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Manual Skills

Ars longa, vita brevis: manual skills acquisition in an academic environment

Even in our technology-driven society where institutes of higher learning are generally founded upon well-established academic conventions, a select number of curricula still rely on ancient modes of pedagogy that are typically perceived as belonging to the realm of vocational education, as they involve the transmission of manual skills.

Few know that the Dutch government already struggled with the ill-defined boundaries between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ during the formative years of its education policy in the early nineteenth century, and actually briefly ordained its universities to offer courses in applied sciences and manual skills training in order to prevent the budding institutions from ‘developing intellectual elitism’.

Crafts-based pedagogy with a strong focus on the consolidation of manual dexterity actually shows surprisingly coherent didactic environments across cultures. Many exhibit deeply embedded hierarchical structures; even to the point of authoritarianism where a small group of stratified students relies entirely on a single master figure who has almost limitless control over their destinies. This is particularly evident in Japan, where manual skills training is strongly rooted in the emulation of a renowned master who may even enjoy a semi-divine status.

The training of conservators actually shows many parallels to that of surgeons, who are likewise forced to rely on a mixture of scientific knowledge and skilled hands in their treatment of ‘patients’. It is therefore hardly surprising to see that the training of these medical professionals typically involves long apprenticeships known as residencies to provide specialist clinical experience after graduating from the more broadly oriented medical school. In fact, the fundamental structure of their training shows profound similarities to that within the European craft guilds of old, where students went from apprentice to journeyman, before being allowed to perform their jobs independently as a recognized master.

PhD candidate

Dave van Gompel, MA

Supervisors

Prof. dr. Ella Hendriks
Dr. Herman den Otter
Dr. Sanneke Stigter

Sponsors

Isaac Alfred Ailion Foundation (IAAF)
Museum für Lackkunst, BASF coatings

D. (Dave) van Gompel

Faculty of Humanities

Capaciteitsgroep Conservering en Restauratie