November 26, 2012 § 2 Comments
I was asked at the weekend how I felt about making objects in a world filled with objects, many of which are superfluous. It is a pertinent question, especially at this time of year. What do we need all these objects for? Many Christmas presents will be bought because that is what you do at Christmas: you buy presents, you buy things, and more things will be added to our lives.
Where do pots sit amongst this plenitude, this cornucopia of riches? I have been reading ‘A Theory of Craft’ by Howard Risatti, and have found it incredibly stimulating. The kernel of the book is a dissection from his perspective of what distinguishes craft from fine art and in doing so he attempts to define each area. Coming from a fine art background, I find the relationship between these two facets of the arts fascinating. The book is an argument, a thesis, and each chapter takes you logically through his position. There are elements of his approach that I disagree with, such as, when he speaks of craft it is wholly in regard to form, material and technique (solid and unchanging over millennia), which he then compares with the content of fine art (whimsical and reliant on being read within a particular social context) – not really a realistic or informative comparison.
But, ‘A Theory of Craft’ is a challenging and thought-provoking read, and relates primarily to the functions of craft and fine art. Relevant to this seasonal blog post is when Risatti writes about how the purpose of much of what is made today ‘is not transparent in the object itself’. The growth of advertising convinces people that unnecessary products are actually necessary, creating an imaginary need ‘in order to entreat people to buy’. ‘In the kingdom of commerce, differences between desire, value, function, usefulness, and necessity are intentionally blurred so that little distinction is made between them. All seem equally purposeful…’
Craft’s purpose, on the other hand, is singularly clear: ‘physiological necessity’. He painstakingly sets out his argument to define craft and I find it compelling. In his opinion, craft objects contain (basketry, pottery, glass-making…), support (furniture-making…) or cover (blankets, clothes…) and originate thousands of years ago across the world, irrespective of geography or culture. Every culture developed these objects out of absolute physiological necessity. They are not arbitrary or whimsical for ‘without their continual satisfaction we simply cannot survive’. Risatti believes that ‘craft objects, individually and as a class, must be seen as a continuing reflection in the present of this ancient and timeless struggle that mankind has waged with nature for survival’.
‘In craft objects this historical past is linked together, conflated as it were, with our modern present, for embedded within the craft objects we use everyday resides the memory of our evolutionary moment, a memory that transcends ethnic and racial, economic and class, cultural and national boundaries. This is one of the glories of craft that make it a meaningful endeavour.’
There is always a place in the world for craft. It is essential, fundamental to what it means to be a human being.
November 20, 2012 § 6 Comments
There are two fairs left for me now before Christmas. It’s been interesting participating in the fairs that I have over this (extended) festive period, as it has made me look hard at what I make, the forms and the aesthetic. Interacting with visitors, watching who stops and who doesn’t, thinking about the conversations that recur has given me a clearer sense of who my audience/customer is.
My stand at the Living North Christmas fair in York this last weekend.
When I started out making pots, I had this notion that I wanted handmade to be as accessible and affordable as possible. I still have this notion, it is extremely valuable and important, but I have tempered it a bit.
What I realise is that I don’t make what I thought I would make, which is pottery for everyone. It’s all in the forms and the way the pots are decorated. When you pare everything away and are just left with the form, it’s quite austere. It’s not for everyone. This is a good thing for me to learn. It’s important to go back to what you make and try and see it clearly, to understand it; this builds trust and confidence. Knowledge is essential. My pots come out a particular way and I like that.
I have posted a few times about how as I grew up, in the 70’s and 80’s, the house was full of mass-produced, machine-made objects. We ate off factory-made tableware and gave factory-made gifts as presents at Christmas. This was not unusual; the 80’s was the time of Habitat. I saw/held very little that was handmade. So, when it came to beginning to want to make my own handmade objects, my template was this factory-made model with all its even flawlessness. I struggled with signs of the hand, blemishes, imperfections, irregularity. I wanted to make handmade things but I wanted them to look like they had been bought from a shop. It was only going to lead to frustration.
Now I revel in the handmadeness of what I make, the sign, the presence of the hand. It’s taken some working at – intellectual investigation, engagement with other handmade objects, whether made from clay, wood or fibre – but the rewards are all the richer as a result. The decoration on my pots has come about through the process of their making. Where I hold the foot of the pot to dip it it leaves a space free of glaze and a lovely contrast in colour and texture; my fingers leave traces of their progress up the pot as I throw it resulting in an undulating surface for the glaze to catch in; glaze darkens as it collects for longer on the inside of a bowl on the side from which it has been poured out, giving the bowl energy and movement. Each element of the process of a pot’s making is evident in its manifestation. It is all about the process, there is nothing else.
This isn’t for everyone. My aesthetic isn’t for everyone. And knowing this is actually quite liberating.
November 12, 2012 § 4 Comments
I’m struggling a little bit at the moment, and I think it’s down to having been knocked out of my routine. For a couple of months over the late spring/summer I was between jobs and, therefore, lucky enough to be able to spend all day every day in my workshop. It was truly great; I loved being able to totally immerse myself in clay and concentrate on throwing. I have a second job to help me pay my way and now I work each morning as the art technician in the local secondary school. But since the end of September I have had little time for throwing. I have done bits and pieces, a day here and an afternoon there, but nothing that I could call a routine.
Having three three day fairs in six weeks has turned out to be fine. I was worried that I wasn’t going to be able to make enough stock but that’s not proved to be the case. This is my first full year of selling my pottery, so I have thrown myself in at the deep end to see if I would swim. I think I am just about keeping my head above water. What has completely thrown me lately, though, is having to move workshop. It happened between the first two of the fairs, and I found myself moving my workshop rather than be at my wheel making stock. With everything everywhere in the new, temporary workshop, and no water supply, I am struggling to settle. I am realising that I don’t like being out of a routine.
Glazing some pots for the York fair this weekend.
I should arrange things better in the workshop but the building work for the new, permanent workshop space is moving on apace, apparently, and it might be only a matter of weeks before I can move in. I can’t wait…
November 4, 2012 § Leave a comment
MADE LONDON ended a week ago now. It was a fantastic event to be a part of and the organisers delivered a hugely successful event. The setting was a converted, beautiful Sir John Soane church, just off Regent’s Park in central London.
It couldn’t have been busier over the three days, with visitors wanting to chat, question and, luckily, buy. The consensus from visitors seemed to be that it was a high quality fair and the mood was extremely positive. I loved being there, talking with visitors and making new friends among the maker community.
The pictures above were taken from the floor where my stand was located. Talking with those that came to my stand, repeating the same conversations in different ways, is an invaluable experience. It refines my thinking, reveals things that I knew but hadn’t verbalised, and offers possibilities of new directions. It was also great to meet some of you who read this blog. I really enjoyed the conversations and I am very grateful for your encouragement and support.
I am working away in the new, temporary, workshop trying to make pots for the Christmas period. It feels a bit chaotic but all I need is my wheel. I need three firings, a biscuit and two glaze firings, so an electrician is coming on Thursday to fit an isolator for the kiln.
Then, I’ll be in the new, permanent, workshop by Christmas. I can hope, anyway.