December 11, 2012 § 2 Comments
It’s a great feeling when a book you’re reading has such a profound influence on you and your work. I have been continuing to read Howard Risatti’s ‘A Theory of Craft’ and strongly urge anyone making craft objects to read it. The question ultimately posed, and answered, by Risatti is: Why, why in an age of mass production when limitless quantities of objects can be produced ever-so cheaply and quickly, make functional craft objects? Why make something functional, by hand?
I like the rigour of Risatti’s work, and it is painstaking, the way he takes you through his argument; and in reading his book I have been compelled to reappraise what I make and why – and, crucially, to consider the creative context within which I make. The final part of the book, which I am about to read, will, I believe, come to the conclusion that craft is art, or can be viewed as art; this is what he is leading up to. To be honest, I don’t really care about this, about craft joining these exalted ranks. Craft seems to be constantly needing this affirmation. But what I have found to be extremely powerful is the discussion of function in relation to craft, fine art and design.
Risatti attempts to give craft a definition, a hard and controversial (in terms of his answer) thing to do. But his attempt to define craft has forced me to do the same. As Risatti says, there are many books on how to do what we do but so very few on why we do it. This is partly because the field of craft is so intrinsically linked to material, whether it be wood, fibre, clay or glass, the mastery of which is key. A book like this that discusses the philosophical underpinnings of craft is, I think, essential and very valuable. Risatti differentiates fine art from craft by their different ‘functions’ – fine art is visual and its purpose is as a sign, to communicate, within a particular knowing cultural context; craft is universal, has a ‘practical, physical function’, is three-dimensional, and satisfies bodily need. How does craft sit, then, in relation to design, which also fulfils a practical functional space? This is the part of the book that discusses mass production, limitless quantities, cheapness, the erasure of the trace of the hand. Because both offer practical function, Risatti’s distinction is a philosophical one, a reflection on how we want to tread on this earth. He believes that ‘the craft object takes on an urgency it didn’t have in the pre-industrial world;…the handmade object of craftsmanship needs to be accorded a more prominent place in our thinking, for it sheds a light onto our world that offers a counterpoint to that anonymousness and “unlimited-ness” that industrial production encourages.’
‘Every machine multiple offers essentially the same experience to every viewer…The unique and individual, as a reciprocal relationship between the handmade object, maker, and viewer, is no longer extent. Experience is flattened out and made uniform – this is standardisation and multiplication in action…The hand of craftsmanship provides a reference by which and against which made things and the raw material used to make them can be placed in a human perspective and comprehended in human terms… Craftsmanship in craft objects fosters a worldview that projects the creative imagination firmly within a humanly defined, a humanly scaled, and a humanly understandable tangible reality.’
Thinking about all these things has changed my relationship to what I make, which includes the way I want it to be photographed. Risatti’s definition of a craft object is one that contains, covers or supports. My pots contain, self-evidently, but that is the point – they contain something, this is their function. They are not intended to be made to sit and be looked at, they are not sculptural objects.
Heidegger wrote in his essay called ‘The Thing’, to which Risatti refers, ‘…the jug’s thingness resides in its being qua vessel (‘in its ability to hold and pour’, Risatti). ‘The vessel’s thingness does not lie at all in the material of which it consists, but the void that holds.’
These photographs are my first to demonstrate the functionality of the object; they show the object as container. It’s simple, really, but is actually quite a shift in thinking. I will experiment more but the mindset is there. And the same consideration needs to be given to how I display my pots on my stand when I go to a fair.