Friday, 16 December 2011

Professionalism as profound involvement with material rather than detachment

The Cygnus Loop Supernova Remnant

I just read the latest post on Solid Gold Creativity, entitled Possibility 3, which includes a story about a singer who, in order to achieve a great interpretation of a Schubert song, discovered - with help from a coach - that he needed to 'stop taking himself so Goddam seriously'. He needed to lose himself in the material, to give himself up to it, to submit to its demands. This language is not too strong: on the contrary, it is precise. The craftworker aims for a moment to become one with his/her material. This is exactly what I mean in my analysis of craft when I argue that the craftworker's identity is completely bound up with their work, and that consequently their work truly and uniquely reflects the person they are. We talk of a singer 'interpreting' the song, with the connotation that every interpretation is unique (for better or worse!). But even to say this plays down the active role of the material in shaping the identity of the craftworker too - every piece of work they produce changes them, makes them the person they are, becomes part of their lived experience and their identity.

In the same way, we can say that teachers are formed by their students, provided they allow themselves to be so formed, provided they don't take themselves too seriously.

Monday, 12 December 2011

For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry

The wonderful Spitalfields Life blog does it again! I know of this poem, written around 1760 by Christopher Smart, but I had no idea that he probably wrote it while confined inside the St Luke's Hospital for Lunatics, where he was first described as 'curable' and later as 'incurable'. This institution, according to 'the gentle author' of the blog, stood where the CoOp and Argos are today, on Old St.

The post tells the sad story of Smart's life, and publishes the whole heart-warming poem.  The gentle author wonders whether Smart, known to many as 'Kit', might have seen an image of himself in Jeoffry which may have helped him rise above the 'tyranny of his circumstances'.  Certainly we can all relate immediately to the poem.  The blog post is at:

Paul Bommer, a friend of 'the gentle author' of Spitalfields Life, has produced a beautiful and witty poster, parts of which are shown here, illustrating every line of the poem (see  If anyone very generous wants to give me the perfect Christmas present, this is it!

Note that Bommer has put the cat into a frame alongside a bust of Montaigne (the main inspiration for Optimistic but Sceptical).  This is a coincidence, but absolutely appropriate, for one of Montaigne's most famous quotations is:  'When I play with my cat, who knows whether she is not amusing herself with me more than I with her.'   He was clearly also a close observer of cats, and would I'm sure have been very amused by Smart's poem.  There's an interesting book to be written on humanists and cats: or perhaps a bigger one on the different animal companions preferred by different kinds of philosopher.  Did Diderot have a cat?  We know Nietzsche was moved, possibly to madness, by the sight of a horse being whipped.  Did Kant take a dog with him when he went on his walks in Konigsberg at exactly the same time every day?

Any more information on this vital question will be very gratefully received, and published here.  In the meantime, look up Spitalfields Life, read For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry, and glow inside....while shedding a sad tear for Kit Smart.