The sense of touch… even though human beings’ most dominant sense is vision thanks to which we gather around 80% of the information, the sense of touch has deeper engagement with the world around us and most of us will say they would rather believe if they can touch and not only see something.
When exploring the craftsmanship our sense of touch is linked to ‘magical properties’ in the Middle Ages; Christians believe that obsession with material gets the person closer to timeless inner life; the craftsman is also a symbol for enlightenment as he is learning by doing and showing rather than telling. The skills developed in the process of making are difficult for explicit explanation. The unspoken knowledge, also called tacit knowledge, lies on the border line between everyday conscious little movements and routines and unconscious guidance how material should be treated.
According Medieval literature and art people enjoyed the tactile aesthetic appreciating craftworks such as wood carving, embroidery, pottery. That was an important and valued characteristic and even poetry at that time engaged the reader in tangible experience through dynamic speech expression. The feel of words. I can recall such literature art which impressed me with their use of metaphors; it feels like travelling in other world. There are also great examples among famous pictures which represent the sense of touch, most of the cases showing hands over an object or body, holding hands, touching something external.
Anyway, there is an enormous difference when talking about allegorical visual art and actual forms which are placed in the tactile dimension. One of the most popular and meaningful way to experience the sense of touch in the process of interacting with art piece is the sculpture. Goethe has two great lines in his Roma Elegy V:
I begin to understand marble statues, I think and compare;
I see with a feeling eye, feel with a seeing hand.
In ‘The Deepest Sense’ Classen describes ‘sculpture as the highest form of art’ citing Herder, and continues ‘precisely because it was perceptible to the sense of touch, a sense he thought afforded a more profound appreciation of beauty than sight’. Many sculptures nowadays are not allowed to be touched. However, in the work of a craftsman the sense of touch is significant part of the process – choosing the right materials to work with, evaluating the quality of the work, sometimes even shaping and giving form is hand work with no tools.
When someone is exploring a handmade work they want to touch it and not only because of curiosity, but also because they want to experience it in more intimate way. Physical closeness makes the experience thrilling – the one who explores the art becomes intimate with the handmade piece itself and also can feel contact with the creator, put themselves at the creator’s place and feel what they might felt in the process of creating.