make children's clothes to give away. When I lived in Queensland, Australia, I didn't need any knitted clothes and missed it so much! This winter I will start spinning wool again, something I haven't done since I moved to Australia in 1988 (returning to NZ in 2006), and I look forward to the creativity and truly natural fibre.
    My third love has been renovating houses (especially creating the gardens).
    The theme here is creating beauty and utility - so satisfying!

  4. Carolyn, you definitely sound like my kind of person!

    Totally empathise about physical work being the antidote to sitting in front of a computer all day :)