There are several ways one can approach a task: an effective, feasible and artistic way or an unthinking, careless and sloppy way. Care and artistry are important; they are by-products of thoughtful attention to detail, discipline and objectivity. These variables define craftsmanship, a process satisfying to the practitioner and beholder.
Craftsmanship, the art of working with your hands to make something tangible, is a distant value in 21st-century America, where short-term goals have become the new messiah. Instead, it has been replaced by expediency, which is not mutually inclusive. A serious malady that has evolved from this dilemma is an inability to recognize craftsmanship when we see it. How then, can we appreciate grace and beauty? And, if that’s true, without craftsmanship, could there be joy when creating things? Not stopping to care how things are done and making them right does not further society; consequently, we sigh about the world. Everything is connected.
“Shop Class as Soulcraft,” written by Matthew Crawford, is a reflection on the importance of craftsmanship in our world. It argues that working with your hands and creating a product you are proud of can be an uplifting endeavor. Crawford contends that, “essential for craftsmanship is the importance of keeping an eye on the human good, where building a product engages one fully to create something worthwhile.”
I appreciate craftsmanship when I see it. If you know what to look for, you might find it by a mere glance. Last week, while sitting at the bar in Starbucks, I took a moment to reflect on a sentence I was attempting to craft. During this respite, I glanced at the kids behind the bar. Nick, Shannon and Damion were moving with unmitigated purpose as they attempted to fill the orders of the hurried La Cañada morning crowd.
One barista, Serena McIntyre, crafted her coffees whimsically, lyrically and musically as she moved to a soulful Detroit sound. I sensed it wasn’t only the music that drove her; instead, it was the joy of motion. Motion for motion’s sake. What I saw was an individual who not only cared about the product she was crafting but also enjoyed the process of crafting that product.
Serena proved to me Robert Pirsig’s contention in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” that craftsmanship “defines a basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake and doing it well begins with its process.”
I asked Serena about her method of crafting coffee. “Movement keeps me in the flow of making a drink. It begins in the shoulders,” she said. “I like to radiate the same energy that I would want in return. You never know how your energy can brighten another’s day.”
In my day, a cup of coffee at Woolworth’s was a nickel. Betty served it up from a percolator steaming on a hot plate, and she’d do it with an attitude. However, today there’s a distinct methodology of brewing the perfect cup, which Serena demonstrates when crafting a Flat White.
“The secret is aerating the foam for no more than eight seconds and working the milk, so it has no bubbles,” she tells me. “To assure consistency of flavor the milk is steamed at precisely 160 degrees. I brew the coffee a tad sweeter, put in an extra shot, pour the creamy foam into the cup and pull away until I get the perfect white dot.”
Starbucks manager Chelsea Stier instills this ethos of craftsmanship by her unique philosophy. “I encourage my team to follow my formula: crafting the coffee and connecting with the community,” she said. “I give them the opportunity to take pride in their work and do something well. Ultimately, I want them to be good people.”
Pirsig contends that without craftsmanship society becomes “emotionally hollow, aesthetically meaningless and spiritually empty.”