In praise of making stuff

4 03 2013

I want to write in praise of making stuff.

When we were children we understood the simple joy of making things; houses, even whole towns made of lego, fuzzy felt pictures, plasticine figures and stickle brick towers, but as we got older we grew up and we grew out of these simple pleasures.

In early communities people made things out of necessity; clay bowls to eat and drink from, flint tools to cut straw for building, bows and arrows to fell large animals, but we now troop off to the shops to buy Kath Kitson tableware and our meat comes in shrink wrapped polystyrene trays.

As the industrial revolution took hold labour was massed in factories to make the goods the emerging economies needed; clothing, ships, cutlery, pottery and more. How many of are now employed in manufacturing industries?

What the world has become focussed on is the making of one thing – money
Money was designed as a transfer mechanism to allow stuff – real tangible stuff- to be exchanged. The recent financial crisis came about from using money to create money. Entirely virtually you understand. No actual paper notes were produced. More and larger complex financial instruments were created to package up debts and investments, so complex that no-one really understood what was debt and what was credit. All that mattered was that money was made. No real stuff was made along the way. No benefit, other than the enrichment of the money managers, accrued. Great art wasn’t made, great ships weren’t built.

There is a saying about money; that you can’t take it with you.

Our ancestors in Egypt, in Anglo Saxon Britain, in India and in South America knew this. They turned their money into stuff which they then did take with them. The treasure uncovered at the tomb of Tutankhamen and the grave goods found at Sutton Hoo attest to this. Today we benefit educationally from what these goods tell us about the civilisations that created them but we also benefit as the stuff itself is beautiful.

We know that the Pharoahs had great wealth through the stuff that they had made. We know the love that Shah Jahan had for Mumtaz because of the Taj Mahal. He used his wealth to build a temple to his wife. A far cry from Sir Philip Green using his wife as a way of hiding wealth from the tax man.

Wealth was used to create something tangible and physical rather than burying money in a box, the ancient equivalent of stashing the cash offshore. The money sitting in these accounts does nothing to enrich anyone. It simply appears as a series of zeros after a dollar sign and a number on a computer screen or a banking statement.

Now I know that my argument is simplistic; that the pyramids were largely built by slave labour rather than a paid workforce so that the building of them probably did little to stimulate the Egyptian construction industry, but artisans and craftsman did create the stuff that was buried inside. The wealth of the pope did create the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

My grandfather was a foundryman, ignorant work as he himself called it, but he could sit at home at the end of his shift knowing that he had made, or helped to make, an object that existed and had a real use.

And it is not as if our adult selves do not still yearn to create things. Sit a grown up in front of a set of lego and see what happens!

So go on, you know you want to. Go ahead and make something. Something that you can touch, hold, caress. How fantastic to eat from a bowl you threw on a potters wheel or eat with a spoon you carved from green wood. It needn’t be perfect, it almost certainly wont be, but you will have made it. On an Armageddon note, when the hole-in-the-wall machine no longer spits out cash, and we were minutes away from that last crash, and goods no longer fill the Tesco shelves you might need to make stuff.

At the very least if you are sure that the only thing you can make is money then don’t leave it in the bank. Give it to an artist and let them create something beautiful for you.



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