There is nothing more poetic than conjuring a dream and creating it with your bare hands. Artisans probably have one of the most exquisite jobs out there; as skilled craftspeople, they create mouth-watering foods, dreamy perfumes, or romantic gardens. They capture everything beautiful in our daily world in their creations that help us ease the pressures of modern life. It is also a way of preserving and promoting culture at its most refined form. Just look around museums, restaurants, or historic homes and you will notice how such inventive creations add a timeless beauty to any setting. Not only that, countries can capitalise on the unique work produced by artisans to boost tourism and economic returns.
In fact, since time immemorial, artisans have played a key role in creating works that glorified and benefitted their civilisations. For example, they fashioned everyday useful items like plates, pots, clothing, shoes, statues, boats, and weapons. Governments or wealthy patrons usually commissioned such items as a show of status and wealth. One example was the construction of the Ishtar Gate in Babylon in 575 BCE by King Nebuchadnezzar II. Made with glazed bricks, lapis lazuli and measuring more than 11.5m high, this magnificent structure was so admired; it made the initial list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. A visit to any museum around the world shows us the many aesthetic artefacts that have lasted for millennia.
Skilled artisanship remains a valuable profession in modern times. Allow me to focus on the food industry. Nowhere was this appreciation for artisanship more evident to me than during my last trip to Paris. Having developed a fetish for baking, I endeavoured to sample the delightful pastry shops decorated along the many chic avenues and rues whilst there. On my list were the famed macarons created by Pierre Hermé, whose store was a mere two-minute walk away from my hotel. This master French patissier is a fourth generation pastry chef who began his career at 14 as an apprentice to the legendary French chef Gaston Lenotre. He was also awarded ‘The World’s Best Pastry Chef’ in 2016. It is no wonder then that his macarons tasted heavenly as the ingredients were carefully sourced and the flavours were memorable; especially the Ispahan (made with rose, lychee and raspberry) and the Mogador (made with milk chocolate and passion fruit).
With such professions that require a mix of both technical skills and lots of imagination, it seems that apprenticeships are the best approaches to nurture such talents. Indeed, this keen interest is developed early on in a young protegee through exposure to rich environments and a national celebration of products fashioned by artisans. In some countries, for example, there is a focus on enrolling students in vocational education, thereby unleashing creativity and producing the next generation of celebrity chefs, or master perfumers, or gardeners. Indeed, what is the point of education if not to propel us to master the knowledge and skills needed for us to be who we really are, at our most creative best, and doing what we enjoy. Sir Ken Robinson, who is a renowned TED speaker and international advisor on education in the arts, says, “If you love something that you’re good at, then that’s a really great place to be in your life.”
Sublimity and attention
Take another example of the French chef Alain Passard, who is deemed as the ‘maestro’ of vegetable cuisine. I have come across this poet of a chef on Netflix’s show Chef’s Table France, wherein viewers can witness what inspires the world’s most renowned French chefs and how they produce their masterpiece dishes in their kitchens. At once, I was impressed by Passard’s monologue as he journeys through how his grandmother inspired him to be a chef at a young age and how he grows his own vegetables in his farm just outside Paris. Now boasting a three Michelin star restaurant in Paris, L’Arpège, he prepares an almost exclusively vegetal menu and the menu changes according to the seasons and the produce harvested. Dishes are prepared with such sublimity and attention to preparation techniques that for a moment, I felt transported to a dreamscape wherein all my senses were revived. His peers recently voted chef Passard as the Number 1 chef in the world.
It was clear to me that chef Passard’s creations have been born through genuine passion, experimenting, and lots of self-learning. That is why people should journey within themselves to find out if they have any special talents or hobbies, then they should strive to nurture that interest into a full-time career.
The work of artisans add flavour to our lives. More importantly, they are an expression of cultures and people’s daily lives at any given moment in time. These fascinating stories are told through the crafts they create each day. That is why we should celebrate and promote the works of artisans passionately.
Sara Al Mulla is an Emirati civil servant focusing on human development policy and children’s literature.