The New Baroque

There is a place in Cambridge with the pants-soilingly awful name “Danger!Awesome.” It bills itself as a 3D printer. You bring in a design, you pay them some money, they 3D print your design. You come back and they hand you a Thing.

There is a makerspace in Cambridge called Artisan’s Asylum. It contains innumerable tools and pieces of machinery. But a lot of its clientele are just interested in 3D printing. This means that they pay the Asylum some money, they bring in a design, they 3D print their design. The only difference is that they press their own button on the machine that hands them a Thing.

Calling that “making” is not just reminiscent of a Jetson’s joke: it IS a Jetson’s joke. (Pretty much THE Jetson’s joke, come to think.)

To be fair, some of the handmaking people do is archaic past utility. It’s a Flinstone’s joke, it isn’t really my scene either. But at least if you’re using a hand-lathe and a pterodactyl as your tools, you can legitimately call that Making. Whereas if you’re pressing a button, you can still use the thing that’s produced, but it isn’t Making. It’s just Receiving. There’s no You involved in the process at all.

However, this brings up what I think is an interesting question: in the days of mass-production and technology-assisted (or completed!) manufacturing, is there a place for handmaking outside of the baroque?

By “baroque” I mean “adornment for its own sake.” I mean the aesthetic of taking something that accomplishes its purpose and then adding shit to it for the sake of adding shit. To take something simple and make it more complicated solely for the sake of aesthetics – which is to say, by and large, to show off the skill or effort that was put into it.

In the 1700s, raisin cake was the most popular cake in America. This is because the other fruit cakes just required fruit, whereas a raisin cake required that the baker also dry the fruit beforehand. The only reason it was popular was because it was harder.

Or take another watch example. This little thing from a little manufacture made such a splash as Baselworld that other producers have started aping it. However, it is purely cosmetic. It’s like studding the watch with diamonds, except we now live in a world where diamonds are fairly common and certainly easy to bedazzle onto anything, whereas this kind of engraving shows time and skill. I honestly think it’s lovely, but I’m also aware that if it isn’t Raisin Cake, it is well on its way.

If technology has obviated the utility of many traditional forms of making, then the proper attitude for makers is either A) to do those things that technology cannot, or B) to find new things to do, that our forebears could not have dreampt of.

There is plenty of A-space left. A lot of watchmakers (my weird interest of the last few months) have rejected mechanical processes for some of the steps of construction, having compared it with human labor and found the mechanical labor to be inferior. As far as B-space, there is infinity to discover – and I will say that it won’t be discovered by a person whose only experience with materials is to press a button and receive them. No more than a robot doctor will ever discover a new surgical technique.

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~ by davekov on 24 February 2017.

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