Monday, October 13, 2008

The loss of paint on panel

At the end of Jared Carter’s poem “At the Sign-Painter’s,” he explains why he liked these men best of all the laborers he met, accompanying his father on his rounds:
For the wooden rod with its black knob resting lightly
Against the primed surface, for the slow sweep and whisper
Of the brush—liked seeing the ghost letters in pencil
Gradually filling out, fresh and wet and gleaming, words
Forming out of all that darkness, that huge disorder.
I felt nostalgia for the loss of finger-touch with stuff we make for a living. A sign maker now works with mouse and keyboard, tweaking pixels on a glass screen – no more “the slow sweep and whisper / Of the brush.” The signs themselves are made at many removes, the “fresh and wet and gleaming” paint now applied in the invisible sanctum of an industrial ink-jet printer.

Some few people still manipulate their work: chefs, the cutters of hair, surgeons, those who care for children and the sick. A blessed few, though not financially; except for surgeons, most are paid minimum wage.

The rest of us have to wrestle meaning out of the “huge disorder” with tools that are themselves intangible, information worker implements operated with plastic prostheses.


The poem appears on p. 172 of Fifty Years of American Poetry, New York: Harry N Abrams, 1984. It originally appeared in Work, for the Night is Coming, 1980.


johnnyz said...

Reminds me of what John O'Neill referred to in the seventies as 'skin trades' - 'legacy' professions that actually touched other people - noe the 'legacy' is actually touching stuff at all. Although that said, the value is increasingly in the original as digital copies profilerate - molecules still have their place ...

Suze Woolf said...

In 1987 the prescient Creative Director at Aldus, then maker of FreeHand and PageMaker software, Lauray Perry lamented losing "the sense of hand". I was so enchanted with the facile productivity boost I ignored her remark, but it has haunted me ever since. Computer-produced graphics often convey a sense of individual style -- but no texture of touch.