Beautiful Work

I remember when I was a child visiting my grandparent’s house and having my grandfather show me a model steam engine that he built by hand. The amazing thing about this model was the precision that was necessary to allow certain parts to move freely while other parts had to be tight to maintain the pressure of the steam.

My grandfather loved the challenge of getting something like this to work since it was a way for him to be creative with his mathematical gifts. He was a quality control inspector at a manufacturing plant, and he would ensure that products were machined accurately to the thousandths of an inch. He took pride in knowing that everything that was manufactured in the plant would work properly, and the men he worked with took pride in having to make minimal refinements to their craft. This was beautiful work.

If you have spoken to a teacher or student at HDCH lately, you may have heard the term “beautiful work” being tossed around.

Nathan Siebenga, Principal, explains, “When I started thinking about Beautiful Work, I was working in a context that this concept would look different for all of us. I think of my youngest drawing of my Dad; it doesn’t look like him, but the creativity, imagination, and risk-taking is beautiful. And then I think of Nathan VanderWililk (‘16) who is a young man who can create portraits that are near perfection; the detail and the precision make his drawings beautiful.

Side by side, the beauty of each drawing, like any piece of art in a gallery, is very different.”

Beautiful work is one of the core elements of project based learning, but we don’t expect all student work to be aesthetically pleasing, do we? The short answer is: we can’t, and we shouldn’t.

Beautiful work has more to do with the process of creating than the appearance of the product.

King David exclaims that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by our creator God. If we are made in his image, than we are all creative too. Things that are created bear the image of their creator, and this is at the heart of beautiful work. Think of it this way; all work is a self portrait. To work, struggle, and take joy in the process of creating something requires an investment of yourself into your craft.

I had a parent once describe to me a sort of separation anxiety that he would experience each time he would finish building a fireplace for a client.
The most difficult part was leaving a client’s house at the end of a job and never again seeing work that carries the design, style, and handiwork of the creator. He admitted that it was like leaving part of himself behind at each job.

The great thing about beautiful work is that it is not just something for artists and skilled trades people to achieve. We all know the feeling of satisfaction after struggling through something. The difficult achievements are the ones we cherish. It’s the learning experiences that come through countless errors and revisions that make something beautiful in the end.

“I would suggest that one of the ways Beautiful Work gets better is through iterations,” says Nathan. “There is a phrase used a lot around here at HDCH, ‘the first draft is the worst draft’. It suggests that we never get it right the first time. In order to improve, we need to get feedback on our work. I know for me that it is helpful to have an extra set of eyes on what I do; the feedback helps me get better.”

So, the next time you find yourself talking to a teenager about their work, ask them about the beautiful process behind the product.

Jonathan DeVries
Art Educator