Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Why We Create: Insights from Woodworker Peter Korn

Peter Korn, author and craftsman

I was impressed by the universality and insights of Peter Korn's comments on creative work, and in particular how it resonates for those of us writing and illustrating for children and teens.

Here are some of his thoughts:

"...I have come to believe that all people who engage in creative, self-expressive work - visual artists, craftspeople, writers, composers and others - are engaged in similar processes of self-transformation. None of us enter our studios because the world desperately demands another painting, symphony, or chair. But none of us take the work lightly, either, because it entails too much commitment, discipline, and risk of failure. Those who choose to do it professionally, expect for the very few who reach the top, could find more effective ways to earn decent livings. The simple truth is that people who engage in creative practice go into the studio, first and foremost, because they expect to emerge from the other end of the creative gauntlet as different people."

"Happiness and fulfillment feel like two distinct states of mind to me, and of the two, I find happiness greatly overrated by those who present it as life's ultimate goal. Whatever it may have meant to philosophers in the past, or to the Founding Fathers who were so intent on pursuing it, the glow we label happiness today seems relatively inconsequential. We get it if we buy the right car, fall in love with the right person, take the right job, win the lottery, become famous, or eat our favorite candy bar. But then we grow accustomed to our car or lover or job or candy bar ...and happiness seeps into the sands of the ordinary. Soon, we're hungry for it all over again, and not sure where to find it. Fulfillment, on the other hand, seems to be self-generated through the exercise of our own creative capacities. However recalcitrant the universe may be, when I am creatively engaged I have a sense of purpose and fulfillment that makes happiness seem like a bauble."

"As a child and teenager I longed for competence, for the ability to do something well in a way that mattered in the grownup world. As a woodworker I found that ordinary competence and something more. I discovered within myself the capacity to transform a wisp of thought into an enduring, beautiful object. I see the same empowering revelation take place in my students today as they perform the miracle of creation. This, I would suggest, is precisely what makes creative practice such a generous source of fulfillment, beyond the pleasure of engaging heart, head, and hand in unison. It exercises one's innate capacity to re-form the given world in ways that matter."

These quotes were found in the essay, "Philosopher on the Lathe: Reflections on a life devoted to craftsmanship" on pages 12-13 of The Pennsylvania Gazette, Nov/Dec 2014. Peter Corn is the author of Why We Make Things And Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman (David R. Godine, 2013), from which he adapted the essay.

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