Shop Class As Soulcraft; a very short review.

This is one of the best books I've read this year.It's a really great look at why people aren't necessarily happy doing what they've been told they should be doing.  And it's about under-standing choices.

This is a very well written book and it looks at work in a different way.  The writer has his Phd. in something impressive and worked in a think tank and in an information technology company before chucking it all and returning the the thing he enjoys the most,  fixing motorcycles.  He makes a compelling case that work which entails problem solving, the use of one's hands and garnered intuition makes for a happier work existence.  According to Crawford 93% of high school students are now placed in college track preparation.  The college courses that most people take prepare them for......nothing other than an improved quality of conversation around the water cooler.  He posits that education inflation really means that most of the information technology jobs that drive the economy could have been admirably filled by high school graduates from several generations before. (Before my highly educated readership gets their backs up he specifically exempts engineers and doctors from his discussion on the premise that they really do learn valuable and commensurate skills that intertwine their pure knowledge base...).

As photographers we tend to occupy the "no man's land" of vocations.  All that's really required to do the mechanical parts of our jobs certainly doesn't require a college education.  We'd all do better at becoming product or people photographers by watching talented mentors and by assisting.  That, and a liberal dose of really reading the owner's manuals for the products we buy......

By going to college photographers can learn important things about art and art history, writing, literature and philosophy which, when properly digested, may add significant value to the character and quality of the way we see and interpret our work.  But in many cases it would matter not at all.  And that's the tragedy of making college into a trade school.  Having knowledge doesn't always add value to routine but skilled work.  And many times we're aimed in the wrong direction.  

I won't go into detail here and I may be skewing his arguments to fit my mythology but I will say that the book makes me feel a connection to the "blue collar" aspect of my work,  the hands on skill sets and polished craft, in a very different way.  It opened a door in my thinking that helped me see the value of tactile  and intuitive craftsmanship as a vital piece in itself,  not solely as an adjunct to a trendy, philosophically driven and stylistically homogenized image making.

I especially recommend this book to anyone who's kids are starting to think about what they want to do with their lives and how they want to proceed with their education after high school.

I'll go so far as to say this is "must read" stuff for photographers struggling with a new market paradigm of imaging, marketing and surviving.  Five stars.


Hugh said...

Sounds a bit like a modern version of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"

Jen said...

He does reference "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" in the book. I concur with much of Kirk's assessment. For me, the best part of the book was the implicit plea to a renewed respect for craftsmanship, for an appreciation for skilled craftsmanship. I agree with him that we have gone too much in the direction of pushing all young people toward white collar professions that may not be satisfying for everyone.

I believe Crawford may have overstated the degree to which some blue collar jobs are protected from outsourcing and offshore relocation, but it's a small quibble with an otherwise elegant book.