A Tool for Our Heart and Soul

I want to follow up my post Like Roots to a Plant last week, continuing the thoughts about the tension between Eros and Logos. Or between craftsmanship and expressing the heart. Is there a contradiction between the two? Personally I don’t think so, but I do notice many see craft as a barrier between the heart and the art. What they tend to forget is that craft is a living exchange. By craftsmanship we breathe life into our artistic work; by craftsmanship we transmit and transfer our vision into an artistic expression. In addition craftsmanship provides a means for our own growth and development and asks for us to tunnel our mind, heart and soul through the technical possibilities and requirements of whatever artistic medium we are working with.

At the same time we should not look upon craft solely as a technical requirement of the medium. We shouldn’t just feel forced to learn about the technique of the artistic medium in order to be able to express whatever our vision is, or feel opposed to it because it hinders the same expression. And we should definitely not raise technique into an objective of its own. Technique merely represents the tools, the study of the shaping means of our work. Technique alone, without the guiding influence of the mind and heart, is sterile. While it is desirable and undeniably useful to maintain a respect and appreciation for the best tools or elegant solutions, it is important to avoid the common trap of mistaking technical excellence for the soul of creative expression.

Craft must be put into service of our vision. It comes down to using our bodies, minds and hearts and extending them through craftsmanship and our work with the physical material. As a matter of fact the craft is an extension of ourselves. It doesn’t matter which art form we are talking about. The camera is an extension of the eye, the paintbrush and pen an extension of the hand and arm, the potter’s wheel an extension of the centred presence of the human body. And so it is even with computers, for those of us who channel our work through digital tools. The computer and the action of the silicon chip, with its billions of instructions per second, is a metaphor for an extension of the human nervous system, the human brain. The child starts by painting directly with its fingers, later on we start to use tools as an extensions of ourselves. But basically, and at its most simple level, it’s all the same.

Thus, we shouldn’t raise technique up as god itself. Neither should we fall into the trap of seeing craftsmanship as an obstruction between our heart and our work—and to be avoided. Because by knowledge of craftsmanship we are better capable of making the transition from heart and soul to artistic expression. I find it strange that particularly in photography technical knowledge has gain a bad reputation by some artists. It’s look down upon as geeky or of interest for only those who don’t care about the art. But again the craft is only a tool—and a useful tool in the creative process. Nobody asks whether an author needs to know the grammar of his or her language. And so it should be with any artistic work. The craft has no use of its own; it is merely a tool for our heart and soul.

52 thoughts on “A Tool for Our Heart and Soul

  1. I had a teacher who was technically perfect, but his paintings were boring. At the same time, I’m appalled to go to art museums and see contemporary work which is technically infantile. People who achieve greatness in their fields are both expressive and technically masterful. Great post!

    1. I often get the same feeling when visiting contemporary art exhibition. Sometimes it feels like watching the emperors new clothes, if you know the tale. No substance and no skills at all. 🙂

  2. Raye stole my words. I couldn’t agree with you more that craftsmanship is an extension of our self, our growth and development. One that I think should never cease to grow…

  3. I think you’ve summed it up beautifully in saying that, “Craft must be put into service of our vision.” Without solid technique, a photographer (or any artist) will eventually struggle to fulfill his or her vision. And that’s a very sad state indeed, when creativity is stifled by lack of technical skill. Wonderful post, Otto — both inspiring and thought-provoking.

  4. Great articles, Otto. Before I even finish reading your articles, I started thinking about the subject. After giving a lot of thoughts, I continued reading the rest of the article. You were right that craft is a tool. It helps me express myself better. In a way, the more I know the craft, the freer I feel.

    >> Nobody asks whether an author needs to know the grammar of his or her language.
    This, I am not sure. My feeling is that many of my writing teachers would disagree with you 😉

    Have a great day.

  5. One of my pet subjects…if the heart is missing in otherwise perfect work, it has not soul and is not interesting…Heart and Passion are the no 1 necessity, I think combined with excellence in the skill needed to perfect the whole thing.
    Very good post, as always, Otto.

  6. You have said it right on that technique is just a tool for our creativity! It is however difficult to separate the two by others who just see the final result. Great image quality (for photography) is probably the first thing people see in the picture.

    There are times one need to learn the craft and focus on as one sees its need to help opening up more ways or easier ways for his creations.

  7. As you’ve certainly observed, Otto, my photos are heart with the tiniest smidgeon of technique 🙂 🙂 I was horrified yesterday to be entrusted with a ‘proper’ camera to take some photos of a 100th birthday celebration at the weekend. I shall hope for the best, and smile a lot, after I’ve read the instruction leaflet.

  8. Once again you have given us food for thought that is inspiring and uplifting…and wonderfully informative. Thank you Otto.

  9. You say “Craft must be put into service of our vision.” Yes, we need to learn the technique, and we need to have a vision. Having a vision is sometimes more difficult than learning the technique.
    But this is.
    I see many “perfect” images which era not interesting because “without soul”.
    It’s our vision which gives a soul to our creative work.
    Thanks Otto for reminding us such an important point.

    1. Learning the craft and techniques that goes with it, is quite rightly, relatively easy. And what is the hard part, as you say, is developing one’s vision. Thank you for your comment, Robert.

  10. when i spent some time on G+ a while back, where everybody and their dog is a ‘great photographer’… i got depressed about my way of doing things, which is kind of a shoot from the hip and then look through my thumbnails for something i like… there was soooo many ‘techies’ there that looked down on those of us who scan for a moment in time that sings to us. they were very snobby about how much they knew and how expensive their cameras were and basically how much better they were than i was lol… but i found their photography cold and unwelcoming, for me, i welcome people into my warm house with my pictures. something that the techies didn’t respect or understand.

  11. Again, as you do so often, you’ve put into words things I believe, even though I might not have consciously thought or coherently organized my thoughts about them before. I’m not a highly technical photographer, but it seems to me that at least a basic grasp of tools and techniques is what enables the artist (whether photographer, painter, writer, or whatever) to capture his or her creative vision. (And yes, in my opinion, a knowledge – at least a working knowledge – of grammar is absolutely essential for a writer!)

    1. Grammar or technique for the writer and photographer respectively is of course important. But neither is what makes the art stand out on its own. Both the writer and the photographer will have to bring the heart into the equation.

  12. It seems to me that great craftsmanship disappears into the finished product, and the best techniques make the process of creation look easy. One of my readers asked recently whether I ever revised one of my posts. When I told her I’d revised the post she’d just read 127 times, she was astonished. “My,” she said. “Your posts are so polished I wouldn’t think you’d need to revise.” Then, she added, “But perhaps those revisions are what create the final result.” Bingo.

    I don’t strive to perfect technique in order to show off my mastery of technique. I strive to become better at my craft in order to better communicate my vision.

    I just love these posts. They always help me focus on what I’m actually doing, and understand it better.

    1. I like what you say in this comment. That technique is important for the final result, but it shouldn’t be visible, it should not impose itself on the viewer. Thank you, Linda.

  13. It is a tricky balance, but you are right, Otto — the expression requires heart and soul as well as tools and craftsmanship. I find when I am centered, with my heart leading the way, I can fluidly move forward. Wonderful discussion and post.

  14. I like this follow up to last week’s post. Interestingly, although the need for balance between creativity and technique is common to all art forms, the topic seems to be more frequently raised for discussion among photographers than among other artists.

  15. Mycket bra och värdefullt att få ta del av Otto. I strävan efter att bli bättre i själva hantverket är det lätt att fastna där. Gör jag mellan varven så det här var en bra påminnelse.

  16. As a simple housewife, I sometimes make a cake for my guests. I therefore need some tools and a recipe. The final decoration, however, is usually invented by me and it gives me great joy if everybody enjoys to eat a piece of it! Thank you very much, Otto, for this lesson of yours💐

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