There is such a thing in design as the concept of ideal form. That is, for every category known to human beings, there is a perfect version of it, at least in theory. People instinctively recognize and follow the language of a form.
I have for example, a collection of old moulding planes, the kind that wed iron and wood with the best craftsmanship. Despite that these planes originated from different times and places, they are remarkably uniform in appearance, almost like they were made by the same maker. It is as if a collection of invisible rules hovered above each separate craftsman as he set to work.
The only nod to individuality lies with the particular stamp on the end of each plane that tells where it came from. The stamp is very important. It is the mark of the maker, and it implies consistency to the rules which govern the category. The signature is a stamp of quality. Someone affirmed that the plane-ness of these planes was observed to the highest standard, and their mark was one you should believe in.
Maker’s marks are out there because the urge for signature is pervasive. You can find them carved in the timbers of very old period homes, perhaps in the attic where beams are exposed. They are ode to a particular builder despite that the craft of timber framing is bound by rules that leave little room for personal flair.
Why would you leave a maker’s mark behind? It’s an interesting question. I think it is a nod to that perfect form out there somewhere, the one that exists only in theory. Your mark is a statement that whatever discipline you were following, you think you succeeded very well. You came close enough to perfect to want some praise. Something deeply encoded in the human spirit wants to honour perfection.
Last week, I cut my finger rather badly in a careless moment pushing a piece of wood through the table saw. Table saws and finger should never meet, because the finger will lose, guaranteed. It is not a fair fight. I note that the idea that you don’t feel pain right away, is truly a myth. A tablesaw blade entering your finger feels something like a blow torch that you cannot remove.
The finger looked bad. I wondered if it would ever look the same. I did not want to look at it, swollen and misshapen when my wife changed the dressing. Over a week however, something very odd took place. A transformation toward the ideal form. Somehow the cells reforming every day had a strange hidden memory outside of themselves, of what a perfect finger should look like. My finger was literally trying to regain its original shape, and overwrite the travesty of my own careless error. Something encoded in my DNA wants my finger to be perfect, as perfect fingers should be.
It gave me pause, this invisible mark of a maker, the one who is silent witness and wants me to be made whole. Something bigger than me is watching and waiting, waiting for perfect. I cannot explain it, I can only witness this mysterious will, which is intelligent enough to want good things on my behalf. How peculiar that my very cells honour a higher code.
It is almost enough to make a believer out of somebody dumb enough to cut their finger in two, with no ready way to fix their own awkward humanity.