The Value of Things

November 19, 2008

I think one should be very careful when discussing this stuff. This value stuff. It’s not like there’s an arbiter out there. Oh yes, there are bloggers of course who proclaim themselves as the keepers of the flames of truth and beauty and knowledge. There are plenty of those folks about. Ahem.

There are critics too. Those who pronounce themselves smarter, keener of eye and wit than you, more able to see clearly and so discover the truth, the value of things. So too are there writers and lecturers who have pedigree on their side, initials to follow them up. [Personally I prefer the mutt, beagles aside of course, to the pure breed. They have so much to offer than the lily white hands of the preferred.] These must of course be heard if only to get another good head shaking in.

But in truth there is no one way of discerning beauty. In the eye of the beholder? What about in the ear and the lips, the tongue, the nose of the beholder? So many senses, so many ways to create value. But who’s to say that my value is a better one than yours, besides me of course. This is the problem with assigning value. Who is to say?

I know when I studied literature in college that my professors had a sure test for value: longevity. If a piece stood the test of time, it had value. If it could speak to people throughout the years, it had a universality that made it more potent, more valuable, more real. Never mind that Wordsworth was as bad read aloud as quietly, grieving, to oneself. If the work lasted for centuries it had value. Nowadays value is assigned largely upon dollars spent. A piece has value if it grosses so much at the box office. A book has value if its on a top ten list somewhere. Your work has value if you get a grant. But what about next year? Will it still have value then? Or has value become as ephemeral as newsworthy?

But what about value itself? Value I fear comes from within. It’s where we feel it and from where it is assigned. If I do 20 hours of work and I hate every minute of it what’s the value of that? But I spend two hours working on a delicate piece of inlay and I enjoy every minute of it, lost in that tiny little world, how much more value is there for me? And to put a price tag on it almost besmirches it although we must.

I fear this value from within because the inside arbiter can be so capricious. At times loving my work, at others thinking I made another mistake. So we look for validation from others.

I had a student in class once. A big guy, biker type. Sweetheart guy though and we were having a beer one day after class and talking about writing. I like to talk about writing. Here he was telling how important it was to get his book published. And my response was something along the lines of well, it doesn’t really matter if your book gets published does it? The important thing is that you like writing it. If someone else gets to read it and likes it too, well that’s gravy. Just good gravy. His feeling was that you needed to get published, your work has to see the light of day to be worth anything. Who’s right? I don’t know. I have raised more questions. But remember that you’re the one setting the table and eating the meal. Might as well enjoy the making of it too. That’s real value.

Gary Rogowski is the Director of The Northwest Woodworking Studio. Visit us at

Published in: on November 19, 2008 at 8:59 am  Comments (7)  
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Dodging the Bullet

We live in parlous times. Capitalism has ascended and taken its place as the new religion. We, as a society, taken as a group, as one giant mindless consuming pack, value nothing more permanent than the latest model, the quickest chip, the coolest beat, and the hippest phone. Our collective tongue hangs out in constant anticipation. Fashion has taken the place of quality. This is not a complaint. It’s sort of pointless to wail against the tide. When the water comes up, they ain’t nothing you can do about it.

So why bang on the obvious? I think to point out the simple fact that rather than complain or write ineffectual graffiti on the traffic signs like STOP the Monopoly, it is far better to go out and do something for yourself that makes a difference. If only for yourself, if only as one voice, if only as one mind trying to find some clarity amidst all this noise.

Many woodworkers come to this craft out of this sense of discontent. They come to this woodworking perhaps out of a reaction to the world they previously chose. It’s a response to the life they had once mapped out but now seems barren or perilous.

I commented to Brendan, my Resident Mastery student, this past week about how lucky we were to be woodworkers. How fortunate that our boss couldn’t one day decide to fire us and have us escorted from the building without being able to retrieve our files. No execution orders waiting in the wings for us. No, we have skills in our hands far too valuable to be out of favor.

I once was part of a Career Day at a grade school in North Portland. It was a blue collar school then. This was before the area became so hip. And I told the 1st graders about what I did and what my day was like and one kid came up to me at the Question/ Answer session and asked me, “What happens when you get laid off?” What a stunning question. That a 1st grader could ask me that, this history being his no doubt. But secondly I realized that well I can’t be laid off. I will always, as long as I am physically able, have my skills to use and builders will always have some value in this world. Even in this world, we will have value.

Watching someone’s career path can be like watching a stone roll downhill, banging into things, flying over smooth patches, slamming into rocks, ending up in the most unlikely of places. Trying to predict one is fruitless. And then you choose to do something that appeals to you, something that works your brain as hard as it does your hands, and you look up 34 years later and realize that you dodged a bullet. It’s not a good living, it’s a good life.

Published in: on March 12, 2008 at 9:47 am  Comments (5)  
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