Recently my brother and his family took a trip to Scotland and a few of the surrounding countries in Europe. Their pictures from the trip, of course, included incredible architecture. Hearing the amount of time that it took to build some of those castles and cathedrals is mind blowing, especially in today’s do-it-faster society. Take, for instance, the Ulm Münster – the tallest church in the world. According to this internet article I found, “Work began on this cathedral in 1377, and was carried on in intervals until 1545. It took another 300 years to get finished, when work began once again in 1844 and the cathedral was finally completed in 1890.” That’s 513 years from start to finish – granted, it sat for 300 years with no one working on it, but even if you take that last period of time when it was being worked on, 45 years is a long time to be working on a building. It’s probably even pretty safe to say that at least 100 years of work went into that cathedral.
Look at the photo above (taken from this website) and focus on the intricate work for a moment. The detail covering the church is absolutely astounding – some of the close-ups that my brother took of the gargoyles and grotesques (trivia: anyone know the difference between the two?) showed hairlike texture on them – such amazing detail on a statue hundreds of feet off the ground clinging to the edge of a building. As my brother pointed out, it’s amazing that they put that kind of detail up so high in a place that anyone is rarely going to see – especially from the ground.
In today’s culture where technology is king, everything is prefabricated, and sleek is beautiful, I fear that the extravagant craftsmanship and painstaking detail of the artists of the past that make us shake our heads in wonder today is becoming a truly “lost art.” In this age of “I want it five minutes ago”, few people have the patience (and, in our rush-rush society, the time) to develop the intricate skills that were learned by artists of the past that made them masters of their art and not just apprentices. Nowadays it doesn’t pay to work on a building for 500 years. But are we truly benefiting from this lifestyle? What are we leaving behind for future generations to shake their heads at in wonder?
Think about it: Much of our lives are being lived on the internet (instagram, facebook, pinterest, etc.) and texting and emailing have become the principle forms of communication. The arena of art is not unaffected by this shift in society. Virtual craftsmanship – web design and the like – is taking the place of physical craftsmanship. All artists no longer wield a pencil, paintbrush, or chisel – many of them wield a computer mouse, a tablet, or a software that enables them to create 3d images. Even beautiful handwriting – an art form in itself – is becoming obsolete. It is going to be impossible for a child in 2100 to open up his great-grandmother’s e-book and see a beautiful handwritten inscription inside. Sad, but true.
Thankfully, there are still those who are master craftsmen, working with their hands and demonstrating awe-inspiring talent and artistry. And so I challenge you who hear (including myself!), keep true art and skill alive. Work with your hands – teach them dexterity and flexibility. Acquire the ability to revel in the slow progress of a masterpiece. Leave something behind for future generations to aspire to that’s more tangible than computer files.