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Chapter 3: Hands Are Handy

Wild_phto_Milenko Milenko Matanovic

On the most basic level, art is about joining ideas and actions, minds and hands.  Insights come from both sides.  Some insights come from intuition and make their gradual ‘descent’ into concepts and then, gradually, into realization.  Other insights are born in action and make their journey in the opposite direction, eventually ‘ascending’ into new insights and wisdom. 

The way things are, we favor the descending mode almost exclusively: intuition gives birth to concepts that, in turn, energizes emotions. Eventually, at the very end of the process, hands follow as obedient servants to this hierarchy of commands.  Whole societies are structured around this order, as well as business and movements, while the wisdom of the hand is put aside. 

I’ve earned a new appreciation for the ‘ascending’ principle where hands inform passion and ideas and concepts.  Important insights are born when hands are engaged. In my work with communities, after people talk, we ask them to do something with their hands to sort things out. We place large sheets of paper on the tables, put markers in people’s hands, and ask them to sketch out the concepts they discussed.  And conversations become more informing and productive.  Concepts are clarified sooner.  Agreements are negotiated faster.  People become better problem solvers when the experience and wisdom of their hands compliment their minds.

And I’ve seen people discovering a whole new identity when they work with their hands on our gathering places. In Pomegranate Center’s model, insights are gathered from many people who are encouraged to think (and draw) about the future of their neighborhoods, to be creative and civic. The project’s vision that starts with many ideas naturally selects the most valuable and meaningful.  We then create designs to express that vision and  invite community members to work alongside with us to construct the gathering place and fabricate its artifacts. We demonstrate the technique, and then we turn it over to volunteers.  That is when the moaning begins: I am not an artist; I do not know what to do; I can’t do this.  And my response is: you see this brush? You see the paint bucket?  You see the wall?  Put the brush in the paint and start painting.  Pick up this rock and place it in that wall.  Pick up a chisel and start carving.  And there is this special and glorious moment when it becomes clear that hands know what to do, even though minds seem to think otherwise.  Before too long, the brush moves with ease and confidence; a rock finds just the right spot in the wall; and chisels start chipping away a design.  And the mood changes from anxiety to satisfaction.  When hands are involved, people start relating to each other differently: there are more smiles, a great feeling of satisfaction, and infectious pride.

Some of the happiest people I’ve known were people working with their hands.  The moral is that hands are handy (ha-ha) for figuring things out and deepening our wisdom.  As our existence becomes more virtual, hands may well lead us into new knowledge and insight.  Artists will become guides in how societies can better balance the ‘descending’ and ‘ascending’ modes of gaining wisdom. Both are necessary.


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router bits

I agree that hands and minds work together to make a perfect creation. The skills that we developed and honed can now be implemented into making new and useful products.

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