Art and Artisans – Part 3

Grimes and Abenthy spent three days a week teaching me about creating in the garden. The first lesson was the hardest to understand.

“No. You don’t understand,” said Grimes. “Creation is about failing.”

“Well, not failing, per se,” continued Abenthy. “More the acceptance that failure is part of the creative process. You must accept that you will fail.”

“And often,” chimed in Grimes.

“Otherwise you will never be able to accomplish. You will always be trapped by the idea of being too careful,” said Abenthy.

“This is confusing. The machines always taught us to try to get one hundred percent, to always go back and re-do the question until we got it right.” I said.

“See, this is what I’ve been telling you,” said Grimes to Abenthy. “We should get ourselves into the code of that damned system and either break it or fix it so that we can teach the children the correct way.”

Grimes sat down on his stool and put his chin in his hand. Then he raised his other hand, like a proper pupil.

“Tell him how many times I built this stool.”

“Are you certain?” asked Abenthy.

“Yes. I am not afraid of him knowing.”

“Grimes worked on that stool, for over a decade. The one you see there is, if I remember correctly, the twelfth?” said Abenthy

I looked at Grimes, he was brilliant. Crazy smart, and more than capable of doing feats with metal and pipework than any single Engineer in the community. A simple stool took twelve tries to get right?

“Twelve?! No offense, but why did it take so many tries?” I asked.

“This stool took twelve, I tried hundreds of times,” said Grimes. “I don’t know how to work with wood, I know pipes. I know metal work. I never learned wood. What is this stool made from?”

“The wood from the upper trunk of the tiered trees,” I said.

I had learned that one in the first week. The wood from the lower trunk was too oily to be good for construction, it had been eliminated as a building material shortly after arriving here.

“Yes. The upper wood is very hard. I had no tools. So I made them. I never learned woodworking, so I taught myself. By trial and error. I failed many, many times. One was too short. One too tall. At the beginning, I was lucky if two of the legs were the same length!”

“The too-tall one is the one I use for handling the pruning on some of my taller shrubs. I also use it as the chair for my workbench over there,” said Abenthy gesturing to his own workbench along the back wall.

Grimes was proud of these early attempts. He looked at them with a fatherly affection.

“I am not ashamed to have tried and failed,” he said while watching me intently.

“If anything, he’s prouder of those failures than he is of the ones that he uses today. They represent his willingness to keep trying. In the trying, creativity is born,” said Abenthy.

“True!” said Grimes, smiling broadly.

Grimes held to his word, D-A Montero held the position for me. She informed me that she didn’t actually need me on the post for quite a while so I could keep working with Grimes in the meantime. For which I thanked her profusely, and privately wondered if Grimes had spoken with her about our creative enterprises.

Over the next eight months, I began designing my better valve. During that time, we replaced the same valve another three times. Each time, I measured inner diameters and outer diameters. I began to understand how complex the issue was. I doodled dozens of ideas. Some were utterly unusable, others were beyond the capabilities of the materials.

Then, one foggy morning, I drew up the first real design for the new valve.

Grimes observed that it was a variation on the existing one, but had some real promise. Abenthy commented that the drawing was well done, but he had very little understanding of what he was looking at.

It was a fine schematic; only one problem – we had no way to machine it. The automated machines that made the existing valve couldn’t be reprogrammed and the tools to cast the new parts were all automated as well. I was lost.

“So what do I do now? Starting building a crucible and making molds?” I asked, exasperation more than a little evident.

Abenthly looked to Grimes and shrugged.

“Well if you would like to walk that path, you can,” said Grimes. “But it might be more work than it’s worth. Even if we make your valve, we can’t put it into the system.”

“Excuse me? Then what’s the point of all this work? You two get to actually use the things you design, why can’t I?” I demanded.

I stood over my drawings. Hundreds of pages of paper were spread on my work desk, each with notes, calculations, and drawings. I had spent hours painstakingly working on them. I had done my math; which Grimes critiqued and corrected. I argued with Abenthy over flow-rates. I made dozens of drawings that were now in a pile in the corner. I had worked out the actual threads for the connections. And now it wasn’t going to be made? How was this fair? I had worked so hard to make this valve, and now it was – nothing.

I held up my schematic and tried to not tear it to pieces screaming.

“So this is nothing, all this work is for nothing,” I said, dropping my drawing on the ground.

I sat on the ground with my head in my hands feeling lost. Grimes seemed sad for me, but under those heavy eyebrows, it was hard to know what he was truly thinking. Abenthy was clearly pensive.

“You have created something amazing here, even if it never gets made.” said Abenthy, his voice quiet.

“Really? After months, of ‘bringing something from your mind into the real world is hard but rewarding’ I’m supposed to be happy that it made it to a damned page?” I asked, imitating Grimes tone.

“Yes,” said Grimes. “You have made something new. Who cares if it ends up in the trash, or in the place for which it was designed?”

“Most in the community have no clue what unique thing you have done here. You created something new. You fought your own mind to bring this into the world. Perhaps someday it will be made and used, but for now…” started Abenthy.

“It’s just a waste,” I said, my voice bitter.

“No,” said Grimes and Abenthy at the same time, more forcefully than they actual meant.

“You have not wasted anything. You have learned more about pipe-fitting than any Apprentice ever has. You argued and designed, measured and fretted to create this valve,” said Grimes. “This is never a waste.”

“Then what is it that I have created?” I asked, “This valve serves no purpose.”

The room went silent with both of the -Artisan’s sitting, thinking.

“Is art. You have created art. And art is always worth it as well. My stool is art. Abenthy’s plants, art. The act of creation is, in itself, art,” said Grimes

“Interesting thought. Is creativity the same thing as art?” I asked still trying to deal with my emotions.

“My plants are for me, I would grow them if I never consumed a single fruit. I love the simple craft of it,” said Abenthy.

“So you agree that Grimes’ stools are art?” I asked.

Abenthy looked at the stool by his workbench and said with utter certainty, “Yes. They are. They provide function and were made through effort, trial, and error. They represent skills, both innate and still evolving. They are art.”

Grimes swelled with pride, and said, “Yes. They are. They are appreciated for what they are. There is a beauty to the simple design, and the function provides a tangibility to the craftsmanship.”

Abenthy and I were both more than a little struck by his verbose response.

The realization hit me like a jolt of electricity, the reason that we called them -Artisans wasn’t because they were simply good at what they did. They were supposed to continue developing the capability. I had created something. Even if the page that held my idea destroyed and lost forever, it had been shared with others who appreciated it for what it was – art.

“This certainly brings a new light to the work we’ve been doing here,” I said.

The act of creation, regardless of it being a meal, growing crops, singing a song, performing maintenance are all subtle forms of art. I would always remember that drawing and how I felt when I realized how important it was. I drew many more. I drew my ideas for valves, and gaskets, electro-shields and a plethora of other odd items that fascinated or annoyed me.

But that first idea – my valve – is still hanging in my office. Someday I’ll teach someone else about the true nature of pride in creation, but for now I have work to do. Once again, that troublesome valve needs replacing. And then I will have dinner with my fellow Engineers.

I’ve got a million little ideas and notebooks filled with drawings of countless ideas from the mundane to the fantastic. Nearly all of them will never become real. But I will keep drawing and imagining because of the best advice I ever got: “There is pride in doing anything well.”