Sunday, May 31, 2015

the willing hand

The human hand is not only the symbol of the intelligent artificer, "the hand of the master," the sign and epitome of the lord and ruler; it is the instrument of the will alike for good and evil deeds. The idea of it as the active participator in every act embodies itself in all vocabularies. The imperial mandate, the lordly manumission, the skilled manufacturer, the handy tool, the unhandy workman, the left-handed stroke, the handless drudge, with other equally familiar terms, all refer to the same ever-ready exponent of the will; so that we scarcely recognise the term as metaphorical when we speak of the "willing hand." – Sir Daniel Wilson, 1891
As you will notice from the quotes I share in this blog, many come from the golden age of the hand, when it was widely recognized as the source of human intellect and of human culture. Since then machines have been called into play to take production more or less out of human hands.  We may take some satisfaction in things being made cheaply, quickly and with little effort. We pay the price in that what the hands gave, their lack of engagement can take away from us.

My wife spent three days this last week making a mosaic under the instruction of mosaic artist Fran Carlin. It was a class with the Eureka Springs School of the Arts, and she came home with a piece that had challenged her confidence (as all good works must) and delivered upon completion, a sense of pride that was clearly greater than if it had been made without effort. The mechanism of human creativity is that. The making of an object challenges the intellect, and rewards the soul by elevating the character of  its maker. But we put children in schools where they learn stuff that will be quickly forgotten. By putting their hands to work, we would put their humanity to work as well. What they then learn would never be forgotten.

Yesterday I turned a couple mini-crematory urns as shown. I made the turned crosses to test the technique and  I intend also to make a box with fleur-de-lis if I can do it, and another with a turned heart.

Make, fix and create..

1 comment:

  1. Jørund Telnes (1845 – 1892) was a Norwegian farmer, teacher, writer and politician. He wrote a poem that some Scandinavian artists have recorded, called "Folkesongen."

    "Like flowers rising from the ground,
    Like apples growing from the branch
    Is the folk song for man and maid,
    And folk-wisdom, never will it die.

    So let the tones from our hearts stream,
    And let us sing and let us dream,
    There is so much to bog us down and
    The darkness is banished as soon as we sing.

    So give me the songs of the homeland,
    And let us sing in the ancient way
    And let us sing without books
    That *notebook* thinks it's so wise!"

    Interesting that the term used in that last line is "notesongen". More accurately translated, it's referring to sheet music/notation. It does make me wonder about something I've noticed, being that I'm a musician: the Wisdom of the Hands is lost when people recite music from notation. All the stylings, tonal color, idiosyncrasies are lost by players who learn tunes through the vehicle of notation -- and primarily because you really can't do 100% justice notationally to all that is happening in a fiddle tune. ...And to even get anywhere close is so exhausting and time consuming. There is little doubt in my mind that Mr. Telnes was writing about a "loss" that occurs in music that I see to this day.

    Scandinavia, like a lot of folk musics around the world, has a strong oral tradition of learning tunes. Most good teachers in this tradition will not "dumb" a tune down to "the basic notes"; instead, they teach you the articulations as an inherent part of the tune. The articulations are 50% of the emotional value of any tune, and it is often this which is lost when being reduced to sheet music.

    One of the things that has kept me out of playing in American circles of others who've learned Scandinavian tunes is the lack of utilization of techniques & articulations that are inherent in the tradition: slurs, mordants, microtonality, dynamics, a strong sense of the various syncopations, ghost-notes, etc. A number of US-born musicians -- many, no matter how long they've been involved with the tradition -- don't play the tunes as they were played by the people who had taught them. American musicians who often attend folk music camps will learn the song (as part of a whole block of tunes) quickly, are given (or make) a sheet-music version of the tune, and that's pretty much it. The result is an immense loss of the true nature of the music. Something so very complicated and best learned through metaphors, analogies, allegory, is reduced and made a simplified map of tones out of it -- a caricature. There are many intricate syncopations and styles to this folk genre, but many non-native players of Scandinavian music perform the tunes as if they're little different from waltzes.

    The folk traditions and folk arts were meant to bring people together, and allow them to develop their own creative voice. A lot of our traditions got lost by our desire to codify (and thus generalize) methods. I believe we were better off with guru systems.