Friday, March 04, 2016

This day and how we talk about it.

I woke up this morning with a long list of things running through my head that must be attended to during the day. The Guild of Oregon Woodworkers has asked that I ship the prototype cabinet and boxes that will be made during my week of classes there, and so I've got to get just a few steps finished first and then carefully send them off in a crate along with other boxes I want to show my students.

 I became interested in N. Christian Jacobsen's discussion of form, in his book (thankfully translated by Barbara Bauer) I Sløjdsagen Et Inlæg, and particularly in the idea that a sense of form is a component in the development of intellect. The relationship between form and intelligence should not be a surprise to anyone associated with IQ tests that require you to observe various parts and indicate which fit together, which are the same and which are different. But in schooling, as it has become overly preoccupied with language alone, the subject of form almost never comes up. It should be a subject for all students but even students in the arts may never be introduced to it. When I mentioned Jacobsen to an artist friend I was told about Heikki Seppä in return. Seppä's book Form Emphasis for Metalsmiths is considered a classic among jewelers and metal sculptors.

Much of Seppä's book is filled with drawings of what happens when you hit metal with a hammer, and with descriptions and drawings of how to join parts, so it may not be of a great deal of interest to all woodworkers. But at the time the book was written (1978) Seppä was leading the movement from metal working being a purely utilitarian craft to one that hammered hard for acceptance at the doors of non-functional art. To do that Seppä suggested that metal workers do two things to overcome the limits of what could be perceived.
In metalsmithing, limitation of creativity can occur when artists neglect the basic characteristics of a metal. A thorough knowledge of materials and techniques is a direct measure of artistic freedom; the fewer technical problems that artists must solve, the more spontaneous their art will be. – Heikke Seppä
And so, metalsmiths were required to pound the heck of the material to carefully observe its properties. The other area in which Seppä sought a shift was in how metalsmiths would talk about form, as up to that time, the terminology used to discuss form was anchored in the terminology from the earlier era in which metalsmiths made utilitarian objects, cups, tankards, bowls, vases and boxes. The earlier language of form involved those specific shapes. In Seppä's view, the use of those terms was a form of stereotyping that restricted the craftsman's freedom in his or her exploration of form. Seppä urged metalsmiths to use geometry as a source for their terminology rather than generic names derived from functional forms.
...if for instance a domical form were needed as a part for a work, and the word domical were used instead of the word cup, the utilitarian connotations of the language would free the idea from the narrow limits of purely functional considerations, clarify the concept, and make the processes involved more readily understandable. But because artists and designers have not adopted the generic language, they are not yet taking full advantage of the vast potential for developing new forms that the plasticity of the metal affords. – Heikke Seppä
One point of contention came up in my reading of Seppä's work is that he seems to regard functionality as something to be escaped rather than embraced. I like that the words cup, tankard, bowl, vase and box might be used to describe form. But at the time Seppä was writing, craftsmen were attempting to find a place for themselves in an industrialized society. We are still attempting to find that place, though perhaps we might look close to home for the purpose of our creativity, and make useful beauty to be shared with family and community.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the joy of learning likewise.

No comments:

Post a Comment