The stone carver and the robot: Reflections on craftsmanship
Have craftsmen become superfluous today? Craftsmanship seems to be in jeopardy. Sophisticated and smart machines are obliterating the last traces of various crafts.
Take the stone carver’s work. The job of making tombstones and monuments has long been taken over by milling machines. Nevertheless, stonecutters have remained in demand for difficult tasks. They are sometimes hired by contemporary artists who want to realize a work in stone. Think of the marble sculptures of Ai Weiwei, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, or Jan Fabre.
Nowadays, such artists are likely to commission a large specialized studio with computer-controlled machines, which help to produce the artwork faster. As a traditional stone carver, how should you feel? Have you become technically unemployed?
In this book, philosopher Thomas Crombez explores the (false?) dichotomy between handmade and machine-made work. He examines what philosophers have written about craftsmanship since the beginning of industrialization. He then presents his findings to three contemporary craftsmen. These are the Iraqi-Dutch sculptor Athar Jaber, the calligrapher Yves Leterme, and the letter carver Maud Bekaert.
Thomas Crombez is Lecturer in Philosophy of Art at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp (AP Hogeschool).