Artisan entrepreneurs’ decisions about working conditions, materials, transactions, scale, product lines, and pricing countermand the certainties of MBAs and Leftists alike, offering a model for sustainable business.
What outraged Marx about capitalism is that it diminishes the portion of humanity called ‘work’ to a means of survival, exchanged, often under duress, for food and shelter. Since 2008 I have been interviewing artisans (people who make autonomously things that can be made industrially) about what they are doing, why, and their business operations. When artisans talk about making tables, cheese, guitars, and pants they say things like: “I love every bit of it.” … “It’s an absolutely fantastic experience.” … “The best thing about the work is not delivering the shiny final product, but actually doing the work.” …. “When I come home inspired at the end of a day, my kids can look at work not as something to dread, but see that work can be inspiring and gives you joy and energy.” Their innovative business decisions are driven by enhancing the experience of work.
Meanwhile the movement for ecological sustainability urges us toward humble balance with the material world, but manages only to offer righteous restriction, valorized by the purported pleasures of “simplicity”. Anti-materialism does not train us to appreciate, honor, and steward natural materials; artisanship does. A bowl-turner describes his work as “reclaiming the souls of trees.” A knife maker has “no interest in new steel;” he transforms broken farmers’ tools. A candy-maker says “I can tell you about every ingredient.” The artisans want to extend the “life” of materials, give them “new lives” as tools and heirlooms. A guitar maker uses wood salvaged from churches: “The bells have been ringing on it for a hundred years!” A furniture maker prefigures Marie Kondo’s focus on “joy”, proposing that sustainability is not only about ethically managed inputs and outputs, but about sustaining our “desire” for the objects we already have.
The book on which this site is based is Artisan Modern: Quality Work, Transactions, and Objects.
The manuscript is under review with publishers and agents. If you want to read it, please just send an email.