February 23, 2015 § 3 Comments
There seems to be a resurgence of interest in craftsmanship at the moment – and particularly process. Recently, I have had quite a lot of correspondence with shops, galleries and students all interested in the work that goes on in the workshop. One such exhibition I am taking part in in March, called Craft Industrialism (Sunday 22nd – Wednesday 25th March), is curated around the process of craftsmanship and the maker’s creative process.
The other day, I was asked why someone should/would spend £28 on one of my bowls when they could buy one for £4 from Asda. It was a question seriously asked and we had a 15 minute conversation where I attempted to put across the ‘handmade’ argument. Unfortunately, I don’t think he will buying a set of bowls from me in the near or distant future. But it is a serious question. A wonderful book (thank you, Joseph), Potters on Pottery, contains a collection of essays/biographies on 16 potters who work in various styles. The text is based on interviews the authors did with the potters and is full of musings, recollections, anecdotes and thoughts about pottery. It is absolutely fascinating and I recommend it thoroughly. One of the potters is Barry Newman, who seems to have made some functional pieces but his output is/was (?) mainly sculptural. He says he is not a ‘rustic potter’. He says that ‘At ceramic symposiums, people start to talk about the iniquities of industry. They have all come by train or car, most of them watch television or go to the cinema. Except for pottery, their lives depend on industry. Yet, for some reason they make it the fall guy, the baddy. Maybe we deserve the fey reputation as a group, because we do rail against modern civilisation, while at the same time living in it.’
He goes on to say that craftsmanship is basically an ‘intellectual movement’. You become a potter today ‘like one is a painter or sculptor’ rather than because your father had done it. What differentiates a potter from an architect or a film director is that a potter works on his own. It is quite compelling and, I imagine, slaps a few of us round the head.
Peter Starkey salting (courtesy of www.studiopottery.co.uk)
One of the other potters profiled is Peter Starkey. He also wonders whether making pots by hand is ‘anachronistic’, when industry is making them more efficiently and at considerably less expense. He questions whether a maker is ‘some quirky flat-earther who refuses to relate to the reality of modern life’ or does he ‘really make a contribution, however small. to improving the quality of his own life or that of his customers’. Starkey’s heart resides with the latter. He believes that ‘industrial pots are often bereft of humanity and totally lacking in communication between maker and user’. ‘”So what?” asks the layman, “I just want something to drink from”. He may be right, who can say?’
I like Starkey’s attitude and his humility. When I talk about objects being made by hand, I also talk about the communication between maker and user, and the humanity associated with it. As part of my involvement in Craft Industrialism, I have to give a talk about my practice as a potter, which needs to include something on what I think about the future of craftsmanship. It is this humanity that Starkey talks of that I want to focus on, which I feel is the heart of it. The object, the pot, is the conduit between the maker and the user. It is made by and with the maker’s fingers, there is evidence all over the pot, and it is held and felt by the user’s fingers. There is a connectedness there and a humanity that is deeply needed.
It really is a fascinating book, I have been musing about a writing a similar book to survey the state of thinking so many years on. I guess there are other ways of doing that sort of thing like blogs and podcasts, but I like the idea of being able to pick up the two books in another couple of decades and reading them and comparing them to the future.
I think you should, Joseph. I think you would write an excellent up-to-date/modern version and I agree that it would be fascinating to compare the two periods. Do it! Aren’t you doing it with your podcasts?
Sounds like a book I should read. While I can understand Barry Newman’s argument, I don’t think it is too hard to refute. I am a functional potter but I don’t generally ‘rail against modern civilisation, while at the same time living in it.’
After all, the functionality and the aesthetic properties of a bowl, or a car or book or a pair of shoes, are 2 different things! If you are lucky enough to not be too strapped for cash then you can choose between a handmade or an ikea bowl; a 20 year old metro and a newer, smarter car etc etc…