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The Passion of the Craft

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The Passion of the Craft

Google search “craft” and you’ll get crafts for kids near the top position. No one disagrees that quilting, basket weaving, balloon animal making, flower pressing, bead working, or corn doll making are crafts – of course they are. There is, however, an age old dispute distinguishing art from craft. Craft often gets the bad rap, especially from self fashioned fine artists. Do we dare call Picasso or Pollack craftsmen? How about David Burne, Santiago Calatrava, or Steve Jobs?

Craftsmen have guilds. Master Craftsmen apprentice, gain skill and make money – or, at least they once did. The industrial revolution reduced many craftsmen to hobbyists, but that doesn’t change their awesome skill, only the income stream. If a craftsman no longer makes money do they involuntarily turn artist?

Social validators maintain that craft and art separate via intent: function or personal expression, profit or pure aesthetic. Make reproductions of art work, no matter how fine, they become product – the reproduction is transformed into craft that performs as art – confusing to say the least if you accept the premise. A Ming vase was designed to hold flowers, made rare by antiquity, magically becomes a work of art. When the two are bundled together as in “arts and crafts”, does kitsch over take the result by virtue of its label?

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I occasionally ponder contemporary art that I simply don’t “get”. Feel the emotional void? The artist’s supplied blurb doesn’t help generate an emotional connection; it succeeds only at revealing the creator’s intent. Do artists keep the work’s significance obscure so they can dictate interpretation, or are they miserable failures at their craft? Chances are good they’d claim to be ahead of their time or too insightful for mass consumption.

Creativity is an ingenious mix of the familiar with the unexpected. Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee, in their book, On Intelligence, describe remarkable creativity as using uncommon past analogies to make uncommon future predictions. In other words, we combine previous experiences, knowledge, or thought patterns in imaginative ways to create new patterns that solve problems or shape artistic expression. We solve new problems using what we know worked and combine life experience with our understanding of the current challenge. Success creates new solutions that are pressed into service as past analogies the next time we’re challenged, hence skills are built.

With artistic endeavors, if too much “new” is introduced, it ceases to resonate with an audience. It’s as if we pull our audience along with a delicate string. Pull too hard and the connection breaks; too slack and attention is lost. Proceeding with a broken string makes for self indulgent artistic expression. True innovation breaks convention and violates predictions, but if shared unsuccessfully with fellow humans, otherwise significant creativity is either uniquely useless or massively self-indulgent. Craft is the connecting string.

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To be skilled at a craft is not craftiness: i.e. adept in the use of subtlety and guile. The craftily skilled are not artistic fakers. Craft is what we see, hear, read, taste and feel about creativity. It’s the “Do” share of creativity. Craft is the vehicle of personal expression and innovation. Craft is what we hone in order to push our imagination out to the masses.

From Kitsch to Avant-Guard, craft is what connects us to the artist; it’s the difference between satisfying a challenge and indecipherable theories. High craftsmanship is rooted in human skill, expertise, dexterity, ability, and technique; machines can’t demonstrate craftsmanship. If machines produce high quality objects, it’s the result of fine machining by the innovative humans who created the process. Did you make an aesthetic decision in your crafting process? Then the outcome is art, aka – human expression. No decision? Then you’re a machine or an exceptionally good plagiarist.

Craft gets polished through building on patterns of a skill pyramid: simple early skills topped by highly developed sophisticated abilities honed through repetition. Once learned, the exceptionally gifted own the power to penetrate the sensations of others. They inspire awe and excitement. Their skill opens our emotional and intellectual receptors – we hunger and covet. Our souls play emotional hosts to admiration, envy, and eagerness to take part in the fine art or creative innovation demonstrated through extraordinary craft: an enrichment of the human spirit.

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With audience receptors unlocked, artists and innovators are released to share their creativity. Creators at their skill peak report feeling emotion flow from each note of music played or every nuanced dance movement performed. Each fine stroke of a brush or every architectural detail designed makes a meaningful human connection. Remarkable craft is present in both the height of artistic expression and purposeful innovation. Fine craftsmanship is the mouthpiece of creativity.

The objects we call Art or Craft are members of a continual spectrum under the creativity banner. Odds-on, the most purposeful and predictable will be labeled “crafts”, while the most abstract and useless will not. Where do we put the fulcrum in this teeter-totter? Intuition may tell us, but it matters little unless you’re a government bureaucrat required to levy import duty, or an art dealer primed to cash in on the next Rembrandt.

It may also be a matter of context. Display objects heretofore perceived as crafts in an art museum, they cease to be useful and therefore perceived as art by virtue of surroundings. A rare Ming vase is no longer useful behind bulletproof glass. New York’s Museum of Modern Art is a renowned venue for the exhibition of artworks that were – or are – mass produced and purposeful. There seems to be no rule for which we can’t find an exception.

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Why are “art objects” valued higher or fine artists held with greater esteem than those perceived as Crafts or Craftsmen? Exclusivity and purity I suspect. For the same reason art increases in value post mortem, objects perceived as crafts appear to be more easily reproducible. They often have a product-like appearance such as an unlimited edition photograph or a Charles Eames Chair.

What’s more, Artists claim a purity that is unaffected by profit or committee approval. Artistic “sell-outs” lose a piece of their soul [so I hear]. While profit motives can be problematic for artistic expression, I don’t believe it is the fulcrum of the creativity teeter-totter. Countless great artists and innovators respond to commission, and the galleries are full of art for profit.

Those who spawn what we label “art” or “craft” use the same creative essentials. Self designated artist or craftsman, approach personal expressions or innovations from different perspectives but achieve parallel results. Intensity of emotion, imagination, function or intent dictates the resulting perception. Uncommon creative passion is delivered through worthy craft; it’s the essential skill for successful transfer to an audience.

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Bruce DeBoer
Visit: http://brucedeboer.typepad.com for more articles and information

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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