'things' and meaning

'made in marseille by a master soapmaker'

on sunday molly and marsha lieberman and i sat for a bit in between the busy-ness and chatted about what we are each doing.  because they are both making things-- beautiful things, useful things, everyday things, and major works of art (all of which might describe one object, by the way)-- we talked a lot about the importance of our material goods having meaning.

so-- i have been working away on this idea-- what is meaning?

meaning as it relates to objects is all of the feelings and ideas attached to an object.  the way that an object can move us in its beauty-- its art, the way we can appreciate the way in which an object does its job.  meaning is also about who gave us the object, or where we purchased it-- the experience of being given or purchasing the object-- AND about the feeling we have about the level of craft or care that went into making the object.

before we had a multi-national machine from which we bought our goods, we either made our own brooms, blankets, cooking pots, or soap-- or we traded or bought them in our local markets and dry-goods stores.  the items may have come from far away, but they were all the more special for being imported.  meaning was added to an item because we would appreciate the craft-person-ship of the broom, the stitching of the blanket maker-- we would recognize the quality of the soap from the master soapmaker.  meaning also came from the interactions we had with the people we purchased from or traded with--  a shopkeeper who treated customers with respect and kindness affected how those customers felt about the products purchased from that shopkeeper.  AND because goods were not so easily made or purchased, we generally did not have multiples of any item unless we truly needed multiples.  we used and appreciated the one item daily-- admiring the painting on the wall as we sat in the evening and ate dinner, or liking the way a certain paintbrush's bristles picked up the paint. we did not so easily throw things away.

for the last sixty-five years or so our culture has steadily de-valued our objects.  they are now made in factories that are totally separate from where we are, by people who are totally separate from us, and they are inexpensive and deemed 'disposable'.  we do not, for example, even have a word for 'soapmaker' in US english-- the spell checker keeps telling me that 'soapmaker' is meant to be two words (soap and maker) rather than one-- and yet most of my bath products are made locally and are made, clearly, by 'master soapmakers'.

when a 'thing' has meaning, we honor it in a way we otherwise wouldn't-- we care for it, enjoy it, use it with the knowledge that someone made it for this purpose.  when we respect the object, we respect the maker-- the person who worked until she became a 'master soapmaker' for example.  when we appreciate the art in what we have, we don't need many, many of the same thing-- just one good example.

people marvel, often, in my shop at how beautiful things are.  soap, cooking utensils, dinner plates-- even simple linen pillow cases for the bed-- all are beautiful and made (most, by hand) with care.  each item is meant to be used, even to be used up, but still they are endowed with meaning just in their being.

i like that...


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