“Real Wealth” a Year-and-a-Half On

In the Winter 2009 issue of Arts and Craft Homes and the Revival I published an essay called “Real Wealth: The Value of Art and Craft in a Debased Economy.” (You’ll find a link to a pdf on this page.) In it I expressed my hopes for the sustenance — or even revival — of appreciation for handcrafts as the bedrock of an economy we might begin rebuilding on the restored foundation of manufacturing and agriculture. Needless to say, a year-and-a-half later we still have quite a ways to go. But in any case, I thought I’d throw out a few footnotes to the piece, and some further thoughts.

First, the entire Walt Whitman poem, “I hear America Singing,” from Leaves of Grass (1900), in which, by simply describing Americans of his day, the poet reminds us how we were once a nation of makers:

I HEAR America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics—each one singing his, as it should be, blithe and strong;
The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work;
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat—the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck;
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench—the hatter singing as he stands;
The wood-cutter’s song—the ploughboy’s, on his way in the morning, or at the noon intermission, or at sundown;
The delicious singing of the mother—or of the young wife at work—or of the girl sewing or washing—Each singing what belongs to her, and to none else;
The day what belongs to the day—At night, the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.

Peter Schjeldahl’s New Yorker Magazine review of the 2006 Art Basel Miami Beach was the where I got the bit about “the crumpled Camel cigarette pack suspended on a fishing line selling for $160,000″— not that that’s likely to shock or surprise anyone, but the article is illuminating from the standpoint of the place of art in our culture today, as art fairs seize the market from galleries and take the commercialization of the art world one step further.

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