I recently listened to Peter Korn’s book Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman. (Like most books, the substance is concentrated in the beginning; and roughly a third of the way in the book becomes relatively unimportant; and the last third often seems like filler to make it long enough to bind and sell as a traditional book.) It is a good exploration of man’s search for meaning, and how man finds meaning in craftsmanship. And I think this is a particularly male struggle: The female psyche finds meaning in the people around her, and particularly in that most powerful and consummate of bonds: between a mother and her children. But the maturing male psyche detaches, leaving him adrift in abject existential loneliness. To become a man he has to discover or build his purpose. He may find meaning in social spheres, but he can also find meaning in the creation or nurturing of things – i.e., he can find meaning as a craftsman.
Korn beautifully describes the nature of craftsmanship – how an artisan develops intuition and connection with materials and processes; the state of “flow” a master can attain practicing his art. And Korn repeats lamentations about how the industrial revolution turned craftsmen into automata, destroying the opportunity for so many working men to find essential meaning in their labor.