Friday, September 15, 2006

Narrative qualities of work...Many craft artists consider their work to be narrative, meaning it tells a story. Some use words inscribed in the work to connect it with a particular episode or important principle in their lives. But all craft work is narrative in that it records the artist's understanding of the material, his or her level of skill, and much more. Of course it also records the hours involved in the making of the work, and the years involved in the development of skill. A particular piece of work may record a moment of discovery, or a point of arrival at a new plateau both in the life of the artist or in the whole of human culture. Great museums are full of objects whose significance is not their beauty alone, but the stories that they've recorded and tell of human history.

The photo above is the tine or cheesebox that my great grandmother carried from Norway as a young woman of 11 in 1865. In it she carried her prized personal possessions. It was a simpler time. Imagine a child of today trying to decide which of his or her things were significant enough to fill the limited space within a small box. When my mother was a child, her grandmother's tine was where the family photos were kept. Then during my childhood, the box was empty, and yet it was treasured as a connection with family heritage.

It is not perfect workmanship, and that it exists over a hundred and fifty years after it was made, perhaps tells more about my family and love shared through generations than it does about its maker. The latches were broken off and are missing. A crack through the lid was fixed at some point with nails. The red milk paint turned brown very long ago. It exists at this point because people through generations made decisions about its significance, then sheltered it, repaired it, dusted it, and kept it in a place of honor.

I know this is only one of millions of blogs on the internet in which words are spewed at an unimaginable rate. Objects have become the same: meaningless, disposable, troubling as they congest our homes, and still we have painful longings for more and new and "better." The tine reminds me of a simple time when the objects in people's lives were a reflection of skill, craftsmanship, love, personal attention and growth. It also reminds me that objects may tell our stories, our lives, and our hopes in a narrative clearer and more honest than words alone. An object, lovingly crafted can tell that story for generations.

Develop a skill and make something that will tell of your own aspirations, your love and your humanity. Invest your attention and your care deeply in your work. One hundred and fifty years from today, someone will look back.

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