“Go to Vision Australia if you need a piano tuner. Blind people are the best.” I must have blinked in surprise, because the aged care hostel manager told me the story of the blind piano tuner who came on the train from Diggers Rest, with his dog and his bag of tools – and when he left both of their pianos were at perfect pitch!
“Everyone is called to be an artist”, says Eric Gill in A Holy Tradition of Working (1983) (even blind piano tuners!) I wondered at the universal nature of this declaration as I considered those whom I know (myself included) for whom art is something to be marvelled at, not done. Gill’s hypothesis is that modern workplace expectations have “dismembered a crucial distinction between making and doing”. If all of life is about what we do (measured by the number of things produced and their monetary value), then the craft of making something gets lost, says Gill. The exercise of workmanship (art), and pride in what we make is lost – to a task list, 15 minute segments on a calendar, and productivity which values quantity over quality and efficiency over craftsmanship.
Wendell Berry’s book Bringing it to the table (2008) uses this argument exquisitely as he describes the farmer as an artist, a maker, a person who “learns to give love to the work of their hands”. Honing the craft of making pavlova, of knitting, of gardening is no different (for Gill and Berry), from the painter, the sculptor or the wood turner. The Artist is a person who makes stuff with their hands, and who grows and shares the skill of that making with others. The Artist’s ‘Making’ is therefore not just about a skill, but the way in which that skill is used to invite delight or change in others. This would be an interesting discussion to extend over coffee with a friend … “What skills have you intentionally honed over your lifetime? How do you use that to offer beauty or challenge to others?”
But if ‘value’ is only attached to what one does or makes, then a person’s identity has little value – and we lapse back into valuing people only for their abilities (what they are capable of doing or making). This is an issue for pastoral care, and of valuing the humanity of individuals in our community.
So indulge me as I take this one step closer – from doing and making to being. In pastoral care and visiting we often talk about ‘being present’ with someone. This isn’t about sitting in the same room as someone else, watching TV or swapping photos of cats on FaceBook. ‘Being Present’ has a connotation of giving attention to the other person by listening to words and meaning, of paying attention to body language and subtle changes in emotions expressed by eyes or words. ‘Being present’ is about valuing the worth and dignity of the individuals, beyond what they can do or make.
We can extend the concept of ‘doing, making, being’ into our pastoral and personal relationships. For example, when someone is battling cancer or a broken relationship, we often struggle to know how to respond. “I don’t know what to say!” is a normal reaction. But what if ‘saying something’ isn’t the only, or even the best, response? In a Pastoral sense, Words can be to ‘doing’ what delivering a meal can be to ‘making’; and sitting together – simply ‘being present’ – may be the best way to say ‘I care’.
I wonder … could we discover an art of ‘being present’? In this way we could all be artists and makers!