John Ruskin was an art critic, philosopher, poet, artist, and infamous crank. His marriage to Effie Gray was annulled after six years on the grounds of Ruskin’s ‘incurable impotency’, a charge which he vigorously debated, offering to prove his virility should the court request it. Well. Effie went on to marry the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Edward Millais, who she presented with eight children over the course of a long and happy marriage.
Personal oddities aside, Ruskin did say some pretty smart things here and there. And one of those things strikes me as kind of meaningful to those of us who practice various handcrafts. People tend to assume that we do crafts either to save money or to make money, and it’s possible in some cases to either save or make money by this means, it’s true. But that’s not the only reason we do this. There are far easier ways to make a living, and we can often buy mass-produced items that serve the same function for considerably less money and a great deal less effort and trouble.
And yet we continue to do what we do. This is where Ruskin’s words come into play:
The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get from it, but what they become by it.
What do we become when we craft? I think we become more patient, more creative, more thoughtful. We build confidence that we can do things for ourselves by our own hands. We become more appreciative of the efforts others make.
We don’t get rich from it, but we enrich ourselves profoundly.