I read Pope John Paul II's Letter to Artists during my conversion and was impressed by its respect for art and artists. Among other things, the Holy Father said that artists have a special vocation and are needed by the Church, he spoke of history and the goodness of God's creation and said that we need beauty; there's no surprises there, but it was something I could not imagine any of the American televangelists writing.
When Pope John Paul II died, some commentators remarked on how, because JPII's body had been encumbered by age and disease for over a decade, we tended to forget he had been a good-looking, athletic man when he first became pope. Some of us may also forget (or never have known) that he was involved in the arts (actor, playwright and poet) before he became a priest. It may be that his personal experiences informed his Letter. But it's not reflective only of his personal views--the Church has a long and great history of supporting art (if that statement surprises you, where did you think all of those magnificent cathedrals, requiem masses, and religious paintings & sculpture came from?); I think this may be because of the incarnational way Catholicism views the world, but that's a discussion for another time. Right now, I recommend people with an interest in art and craft (obviously they overlap; an interesting question for people who liked to argue arts vs crafts is whether Bezalel and the others God had Moses get to make His sanctuary--see Exodus 25-31 and 35 on--were artists or craftsmen) check it out. As I haven't read it since back then and as I'm now afflicted with middle-age brain (something like what I once heard a pregnant woman call "preggers brain", except it doesn't go away), maybe I'll even take my own advice and re-read it.
Shop Class as Soulcraft
I've only read three or four New Atlantis articles, but every one of them was thought-provoking and Shop Class as Soulcraft is no exception. In it Matthew B. Crawford talks about manual labor and craftsmanship, questioning assumptions that manual work is mindless (a relatively recent notion, I think) and white collar work is automatically mentally stimulating, giving a little of the history of vocational classes and factory work, and thinking about the relationship of craftsmanship and consumerism. I'm probably going to reread it later, to make sure I've gotten everything I can from it.
Some quotes to whet your interest:
"The satisfactions of manifesting oneself concretely in
the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and
easy. They seem to relieve him of the felt need to offer chattering
interpretations of himself to vindicate his worth. He can simply point: the
building stands, the car now runs, the lights are on. Boasting is what a boy
does, who has no real effect in the world. But craftsmanship must reckon with
the infallible judgment of reality, where one’s failures or shortcomings cannot
be interpreted away."
"Being able to think materially about material goods,
hence critically, gives one some independence from the manipulations of
marketing, which typically divert attention from what a thing is to a back-story
intimated through associations..."
"The craftsman’s habitual deference is not toward the New,
but toward the distinction between the Right Way and the Wrong
"...trafficking in abstractions is not the same as