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Why make?

June 7th, 2010 by karenmartin

Over the last few weeks as I’ve been researching and writing about the pop-up books, flip books, cut-out books, electronic books and so on I’ve been wondering what it is that drives so many people to want to make stuff. And what is it about tangible materials that draws some people to them even when digital tools and computers mean we can create things with a lot less mess nowadays.

It seems to me that the makers I’ve written about seem to have in common a desire to shape materials and create new experiences. But is there more to making than constructing objects for others to enjoy? While I think that making something new, creating a new object through personal skill that others will find useful or inspiring or entertaining is part of the pleasure of making, I also think that some of the joy of making is unmaking.

It seems to me that unmaking is implicit in making. Before you can make something I believe you will have a picture in your mind of how the thing is made, for example, the materials, tools and skills you might need. At least, I think you have to have an idea of where to begin – though you certainly don’t need to know all of the steps you will take to get to the end or even to necessarily know where the end will be. This requires thinking about an object in a particular way, asking how was this object made? And one way to find the answer is to unmake the original object – at least in your mind – though often it seems that the most best way of understanding how to make something is to literally take it apart .

But what is the point of this making and unmaking? What does the maker get out of the experience of making? My answer would be that they get a deeper understanding of how the world is constructed.  The challenges that you come up against when making something can span the laws of physics, economics or social customs. This opens up issues of manipulation of materials, knowledge, ownership and control as makers ask – why is the world this way? who says that it has to be this way? how can I make it a different way? This is why I believe making – and unmaking – is important. It reconnects us with our world and helps us to  feel that we have the power to make the world a little bit closer to how we would like it to be.

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