The Attitude Of Manual Training To The Arts and Crafts


Proceedings of the Eastern Manual Training Association
pages 14-20

I am not going to try to give you a history of manual training (which you undoubtedly know more about than I do), or of the Arts and Crafts movement, except in the most general way. I am going to try to go deeper and to get at what it is all about. In order to do that it is worth while to glance back at the begin. fling of things for a moment.

Man at first was a naked, cold, hungry animal in a cold and strenuous world: and out of that, because of that, man is becoming worthwhile. That very weakness, that very nakedness, tested the ingenuity of man—compelled him to invent. Out of such invention two things came to him—in the first place, a great joy in the sense of creation; in the second place, a development because of that work. Man then endeavored to express his new point of view; because with his development came a new outlook, a new meaning to the rolling cloud and to the rushing water and to the lightning—to the song of the birds; and so art was born.

Art is not, as has been said, "the visible evidence of man's joy in his work," because it is that very joy and that very work itself. If art was the visible evidence of man's joy in his work. then the rich would indeed—as they think they do—possess the hoarded treasures of the world; whereas they but gather the crumbs that fall from the artist's table. The real joy, the real good there is in art (and by art I mean the art of making the dishpan as much as a statue of Phidias)—the real motive of art after all, when you analyze it, is simply to make us worth while, to make us fit to love and be loved, fit to live together.

It seems to me that we have fallen on a troublous time—those of us who believe that the making of things rather than the having of things is the important fact. We have fallen on a time of tremendous n tremendous discovery, altogether good in itself, but which. I fear, has led us astray; because we have assumed that the way to get the thing we are after, which is the development of the individual (all our pleasure, all our labor, is for that and no other end—the development of the individual —is for us to amass wealth enough with as little labor as possible to go out into the market and buy development. One of the Vanderbilts has stated that it is almost impossible for the man born rich to amount to anything. He is distinctly handicapped, because he has firmly ground into him the idea that this thing that is worth while can be bought; and he is not a whit different from any of the rest of us, because we all have the same idea. But we have left out of account how development comes. Since the world began it has come by one way and never will come by any other, and that is through doing creative work. We are beginning to recognize it in our schools, in our kindergartens. We no longer believe that the child goes to school simply to gather knowledge by the mere hearing of certain things and sentiments. That does not give growth. Only so far as the child is able to explain to himself how two and two make four does any good come to him—does growth come. The manual training school system is said to be a new thing. All revolutions seem to be new things, but they none of them are: they are simply the visible evidences of evolution; it is simply that the thing at the moment strikes us as fresh. It is not fresh; it is not new: we have merely realized that this time we have got so far in our general daily life from the natural and normal way of growth that we have to apply it. We have to go to school to learn how to grow and to get growth; but the pity of it is that we stop there. Your manual training fits you-- suppose fits your lawyer for his work, fits your doctor for his work: no man but could do better for it; but it also fits the burglar for his work. In itself it has nothing to do with the big thing of life. It is the preparation for it. The man who comes out and because of his development monopolizes the bounties of nature and kills the rest of us is the product of the manual training school just as much as the man who does righteousness. We have got to look beyond the preparation for life: we have got to carry our school on into our life. When the real college comes, the real university—as come it will—you will not know where it is: you will not be able to tell where the school stops and the workshop commences, because they will overlap.

There will be no preparation for life: there will be simply separate, different stages of life. The kindergarten is just as much a part of life as the end of it, and we must recognize that fact. . We have not as a- mass gone in the way that leads toward the thing that we are after. Mechanical invention, as I said, has been tremendous, and discovery has been tremendous; we have gone machine-mad with the thought that if we could only rig up these machines wonderfully, intricately enough, all we would have to do would be to push buttons. Well, we are coming to that result pretty fast.

A couple of years ago some of us tried to start some little shops at Rose Valley. I went to one of the oldest and best cabinet makers in the city of Philadelphia and asked him if he could get me two or three good, all-round cabinet makers. He said: "Well, I think I could get you two." That is, only two in a city of over a million people. I said: "I want young men." "Oh!" he exclaimed, "these men are so old they will probably die before ycu get them out there." He added: "You cannot find a young cabinet maker because there is no use for him. I can get you a good dowel sticker, or a good man on the lathe or mortise machine, but there is no such thing as a cabinet maker in the cabinet making shop." That, of course, is not absolutely true; but nearly all the good men are foreigners—very few of them are Americans. That is the situation in one of the most simple, direct and important of the crafts left to us. I would have to go to Norway or somewhere else to get men.

That is typical of our methods. We have not reached the point, yet, where the majority of us to nothing but push buttons, but we are fast approaching it. What then? Suppose you made wealth in enormous quantities; suppose it was divided equally or equitably; what then? You think a republic could stand that was composed nine-tenths of button pushers and the other tenth of captains of industry? The few designers—the few men who had the development, who had designed these marvelous tissues and- patterns which were to be worked—would have got their growth and their development; but the nation could not remain a republic. - In the dark ages when they wanted to torture a man beyond all possibility of his holding up under it they did not torture him with thumbscrews, or the maiden, or the boot. They put him in a room without interests, where there was nothing to do, nothing to see, and dropped a drop of water with deadly regularity on his head, and he invariably went mad. I accuse the present system of doing precisely that thing. The nran that has to stand at the tailor the man or the woman or the child (as it has got to be now the child can do it almost as well as the man 'in many industries) who has to stand eight hours, ten hours,. thirteen hours , if you will, a day, at the tail of a machine, doing uninteresting work---monotonous, regular, but without any interest, without any volition—is in exactly the same position as the man with the water dropping on his head. That is so true that in the factories right here in Philadelphia where they make cigarettes they have to employ performers to go there and play the piano and entertain the people while they are rolling cigarettes to keep them from going altogether to the bad. That may be industry, but it is a mighty poor kind of industry; it may make goods, but it does not make character; and you cannot get character as a by-product of such labor. As manual training teachers you should realize that it is not enough to take the children into your school rooms and give them a glimpse of heaven if hell lies just outside of the door. Here is this great school; of industrial art which teaches people year in and year out how to design beautifully, how to weave properly, how to dye properly, and then gets them jobs which require them to do the very reverse. There are few of them who dare to come back here and show their designs; there are few of them who would hang their designs on the wall before us. The demand is not for the best thing that that man does but the worst—for the purely commercial thing. That is not enough. That is why I am making this plea for the arts and crafts; that is the connection that I see between the Arts and Crafts movement and the manual training school. The~manual training school has done much to make the Arts and Crafts movement possible. I have no statistics for this statement; you do not need. statistics for such things—you simply know them: you cannot go on teaching and training these young people for twenty-five years that it is right to do things that are worth while and not have some of them adopt the teaching. There are two thousand arts and crafts associations in the United States alone, without any organized movement. They are simply, spontaneous protests against things as -they are and as they are going to be. That means a lot. It means a lot to you people; because you can guarantee that the men and women who are now working in arts and crafts shops, who are working because they want to work at those things, are going to back your work up and make it more and more important. To me the average college of the old type i:: worse than useless: it is as useless, it seems to me, as the pulling of straps to get strength. You can get just as much strength out of pushing a plane as out of pulling a strap, and when you are done you have got something more than muscle. With the children there is no trouble—you do not have to chase them to the manual training school; you have to chase them out; you have to bar the doors to keep them out. There, as our friend said about the entrance to the graveyard, "they have come to stay"; but they have come to stay on the other side of that gate, just as the manual training has. Manual training and the Arts and Crafts movement is a move from the inside of that cemetery out—from death back into life.

History has simply been a series of rises--of gradual growths: you will have not gradual falls, but slumps—drops. We do not descend the same way we come up. When they were tearing down a brick Rome to build a marble Rome in the time of Augustus, when their poetry and their literature were becoming more and more refined, they did not dream that that was the beginning of the end, though it surely was. If we have political corruption, if we have business corruption (which is at the bottom of all political corruption), it is because we have accepted this false ideal: it is because we have believed that we could buy the things that are worth while with cash—usually with somebody's else cash. The practical business man thinks most of us dreamers. He thinks the artist a dreamer. He says: "The artist is not a practical man." It is practical to pay fifty thousand dollars for the painting of a dead man but it is not practical to make the painting—it is practical to buy the evidence of another man's growth, but it is not practical to do the kind of work by which men grow. He does not want the all-round man: he wants the specialist. But the specialist that is worth while is always the round man.

There is more really fine doctors' work done by the all- round country doctor than there is by any number of city specialists. I know of that for a fact. I know of a woman who, being desperately ill, recently had one of the best known specialists in the city of Philadelphia attend her—a specialist in her particu lar trouble. She would have died with that man in the house had he not called in a country doctor who did something that saved her. The country doctor did not possess one-tenth the specialist's knowledge about that particular disease; but he knew something about the whole woman—not the woman's liver alone. Now, specialization is all right; but the specialization must be founded on the round man. Your work tends to round the man. The Arts and Crafts movement is simply an extension of your work; it is a carrying of your work on into life; it is a protest against the acceptance of the machine ideal. "Now," you will ask, "are you attacking the machine?" Not at all; I am attackivg the machine ideal. There is a Iine—a perfectly clear one, it seems to me—that we can draw on the machine, and that is the line where the machine ceases to be a tool. No matter how costly, therefore, or complicated the tool is, so long as it is a tool with which a man expresses himself, it is an advantage and a benefit to that man. The moment it ceases to be that, the moment it becomes a thing which does the thinking, into which the unthinking man feeds the material, we reject it.

The things of truth always lie with the minority. Emerson said:

"One with God is a majority."

In your hands—in the hands of the teachers who are working along your line, whether they be manual training teachers or kindergarten teachers—lies a power out of all proportion to your numbers.

The work that you do in the schools is the work that draws and that interests and rivets the attention of the students in the schools. Is not that true? You have no trouble to get your children interested in their manual work; therefore your influence with them is tremendous. Now, as an artsman, as one who desires to extend this into life, I have to ask you to go on, not only in your work but in impressing on these people---these young people who when they come into your hands are so plastic—that school is not enough: that it is very well to go out into the world and make beautiful things; that it is very well to go out into the world and make useful things; but that to be worth while in the world they must be makers—they -must be creators. Our Revolutionary forefathers were not very well organized; it did not seem possible that they could successfully cope with a great power such as England was; but they stood for certain elemental truths among which they said were "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Now, life in the sense of not being dead is not enough; liberty in the sense of being outside of jail is not enough; the opportunity to pursue happiness carries with it the opportunity to work in the kind of work that produces happiness; because it is, after all, six days that we must labor and only one that we may idle. We must get our development and our growth not through the expenditure of the income of labor but through the labor itself if we are ever again to enjoy any leadership in the world's history.