Monday, April 23, 2007

Earlier, I had mentioned that there were two types of objects, art and not-art. Another way of looking at things (literally) is to classify as follows: tools, vessels, furniture and non-functional decorative objects. Of course, it is difficult for things to adhere to their normal categories. For instance it is common in today's woodturning for vessels to be infused with worm holes or voids, eliminating any possibility of use. An old tool that the owner has no skill or intention to use would also fit the category of non-functional decorative object, even though in the hands of a trained craftsman, it's category would change.

There is a temptation in the establishment of cultural and economic values to propose the highest worth to the objects for which there is no utilitarian purpose. A bowl that leaks from worm holes may be regarded as higher in value than one that can be used in the making of bread. It is surely "art." Tools have their greatest value when they are least efficient, obsolete and therefore "collectible." Furniture is often of greater value when it is involved in making a statement of discomfort. The value of the non-functional decorative object is supreme in today's American culture. This may be an expression of our affluence. If you look at what is truly required for human subsistence, tools and (functional) vessels are supreme.

I had an interesting exchange with a woodworker who asked me to review his products with an eye toward helping him achieve success. His things seemed somewhat impractical but well made and I asked him, "where does your work fit the concept of art?"

I wonder, is it easier to sell art, or "not art?" In which direction will success be found? Is a woodworker's career better served by making things that hang on walls or sit on pedestals and shelves that may inspire intellectual exploration, or by making simple useful things of beauty that will be used up, worn out and at some point discarded? Ultimately, we may never really know. The simple useful thing may in time become both cherished and sacred. But if we get the opportunity to spend our days making something with our hands we are miles ahead.

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