making and thinking which is more important?

Which is more important speaking and writing or making?


I just listened to a fascinating interview with prof Mark Miodownik of UCLs institute of making on BBC radio 4 “The life Scientific”.


“You can change whom makes the stuff that you use and who’s expression it is. Is it the expression of a big corporation?

Most of the stuff that we use is made by someone else in another country, that’s a weird thing to think given that it’s what we express ourselves in. That’s like outsourcing all the art and music to other countries and then just us kind of absorbing it. That seems really weird, making is who we are so we should be doing it and it should be part of everything we do.”

“We have to rebalance the economy into more manufacturing and more making and less just pontificating about the world and saying oh that is somehow an output, and it is but it’s not the only one and what worries me sometimes is that the people that think and speak mostly as a way of being a human they end up in positions of power so they think everyone else should just think and speak right, and read and write, and actually the makers often just like being in the lab making stuff, in the workshop making stuff and they don’t end up making the big decisions and so workshops shrink, making shrinks. So you need some people, and I hope I am one of them, that are going to shout for the fact that making stuff with your hands, creating new objects is really important, as important as reading and writing, as arithmetic, as music as literature .”

You can hear the whole 30 minute interview here 

This attitude to a hierarchy where making is not as well recognised as speaking or writing runs through our society and is even prevalent within the craft world. Have a look for instance at this commentary on “what is craft” initiated by the Crafts Council and the V&A. There are some interesting comments but the point I want to make is this, here are 11 “leading figures in the craft world” and only two of them are makers and both of those are probably more widely known for their writing than their making.

I am not saying that all making should be recognised as high cultural activity but at the moment it is not understood at all. Making is comparable to being a concert pianist or a ballerina or a chef, it can be done badly, or reasonably well or with years of intense practice and dedication it can be sublime. As yet we do not have the vocabulary, the understanding, the critical debate, the michelin stars to signify the difference. Most people in our society suffer from”material illiteracy”, and the speakers and writers that tend to be in positions of power in current society tend to be the most materially illiterate of all. Churchill famously built brick walls in his garden at Chartwell I can’t imagine many current world leaders being capable of any physical making. No surprise then that we outsource our making to China.



There are changes afoot, not least the fact that the BBC gave Mark Miodownik 30 minutes of prime time radio to talk about making. On 22nd March the Heritage Crafts Association have our annual conference in London where making will be celebrated. Prof Trevor Marchand  will be talking about the  problem-solving in craft exploring interactive trouble-shooting between two parties, solving practical design and making problems at the bench through communication with words, gestures, drawings, and handtools.

Phil Harding (who is one of the country’s top flint snappers as well as TV archaeologist) will be talking about making replicas of Neolithic tools for the new Stone Henge visitor centre. Then we have one of the worlds best watchmakers, the owner of the first cloth mill to set up in London in 150 years and a corset and knife maker full details here 


6 Responses to making and thinking which is more important?

  1. Rob Mann March 16, 2014 at 9:11 am #

    Thanks for posting this programme Robin, you’ve got very ‘ears’ for what’s important.

  2. Richard Andrew Law March 17, 2014 at 8:45 am #

    Good stuff here Robin!

    I do wonder a bit though, just how Winston went on with his bricklaying with all the brick stock sitting where he’s supposed to walk up and down walling! That’s politicians though eh? Carts, horses, hands, elbows.

    See you next Saturday,


  3. Helen March 20, 2014 at 11:54 pm #

    Since childhood I have always felt the need to create with my hands. Som or most of my stuff to some maybe mediocre but to me it was a satisfying exercise for my soul. Now that I have retired from my profession I intend to make making a bigger part of my life, I want to explore so many different mediums. Yes it’s satisfying to make.

  4. Ian t March 23, 2014 at 6:58 am #

    Hi Robin,
    Great site and very inspirational. Came across this
    and I thought it might be you in the beginning – it looks like your lathe …
    It fits in with this discussion anyway…
    I have just started as an assistant to the woodwork teacher in a girls school in Australia, and so this is all really relevant to me at the moment.

  5. Will March 27, 2014 at 3:08 pm #

    Robin, good stuff. Making is – to take a notion (a brain thing) and manifest it in the world. So satisfying, so rewarding. I wonder if there is a difference between making spoons, making writing and making speech? In all cases we don’t know the outcome till they are manifest in the world and all get better with focused practice. I’m reminded of the saying that some workers shower before work and some shower after work and we need both types of workers to produce the stuff of life.

  6. iant April 12, 2014 at 5:50 am #

    Ha! I shower at both ends of the day- in the morning to wake me up, and in the afternoon so i don’t fill the house with wood dust – what does that make me?