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In Pursuit of Pleasurable Work

Trevor and Rusty reading

It is often said that if you choose a job you love, you will never have to work a day in your life. In his forthcoming book, The Pursuit of Pleasurable Work, art + reading contributor Trevor Marchand approaches this idea from an artisanal perspective, exploring the motivations behind a renewed professional shift towards vocational training in craft-oriented trades, such as fine-woodworking.

A UK-based architect and anthropologist, Trevor (pictured above with his reading companion, Rusty) is inspired, in part, by William Morris’ 1890 novel, News from Nowhere. The most celebrated European pattern-designer of the nineteenth century, as well as a committed social activist, Morris was self-taught in at least thirteen different decorative art forms, including ancient traditions that were no longer actively practiced. Deeply influenced by Karl Marx, Morris’ vision of the future reflects his personal devotion to the creation of beautiful objects and architecture, nostalgically recalling a past that revered skilled craftsmanship.

Like Morris, Trevor approaches work with dedicated passion, regularly employing apprentice-style methods of material investigation in his research into skill-based learning and artisanal practices. Reflecting on this in-depth project, Trevor writes:

“The research for this book is grounded in long ethnographic fieldwork that I carried out at the Building Crafts College in East London (UK). I enrolled in the two-year fine-woodworking programme and trained alongside a talented cohort of young men and women. I describe many of these individuals as ‘vocational migrants’. They daringly abandoned secure jobs and well-paid professions to pursue a hands-on trade, which they believed would bring them into direct and honest relations with natural materials and with communities of suppliers, fellow craftspeople and clients. Ultimately, they sought the kind of satisfaction and fulfilment that is achieved in overseeing creative projects from start to finish. In writing my book, I have returned repeatedly to William Morris and especially to his utopian novel, News from Nowhere. Morris not only informed my historical understanding of connections drawn by social philosophers between craftwork and self-actualisation, but his ideas continue to inspire my search for pleasure in all that I undertake.”

Ultimately, Morris was aware of the personal privileges that enabled his pleasurable work and dreamed of a socially-responsible society where such good fortune was accessible to all. A major contributor to the Arts and Crafts Movement, Morris was a leading advocate for the revival of British textile arts and artisanal crafts at a time when the Industrial Revolution appeared to threaten such traditions. Later in life, in The Well at the World’s End (1896), Morris reflects:

“With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on…”

And the work does go on. Similarly a champion of traditional knowledge and skilled making, Trevor’s work, like Morris’, reminds us to love what you do, read what you love—and, above all, pursue life with pleasure and gratitude.

Read about Trevor’s collaboration with Ugandan-born artist Andrew Omoding in his essay "Ducks and Daughters" published in the inaugural issue of art + reading (Issue 1, Rupture, Autumn 2018).

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