I want to talk a little about simplicity. It is something that has always been important to me but today’s thoughts were set off by a friend Steve Tomlin who carved this spoon.

“I tried to get back to simplicity.”

I used to collect quotes which inspired me in my reading and write them up on posters on my wall. Now it is easier to collect them via the web. Here are some I like on simplicity.

Charles Mingus
Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.

Hans Hofmann
The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.

E. F. Schumacker (one of my favourite writers and a great inspiration)
Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius—and a lot of courage—to move in the opposite direction.

Albert Einstein
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House in the Ozarks by Hines)
It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.

Eleanor Roosevelt (My Days)
A little simplification would be the first step toward rational living, I think.

Edwin Way Teale (“February 4” Circle of the Seasons)
Reduce the complexity of life by eliminating the needless wants of life, and the labors of life reduce themselves.

Simplicity is making the journey of this life with just baggage enough.

Henry David Thoreau
Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!… We are happy in proportion to the things we can do without.

I shall finish with the story of the fisherman and the industrialist. I like this so much it heads the chapter  on making bowls in my own book. 
When people see me working wood many start suggesting ways in which they think they could improve the process or products by making them more complex, thankfully I also meet some who really get it and understand the beauty of simplicity.

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The industrialist was horrified to find the fisherman lying beside his boat, smoking his pipe.
“Why aren’t you fishing?” said the industrialist.
“Because I have caught enough fish for the day.”
“Why don’t you catch some more?”
“What would I do with them?”
“Earn more money. Then you could have a motor fixed to your boat and go into deeper waters and catch more fish. That would bring you money to buy nylon nets, so more fish, more money. Soon you would have enough to buy two boats, even a fleet of boats. Then you could be rich like me.”
“What would I do then?”
“Then you could sit back and enjoy life.”
“What do you think I’m doing now?”

from ‘Timeless Simplicity’ by John Lane

I guess this links back to Hugh’s fish fight
I have argued for years against industrial fishing. It seems daft to limit the catch, I would limit the process. If everyone was out there in small wooden boats then the Spaniards wouldn’t be fishing the Irish Sea and we wouldn’t be fishing in Iceland. We would be paying more for our fish but our grandchildren would be able to catch fish too. I suspect the folk working on the smaller boats have more fulfilling and meaningful jobs too.

8 Responses to simplicity

  1. Brian January 29, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

    Nice post heres my take, Simplicity is not how easy action's are, but how effortlessly we can perform them.This can come to us all if we give ourselves the time to learn them .Brian 🙂

  2. The Village Carpenter January 29, 2011 at 3:43 pm #

    Excellent quotes, Robin. The first two by Mingus and Hofmann apply very well to Shaker furniture.We learned in art school that if a graphic element wasn't serving a purpose, get rid of it; it's hurting the design.

  3. Nicola Wood January 29, 2011 at 5:48 pm #

    and of course there is my hero, Dieter Rams; "Good design is as little design as possible."

  4. Richard Law January 29, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

    This one is related, but rather surreal. It is Miles Davis on solo improvisation: "Think of a note, and then don't play it."

  5. Steve Kubien January 30, 2011 at 1:57 am #

    Bravo Robin! I may be an electric lathe user but I still cherish the idea of the simple. Too many woodturners are wanting to create "art" (whatever that is) and are delving into all sorts of ways to take a simple bowl and make it into something which will neither last for generations or get used by anyone.

  6. Barn the Spoon January 30, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    think of a note and then don't play it. i love that. simple can be very exciting and dangerous like free climbing, i think such freedom is worth the risk. think of a chimp fishing for termites with a twig,that's a simple spoon, i think we loose something the further we move from that.

  7. -N- January 30, 2011 at 6:04 pm #

    Good quotes…i like the fisherman story. I reminded of Alton Brown who is a chef on tv. One of the things he, i guess you could say promotes, could be considered a version of simplicity. He likes multi-use tools. Instead of buying 6 machines that only do one thing and wasting money, he'll buy one machine that can do all 6 or make his own kitchen stuff (he made his own smoker!).

  8. Sean Hellman January 30, 2011 at 8:30 pm #

    Love the quotes. The story of the fisherman is just fantastic, I have seen in various places before, but never copied and printed it, and I still love reading it.One of my favourite quotes is by Clive James"Scarcely anything is original- it`s very hard to be totally inventive, so I am not terribly interested in originality. Vitality is all I care about"