February 17, 2014 § Leave a comment
After my last post, I received a tweet from Anna Brown asking me if I had read anything by Peter Dormer. The answer was no, although I had read ‘The Culture of Craft’, which is edited by him. I immediately had a look on Abebooks to see what Dormer had written. There were a number of books on ceramics and design but the one that caught my eye was ‘The Art of the Maker’, with its subtitle ‘skill and its meaning in art, craft and design’.
It’s an expensive book to buy but, fortunately, my partner studies at a local art college and managed to take a copy out from their library. So, this is a post signalling my excitement about the fact that I am reading it and pointing you in its direction. It’s right up my street. It is a series of essays directly relating to the skill of making. There is a chapter on ‘Learning a Craft’, where he talks about the importance of judgement, something that can only be acquired through doing. The act of learning through ‘doing’ is an important thread through the book. He writes about being an expert, which means ‘living that knowledge’. He writes about commitment, commitment to learn driven by strength and determination, and the acceptance of the need to follow rules and conventions. Rules – there is a whole chapter on following rules (or not), ‘Do experts follow rules?’.
I intend to write more fully about aspects of the book at another time but I wanted to use this post as a pointer. There are few books that deal with this subject, the act of making, and do it with Dormer’s eloquence. Thank you, Anna, for the nudge in his direction. A quote from the book to finish:
‘To know how is a much more powerful and enriching position to be in than merely to know of something…the continuance of handicraft technologies depends upon whether or not people wish to continue to be passive participants in the world of experience by being in the hands of others or whether they are to have experiences and memories of their own. After all, as Wittgenstein put it, “The world is my world”.’ (p.103)
February 3, 2014 § 4 Comments
I’ve been wanting to conclude my thoughts about Tanya Harrod’s book ‘The Crafts in Britain in the Twentieth Century’ for some time, especially because of something she wrote on the last page. I need to quote a short passage:
“In the course of this book I have written a good deal about the crafts’ uncertain and fragile identity and their constructedness. This might irritate a maker, immersed in a discipline, making up slip or preparing to cut letters in stone or, even, grappling with computer software. No one disputes that individual crafts have strong identities and standards but these often operate within a closed circle of makers and their collectors and patrons.”
Well, it did and does irritate me. It did pretty much the whole way through the book, as Harrod wrote about crafts’ marginalisation or second-ratedness. I found her analysis negative and unsupportive. I kept asking myself why she was taking this approach and whether the lack that she wrote about was necessary or, indeed, present.
But now I am wondering whether she is right and I am just a protective, partisan maker. My interest in this comes from my background in Fine Art. I moved away from making art into making craft precisely because the arts ‘often operate within a closed circle of artists and their collectors and patrons’. It was the need to find a medium that was more egalitarian, more approachable, less intellectually elitist. The experience of engaging with a painting or a sculpture is primarily a cerebral one. You stand back, you cogitate, you digest but you never touch or hold. You are kept at a distance and the object becomes deified.
This wasn’t what I wanted when I began to make pots. The crafts are corporal. By necessity, you engage physically with them. Textiles are worn; furniture is sat upon; cutlery is held in the hand and so is pottery. I wanted everyone to have the opportunity to use handmade, to experience handmade as part of their everyday lives, on their kitchen table. That was why I was so delighted when my first workshop was a disused shop, part of a parade of shops, in my local town centre. It had floor to ceiling windows right across its front and my wheel was situated just inside, there for all to see. People, going about their daily business, would stop and look in and I would hear the wonder in their voices as they expressed their joy at seeing a potter at work. People would drop in; I’d get regulars. One teenager came in and sat on the window sill watching me throw as she waited for her lift. This wasn’t operating within a closed circle of makers and their collectors and patrons. This was normal, everyday life.
The workshop was a ‘meanwhile’ let, meaning that if another business wanted to rent the space, I had to move out. I hoped beyond hope that I might be there for a couple of years, although in the end it was six months. A man knocked on the door and told me I had two days to be out. Now, I have a much more secure tenancy but I am away from the hubbub of community life. I am selling my pots mostly at high-end fairs and independent shops and galleries. The circle is closing in.
But it doesn’t need to be that way. What people loved about the shop front was seeing a maker at work. It doesn’t happen. Where is the connection between the object and maker? The object and how it is made? This wasn’t a maker in a seaside resort, away from life, a souvenir. This was seeing something being made on the way to the supermarket, the laundrette, the bank.
I miss my shop front.