I’m going to spend some time here writing about how tools can get conflated with craft. There’s a few ways I’ve seen people get sidetracked by tools from developing their craft. I highlight three of them here.
Having Tools Is Not Your Craft (unless it is)
I’ve played music for about thirty years. In the world of musicians, like any hobby or art, you have the gear-heads. This is the person that is always talking about the new gear the bought, they gear they have, the gear they want to get. They have an awesome collection of toys and they have a fantastic room or studio to do their work.
Many gear-heads are great musicians. But many are not.
By the same token, many great musicians don’t really care about gear. (Guitarist Jack White is famous for playing incredible cheap guitars.) Great gear is not necessary for great work.
My point here is that you probably need far less gear than you think you need to work on your mission. Great gear can inspire, for sure. But it can also be an endless distraction of researching and collecting and organizing.
If you look at the magazines and websites for any craft or talent, you will see loads of ads urging you to buy gear. Saying that you need gear. Implying that “real” or “serious” practitioners of your craft have whatever it is they are selling. Chances are, you don’t. You just need to get started.
But if your work exists to serve you and others, it doesn’t need you doing cool things with tools. It needs you to serve yourself and others.
Yes, tools can be fun but they can also distract you.
That said, I think the world needs collectors and if that calls to you, do it. Just make sure you have accepted that collecting tools is your craft.
Projecting Identity With Tools Is Not Your Craft
There is often the urge to look professional, or look like the practitioner of your craft (whatever that means). I think that as you move along your journey this can open a few more doors held my unimaginative gatekeepers. But you can completely ignore it, too.
Because looking the part and being the part are very different.
The tools of your craft signal to others who you might be. But the results of your craft signal who you really are. That’s what’s really going to open doors for you.
You might have the latest tools, and in the eyes of non-craftspeople you might look like “the real deal”. But if you’re not making the work, you’re just a layperson that happens to own the tools and have the look of a craftsperson. Looking professional doesn’t make you a professional.
Don’t get caught up in the identity of the type of person who works your craft. Because that’s a fiction.
You don’t need to “have the look”. You need to do the work.
What Your Tool Does Is Not Your Craft
Here’s what I think is one of the most common ways people sideline the development of their craft.
Some examples help here:
- You buy a paint sprayer that makes star patterns quickly and easily. You think they look cool. So you start making dozens of star paintings.
- You find some audio samples that delight you so use them as the chorus of your song.
- You buy some LEDs and an Arduino kit. The first thing out of it is erratic and surprises you. You build your project around that idea.
My (probably controversial) opinion here is: You’re not developing a craft here – you’re just demonstrating what the tool can do.
As soon as the tool delighted or surprised you, you decided to surprise and delight others with what the tool can do. You gave it no deeper thought or consideration as to how this tool might be used or combined with other elements or how it could be set to a purpose aligned with your mission.
It’s like saying to your audience, “hey look at this cool thing I found!”
Whatever a thing does “out of the box” is not your craft. What it does out of the box is the tool’s craft.
Whoever made that tool is the craftsperson. You are just a user.
So where is the line between demonstrator and craftsperson? Between plagiarism and inspiration? Between stumbling upon and seeking out?
It’s a matter of opinion, of course. But I think if the biggest impact you make on your audience is caused by the part you borrowed from elsewhere or caused by the part that was what the tool does “right out of the box”, I’d say you’re a tool salesperson not a craftsperson.
Yes tools can inspire. Tools can help. But if most anyone could have pulled the thing out of the box and done the same, that’s not much craft in my book. There’s nothing wrong with showing the world awesome tools, but know that you’re not crafting, you’re mostly just demonstrating.
If you want to develop your craft, don’t let whatever cool thing the tool does become your craft. Let the cool things that only you can do become your craft.