Rough Cut: Arts, Crafts, Gifts, Knacks

Young, Richard. “Arts, Crafts, Gifts, Knacks: Some Disharmonies in the New Rhetoric”. Visible Language (14)4 341-350.

  • “new rhetoricians” divided over rhetorical art as a vitalist theory of art and composing: a technical theory (theories and pedagogical successes of both groups suggest in some sense that both are right in their approach)
  • glamour and grammar were originally the same word – combining the magical and rationalistic aspects of speech (341)
  • qtd. John Genung (The Practical Elements of Rhetoric, 1892) wrote that it concerns itself with the entire process of making literature, in being/embodying, but that in practical application, creatives acts must be excluded – particularly those of the composing process
  • practical = can be taught
  • which turns into the conventions and mechanics of discourse
  • creative = cannot be taught, of a person (342)
  • for Genung, “rhetoric was a body of information about the forms and norms of competent prose and their uses in the later stages of the composing process – the rhetoric of the finished word” (342)
  • longstanding argument = dynamic of conceptualizing vs. creative discovery
  • “traditional rhetoric” skill in expressing preconceived arguments or points of view
  • “new rhetoric” exploration of ideas: the process of composition is discovery
  • new rhetoric is not homogeneous however…almost as divided as new and traditional rhetoric
  • “new romanticism” (Frank D’Angelo): vitalist philosophy with modern psychology blended approach that stresses the composing process should be relatively free of deliberate control (primacy of imagination) – how is mystery taught?
  • art contrasts with craft: art is magic/mystery (cannot be taught) while craft is skill (can be taught)
  • “the teaching of writing as writing is the teaching of writing as art” (qting. William Coles 343)
  • art cannot be taught: when writing is not taught as art, it is being taught as something else — we must make possible what is impossible to do
  • change the role of the teacher (344): designer of occasions that stimulate the creative process
  • The “new classicists” considered the “art” of teaching writing a little differently.  Young claims that they see art as “the knowledge necessary for producing preconceived results by conscious directed action” (344).  In this sense, the new classicists see the teaching of writing as a “knack” or a habit acquired through repeated practice and experience.
  • art contrasts with craft and knack
  • art: knowledge to produce preconceived results by conscious action
  • craft: experiential
  • knack: habit through repeated experience
  • but knacks can turn into arts when they are isolated and generalized as successful
  • “technical theory of art” – art as grammar (R.G. Collingwood, 1958)
  • new classists teach “heuristics” – strategies for effective guessing (345), not rule governed procedures
  • “heuristic”: series of questions or operations whose results are provisional; not wholly conscisous or mechanical; intuition, relevant knowledge, and skill are necessary
  • each situation isn’t unique, but a kind of situation encountered before
  • some phases can be carried out deliberately and rationally
  • nice distinction between heuristic and rule governed in application/execution (345)
  • “If the creative process has generic features, if some of its phases can be consciously directed, and if heuristic procedures can be developed as aids, then it can be taught. Or to be more precise, certain aspects of the creative process can be taught…” (345-6)
  • tagmemic rhetoric informs rhetoric as heuristic application of principles characteristic of tagmemic linguistics (12 principles) – recognizing, knowing features, understanding variance (346)
  • “we do tricks in order to know” (William Stafford, 1962) – coaxing intuitions of reasonable solutions (347)
  • “But I am concerned here not only with what we do when engaged in intellectual exploration, I am also concerned with what we can do to increase our control over the activity, to make it more effective than it might otherwise be” (347)
  • danger of technical theory of art is the over-rationalization of the composing process (348); heuristics can become rule-goverened procedures by ignoring our non-rational powers
  • balancing reason and imagination: “both-and” or “either-or”

John Ruskin

Nature of the Gothic and The Two Paths: Modern Manufacture and Design

Reading Ruskin, if I mapped my reactions, would look like a sine graph, or maybe a seismograph during tectonic disturbances. At times, I found myself understanding what he was working on – creating a way to talk about art by emphasizing design. Situated in time, Ruskin is witnessing the industrialization of Britain, or the loss of nature: a void of art, and the dissipation of periods of “art” as over the top ornate decoration that did not fit purpose or place. Here I pause to wonder if art, as Ruskin is using it, is equal to craft in techne. I think yes/no.

Yes: he is working to give a language to talking about design – being able to know it and understand it in terms of place (where the art is located/situated), material (what can be done with a material to fit the form – but here he seems to focus mostly on human form, which leads me to start to say no, he’s venturing into aesthetic values that shift out of the realm of use…), and office (understanding the position of what one is creating – which I’m equating to balance: some parts of design must be humble so others are prominent).

No: he is romantic of nature and describes art as a condition and creation of the natural (which leads me to say yes because however utopic, he is working toward creating things as living and functioning art in homes, which leads me to think of use and value – made to fit people, as well as a pause in what seemed to be progression toward machination of objects, i.e. not craft)

(Maybe my reading depiction would be a mobius strip…) I try to situate in time why Ruskin’s use of conventional (as opposed to natural) might be negative as equivalent to our standardized. And how his focus on the human figure might be a way of talking about objects that are mindful of the human figure in their design in terms of form and material. But what seems lacking is the workman/craftsman as maker of these objects and the objects he seems to dwell on (painting and sculpture) don’t seem relative to human use or interaction – they seem removed. And then, in mobius fashion, I turn on myself again to say that architecture, in design and decoration, as far as what humans are inhabiting in terms of space/place seems significant to what objects were designed and made in terms of giving rise to them or thwarting them. This makes me think of one of Pye’s critiques of Ruskin:

While Pye acknowledges that life in Ruskin’s time depended on highly regulated workmanship for its continuance with industrialization, he tried to position himself outside of industry, something that wasn’t explicitly addressed in his work, but that had an effect on the position of the worksman within/in relation to industry. Pye summarizes Ruskin’s design/art/workmanship principles as follows (118-19):

1. Men can only take pleasure in their work if they are allowed to invent, to design as well as make (and to do so from nature)

2. Worksmen, by no fault of their own, are untaught and unsophisticated

3. Therefore, their designs will be rough and imperfect

In Pye’s critique, Ruskin isn’t thinking about design from the worksman/craftsman, but as removed prejudices of industrialization not rooted in making. Without this relation to making, and makers, Ruskin seems to be talk about aesthetics in the same hollow way craft can be talked about in contemporary times as nostalgia for the simpler past. Ruskin describes art, this time directed to the workman (or at least gestured), as:

“Beautiful art can only be produced by people who have beautiful things about them, and leisure to look at them; and unless you provide some elements of beauty for your workmen to be surrounded by, you will find that no elements of beauty can be invented by them.”

I can see this moving toward the arts and crafts lifestyle movement, or a return to nature or the countryside away from city factories, convention, and mechanization, but what does this mean to making? What does this mean to the craftsman/worksman? The form and function and decoration of objects? Who got to make art as craft and by what means? (art seems positioned as hobby in Ruskin) Was the arts and crafts movement of the time always positioned as such a binary? (again, I think of the time: industrialization in the process of becoming industrialized.) Also, why Gothic architecture?


Reading Aristotle (ashamed to admit that it’s really my first textual encounter), I was stuck on this articulation of art as production, as making, under the guidance of right reason – a direct and natural response of a person to the sight of the beautiful. And although right reason is described as a natural response, it is made clear that art, or rather the productions of art, are not things that come into being as nature because they originate without a person. While it make sense to me that the productions are not things that exist within nature, I wondered in what ways nature, as a state of mind, could be a material – maybe beyond influence/inspiration that complicates right reason. I don’t just mean nature as materials like wood, stone, clay, but the structures of nature – honeycomb, natural arches, sedimentary rock – that craft craft/art. Then I saw a book I picked up before I visited my friend in Japan (and dragged him to traditional craft centers) and began skimming for relationships to right reason, products as good, and nature in the description of craft:

Folk Arts and Crafts of Japan by Kageo Muraoka and Kichiemon Okamura

“The Hidden Beauty of Common Objects” (“Zakki no Bi”):

The Craftsman and His Craft

“Although the Japanese folk artisan is poor and uneducated, he is a fervent devotee of his craft…Unconsciously, he is motivated by his belief in kami (the spirit of nature) and seized by its indomitable force…Because he was not self conscious about what he was doing, the man who made this dish had not planned the final outcome of his creative effort…What is beauty?…We cannot expect him to be prepared with clear-cut answers to such questions, but even though he may not have thought-out knowledge, his hands move rapidly at his work And we could perhaps say that just as the voice that speaks the Buddhas name is not actually the man’s voice but is that of the Buddha, so too the hands of the potter are not his own but those of nature”.

Soetsu Yanagi

And another thread:

Screen shot 2013-09-11 at 10.33.15 PMDr. Tobias Hoffman

And another – Aristotle:

“now Making and Doing are two different things (as we show in the exoteric treatise), and so that state of mind, conjoined with Reason, which is apt to Do, is distinct from that also conjoined with Reason, which is apt to Make: and for this reason they are not included one by the other, that is, Doing is not Making, nor Making Doing. Now as Architecture is an Art, and is the same as “a certain state of mind, conjoined with Reason, which is apt to Make,” and as there is no Art which is not such a state, nor any such state which is not an Art, Art, in its strict and proper sense, must be “a state of mind, conjoined with true Reason, apt to Make.”

“And, so neither things which exist or come into being necessarily, nor things in the way of nature, come under the province of Art, because these are self-originating. And since Making and Doing are distinct, Art must be concerned with the former and not the latter.”

*exoteric: of or relating to the outside; external

I feel like in trying to unpack Aristotle, I’m not making much progress…I suppose what I’m getting at is reason’s relationship to utility (or maybe use) in craft? Whether or not art and craft are one in the same and what connotations this has on aesthetic/fine art (especially distinctions between knowledge, wisdom, intuition, science and art)? And ways of considering nature’s relation to craft aside from inspiration as beauty alone? (or perhaps I’m not fully grasping this notion of beauty or nature either). This might all be lingering and densely packed confusions about tensions of the terms nature/natural and culture in other philosophy texts I’ve encountered.

And I suppose I want to pause on objects and things in the manner in which Aristotle uses them – what relationship do objects/things/matter have? To man? To nature? And in thinking about the ethics of things, can it be the thing itself considered?