Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Dana Jones, an artist and fellow blogger (Callico Cat Press) sent the following:
I have a friend who is a potter and calls herself an artist. Not a craftsperson. Her pots are mostly functional, useful pieces and I would consider this type of pottery more of a skilled craft, but she doesn't ascribe to the ideas of fine craftsmanship. She prefers to make a crude piece, claiming if you want a perfect form, you could go to any store and buy a slip-cast pot. So, in a way, she has eluded the practice and perfection of her craft, while craftspersons before the industrialized world would have perfected their crafts to show their exquisite skill. The form and finish would have been been considered marred if left with fingerprints and imperfections. I don't really have a judgment about it. It's just an observation that further adds to the questioning. Maybe the answer will evolve as a result of movement and reaction with our human hands in practice.
We are in a cultural period at odds with the long history of human engagement in the arts and crafts. In the making of Persian rugs a single knot was to be left poorly tied in an expression of respect to the perfection of the divine creator. In the early Japanese crafts tradition, a small thing was to be left unattended in respect to the perfection of natural, non-made reality. So you can see that human creativity was an expression of relationship with nature and the divine. If you look at a leaf or a flower as your inspiration, you will be moved in ways different than by what you might find at your local Target store.

Now, we have the near perfection of manufactured objects dominating our lives, and we seek more personal expression to differentiate from the machine and the cold impersonal qualities we face. We are led by inner forces to seek warmth of human engagement in our friendships and in the objects that inhabit our lives. We look for finger prints left in the glaze as evidence of greater worth as we seek some small sign of personal direct human involvement in the making of the object. Even failed attention in the form of crude workmanship is preferable to the impersonal. On the one hand crude craftsmanship may offer a rationale for being lazy. On the other hand it may be a necessary statement of rebellion... a quick expression of spontaneity in a too controlled, overly mechanized existence. I guess it would depend on knowing the motivation of the individual artist to say which.

But it is particularly interesting that early craftsmen and artists defined themselves as creators in alignment with the divine, while we often find our definitions as artists or craftsmen through opposition to the machine and the impersonal qualities of modern life.

It seems we are one step off the mark. And all this helps to explain why, when an early anthropologist asked a Balinese tribesman about Balinese art, the tribesman explained "In Bali we have no art. We do everything as well as we can." In stark contrast, we have arts and crafts because so much is done without care or direct human attention, and we need them (A&C) desperately to help us regain our course.

As we live our lives with less reference to nature and/or the divine, our framework for expression becomes opposition rather than alignment. I suspect that we might progress as a society and as artists and/or craftsmen a bit more if we took a more positive stance, and ceased to underestimate the importance of developed skill as an expression of human will, attention and love.

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