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The Nature & Art of Workmanship [Paperback]

David Pye
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 April 2007
This is one of the classic books on craftsmanship and design. In it, David Pye explores the meaning of skill and its relationship to design and manufacture. Cutting through a century of fuzzy thinking, he proposes a new theory of making based on the concept of good workmanship and shows how it imparts all-important diversity to our visual environment.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Berg 3PL (6 April 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0713689315
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713689310
  • Product Dimensions: 27.4 x 20.8 x 0.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 149,384 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Book Description

This is a digital reprint of David Pye's original 1968 edition. Within it he argues that the aesthetic quality of our environment depends as much on its workmanship as on its design, and that workmanship has been largely ignored. Mr Pye shows how and why we are conscious of finish and workmanship, goes on to ask why so much of our environment is impoverished and asks what can be done about it. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

David Pye, who died in 1993, was an architect, industrial designer and craftsman. For many years he was also Professor of Furniture Design at the Royal College of Art, London. He is also the author of Ships and The Nature and Aesthetics of Design.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Nature and Art of Workmanship 26 Sep 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book was first published in 1968 and I must have read it at that time, but never owned a copy. Reading it again now, confirms that this is a seminal book on the subject, written in a straightforward, engaging and unpretentious style. David Pye was an architect, designer and Professor of Furniture Design at the Royal College of Art, but above all a craftsman. He knew what he was talking about, both from critical observation and from practical experience.

This is not a long book, but it analyses design and craftsmanship with an admirable clarity and introduces ideas which have stayed with me since my first reading of the book. For example the simple but intriguing division of making techniques into "the workmanship of certainty" and "the workmanship of risk." This book is essential reading for every designer, craftsperson, critic and commentator with an interest in the crafts.
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5.0 out of 5 stars How to classify workmanship 8 Jan 2014
By Urban
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The logic and usefulnes of the presented classification of workmanship is well done and clearly illustrated by many examples. The author knows his subject both by practising and in theory.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Workmanship as a personal statement 7 Sep 2004
By wiredweird - Published on Amazon.com
Pye knows that understanding comes in two steps. The second presents the new knowledge, but the first step clears out old fallacies to make way for the new facts. To do that, he starts this book by thoroughly confusing the question of what is hand work, and what is done by machine. Once that is shown irrelevant, he starts on the points that truly matter.

First, the terms "craft" and "craftsmanship" have been co-opted and corrupted by so many authors that, with regret, he abandons them. Instead, he defines new terms. The first opposed pairs are the workmanship of risk and the workmanship of certainty. Certainty is knowledge that a piece of work will surely complete in the way intended, as is typical in mass manufacture. Risk is the chance that any workpiece could be damaged or destroyed at any step in its handling - a chisel could clip, a hammer could damage the surface, a saw cut might be placed wrong. It doesn't matter whether the tool is a simple hammer or a complex milling machine: either a reliable process or a fallible workman defines the result.

Pye's second distinction is "regulated" versus "free" or "rough" fabrication. Regulated work meets fine tolerances, has precise geometries and surfaces. Free work allows the workman to vary the workpiece somewhat. Free workmanship allows expressive notes, perhaps tool textures or subtle changes of shape. Rough workmanship goes farther. A wood fence, for example, may be straight and strong enough, with coarse shapes, knots in the wood, and even some checking.

None of that distinguishes good workmanship from bad. Good workmanship carries out the practical and esthetic intent of a design, or improves on them. Bad workmanship detracts from the design's usefulness or beauty. In something like a rural stone wall, excessively regulated work might even be considered bad, if it's the one exact geometry in a generally relaxed environment. A rough-hewn bench may be just as good, in its way, as an inlaid Victorian table.

Pye ends this wise book by reviewing what Ruskin and Morris had to say about craft. I won't repeat his arguments, but he points out the reams of nonsense they interleaved between pages of meaningful thought. As with everything he analyzes, he carefully highlights the worthwhile, and elegantly tears up the romantic silliness.

Pye is truly dedicated to workmanship and to dedicated workmen (and, implicitly, women). I recommend this book to anyone who creates anything, whether professionally or for the personal reward in the act of making.

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book for anyone interested in craftmanship and the aesthetics of everyday objects 21 Sep 2009
By Bruce S. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book was recommended as a supplemental reading in a pottery course. The author of the book primarily worked with wood and there are many examples of furniture and turned wood objects in the book.

The real value of this book is in articulating the aesthetics of hand made objects and what makes them special and wonderful as compared to machine made objects. It's an excellent read for anyone who makes things with their hands.
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book that lives up to expectations 18 Dec 2000
By Myron Smith - Published on Amazon.com
In this book David Pye accurately and concisely differentiates between hand craftsmanship and modern machine done work. He writes his philosophical yet practical, personal ideas on craftsmanship. It is a great discussion for anyone interested in fine workmanship. It attempts to answer questions (or at least provide an entry point into discussion) of why hand workmanship is important, why it appeals to us, and want makes it fundamentally different from machine build crafts. It does not focus on any specific craft (thought Professor Pye is a woodworker himself), but is meaningful and accessable to anyone interested in crafts and hand workmanship. This is a great book.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lucid, practical, a classic 7 April 2000
By George Oliver - Published on Amazon.com
I love this book. Pye, in concise and often beautiful language, defines the idea of workmanship as he sees it -- its history, its implications, how it might develop. He gives interesting commentary on the Arts & Crafts movement vis-a-vis Ruskin and Morris as well.
Pye really is a master of the old school, and I would encourage anyone to buy this book for both its own ideas and for a look at a wonderful mind. A great companion to Krenov.
26 of 34 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars well-meaning, but boring and pointlessly abstruse 13 Jun 2003
By jump___ - Published on Amazon.com
I got this book basically because I wanted to learn something about how to tell a good piece of woodworking (furniture mostly) from a lousy piece of woodworking. But that's only touched on in a small fraction of the book, and, while I agree and sympathize with the author's views in many ways, mainly I found this book a boring read. In part it's because Pye's writing style is rather long-winded and archaic. He might have been more at home as an amateur philosopher in the 18th century, or soapbox orator in the 19th, than an essayist in the 20th. Just picking a couple of sentences at random: "Nor am I saying that free workmanship is better than regulated, nor that regulated workmanship is the ruin of our civilization. On the contrary, I say that on the contrast and tension between regulation and diversity depends half the art of workmanship." As for Pye's ideas, well, he goes to a lot of trouble to analyze and explore his concepts of "workmanship of risk" (simply put, workmanship where you can screw it really bad) versus "workmanship of certainty" (e.g. machine-punching), and "free" (open to variation) work, and the allied concept of diversity in the product, versus "regulated" (uniform, predictable--most machine production) work. Pye observations sound like this: "In our society at present the sensitivity of people to the quality of diversity in workmanship seems very uneven." "There is . . . a total incongruity and a sense of outrage about a piece of material with a highly polished surface and a raw, rough edge." "In the art of workmanship, then, we seek to diversify the scale of those formal elements which begin to be distinguishable at close and also--in season--to diversify the forms themselves by allowing slight improvisations, divagations and irregularities so that we are continually presented with fresh and unexpected incidents of form." "The traditional association between high regulation and durability, whether true aor false, has no force any longer. The highly regulated ball-point pen with which I am writing will be thrown away next week." "The extreme paucity of names for surface qualities has quite probably had the effect of prefenting any general understanding that they exist as a complete domain of aesthetic experience . . . standing independently of form and color."
Well, Pye puts some new names to things, and makes some fresh observations here and there. (There are also some interesting pictures, though too few I'd say in a book that after all is about craftsmanship.) Yet it's hard to see a lot of this stuff as really insightful, or meriting the kind of laborious, involved disquisition that Pye gives it. A page of his comments about about regulated work could be conveyed to anyone's intuition by a single Paul Strand photo of machinery. Also, many of his observations feel, ultimately, a bit like juggling of the names he has given things--but if you step back it's not all that earth-shaking an observation.
There's a part where Pye takes Ruskin to task for, in Pye's view, a number of inaccurate statements about art and craftsmanship. Pye may be correct, but his discussion on these points suffers from his style as usual (as well as an oddly peevish tone). It also doesn't benefit from comparison with Ruskin, since, when I read a bit of the Ruskin quoted by Pye here, I'm reminded of how I miss succinct, pithy writing as I ready Pye's own contributions. Ruskin: "But, accurately speaking, no good work whatever can be perfect, and the demand for perfection is always a misunderstanding of the ends of art. . . . In all things that live there are certain irregularities and deficiencies which are not only signs of life, but sources of beauty." Even if this is wrong in some respects (as Pye likes to explain at length), Ruskin here is such a refreshing change of pace. Better wrong and interesting than correct and dull. A few of the Ruskin quotes were the only things I marked in the whole book.
Well, maybe it's just me, but I found this book tedious and rather a disappointment.
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