Hercules wants you to take a break from you labors and read a book. These two are free right now.
‘It’s interesting because there’s been a historic divergence in opinion between what is considered craft and what is considered art. Now, there seems to be a growing convergence between the two, where art is becoming synonymous with craft. What’s particularly interesting and complicated is how it’s coming back.
The figure of the craftsman wasn’t as well regarded as that of the artist, but the thing is when you were a craftsman, you created your masterwork. If you were a master clockmaker, you only got that title because you had created a masterpiece. Long ago, if you were a craftsman, you were considered to be on the same level as the priest or the king,. It’s the same with artwork: If you were a painter, you had your master work—your painting was this incredible result of years of study and practice at your craft. It was the same thing for a sculptor or for a horologist. If you were able to shape raw materials into things, you were considered someone capable of making miracles. It was seen as an incredibly noble vocation to be a craftsman and to devote your life to the pursuit of this applicable, tactile thing—and that was what really grabbed me. I’m still absolutely smitten. Horology is my whole life, and it’s been my life since I was very young.’
Like any totally-normal-not-at-all-obsessed person, I spend a lot of time thinking about automatons.
Mostly, I shake my fist at the sky like an old man complaining that kids these days only like their sleek, human-passing, electric robots and no one cares about the wind, fire, water, and clockwork powered beings that preceded them. Is MonkBot not sexy? With that sweet, sweet segmented mouth action?
Automatons are usually thought of as no different from golems, living dolls, or patchwork girls. Just another category of animated being: nifty, sure, but so what? But automatons are, and have always been, important. And for two thousand years we knew that.
In the arc of human invention, automatons predate paper. That means before we thought “sure would be nice to write things in a convenient and portable manner” we thought “sure would be nice to have an inhuman creation in our shape that moves.” Then we immediately looked at this thing we’d made and instead of believing we’d become gods, we thought we’d created them. In ancient Rome and Egypt, as well as during the medieval period, automatons were representations of the divine. Even after they shifted into the realm of entertainment, automatons were singular wonders, art that brought joy to the viewer.
By remembering automatons we remember how the prioritization of art can become bulldozed by wants of industry, the miraculous giving way to the profitable. These creations are still essential to study, because when humans create in their own image they also create a tangible snapshot of the values and visions of the world at that moment. Sometimes, that image is of religious devotion. Sometimes, it’s an image of intellectual curiosity and wonder. But sometimes they are darker, cautionary tales exposing how power operates against the powerless.