Last week we went to an exhibition of new classic Chinese furniture. There were not only factories of furniture, but also those selling frightening robot-like CNC machines… It made me wonder if hand labor is even in threat of becoming abundant even here, even in this workmanship, even in art …
There is no doubt, those CNC (computerized numerical control) are pretty impressive. It seems it can produce almost any shape at a preciseness that can not be achieved by the human hand. Here is my first point of skepticism. What is woodcarving about? About the value of the labor, the skill of hand carving, or only about how fine the result is? There is a certain kind of coldness to a perfect picture, a computer made drawing. It is an art form, just like painting. Why don’t we hang computer-made print-outs on our wall instead of gouache paintings? This point proves that hand carvings will never be completely replaced.
Now a more practical remark is that : computers do not make designs, artists/craftsmen do. Knowing that carving has a lot of cultural identity in it, every region has its style (even a craftsmen family) and carries a signature, is unique. Those styles have been passed on for generations. Now who is going to make the CAD (Computer Aided Design) drawings, the blueprints for what the CNC makes? Also making such CAD is very labor intensive. (Those who are good at making them have a very technological background.) It must take maybe even longer to design a carving on a computer then having a craftsmen actually sculpting his piece of wood. Once a computer design is made it can be reproduced a hundred thousand times … that is true … Then we are moving towards mass productions, towards “IKEA-carvings”.
Nevertheless we are happy with the development of the CNC. It can do amazing things. And in fact does increase the value, the appreciation of the carving made by artisan craftsmen. On the long term, hand made carving will become a luxury, expensive art. As for the antiques, the same counts, people will realize the amount of work put into certain pieces. It took us more than a thousand years to build a machine that can do almost the same. . It would be interesting to know the opinion of other people. So I hope to read a lot of comments on this post !
On the internet I have found some articles about this matter : An inexpensive computerised numerical control (CNC) machine has helped start a new production woodworking business. The company produces complicated architectural ornamentation that was up till then mostly made by skilled craftsmen working with power tools. There is a substantial market niche for producing decorative woodcarvings faster, cheaper and at higher levels of accuracy. Low-cost CNC machines can accurately duplicate a computer aided design program in much less time than someone working by hand. Although clearly a skilled job, making complicated pieces such as carved mouldings and friezes is a very slow process by hand. The first piece is typically assigned to a very experienced and highly paid craftsman, who cuts it out with hand and power tools, then less experienced workers typically duplicate the piece using a tracer. One problem with this approach is that even the most skilled woodworker has difficulty accurately producing three-dimensional contours. The result is a piece that requires extensive finishing by hand, to chisel and sand the piece the way a customer wants it finished. The beauty of a CNC machine is that every detail of the piece can be defined to absolute perfection in the CAD/CAM software and allowing time for the operator to do something else while the machine produces the part. While the CNC machine isn’t perfect, the accuracy of the machines is far beyond what can be achieved by hand. However, every piece made will be just as good as the first one such that each piece coming off will need little hand finishing. While programming is a labour-intensive process similar to cutting out the first piece by hand, … Read the full article here : “CNC machines bring down carving costs”
A video can be seen on : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buOaF6EwEvs