Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Facebook posts and comments relating to this project

I thought I would post some comments below that people have shared with me or that I've written in response to a few posted pictures of the bowls.  The conversation is continuing outside our studio, which is interesting to me and by the response, is definitely quite interesting to others too.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

This is interesting....

Walmart Mugs.

I just saw this image posted up on Facebook and potters are taking great umbrage at the "handcrafted" branding.  In one blog I read, "something I saw the other day at WalMart which just pissed me off. Apparently the marketing people at WalMart think calling factory-made work "hand made" adds value to a $3.58 mug. "Special glazing technique makes every piece unique." Right ..."

I posted this image on my Facebook page, only saying "This will add to the discussion..." and it sure has.  Friends there are describing the difference between handmade as process, as personal value, as a measure of just how much "handmade" is in the work, etc.  I'll let the FB thread play out a bit more and then will try to include it here on this blog.  

So how much hand contact makes something handmade?  And does the term "handmade" require that the hands producing it be connected to same person who imagined and created the form?  

As with many debates, what seems really apparent in them is that language and terminology has slipped, become less exact or widely encompassing.  Perhaps the problem here is not so much with how work is or isn't produced but how diverse approaches can exist within one term.  Perhaps we might want to look historically at the term "handcrafted" to examine its meanings and to find out if there have always been multiple meanings.  Maybe it is time to formulate new language and new terms to describe the qualities that fall under, and those that don't, the term "handcrafted."  I'll have to give this some thought to come up with wording to eliminate the word, so that the discussion can begin fresh.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Now what?

I keep thinking about the discussion of what to do with the bowls. 

One thought I had is this:
Sometimes in Clare’s work there is an element of asking questions about social or consumer behavior. In Trophy – would people follow each other in stealing the birds? In Forever, would people sign an imposing agreement in order to own a piece?

Perhaps asking questions about consumer or human behavior could help us determine the next step. We have been asking "why make?" For the most part, our answers are internal... why we make for ourselves. The next step could be why we make for others? What value do people assign to handmade? Are they willing to accept imperfections and individuality, or would they prefer the consistency of manufactured?

If we sell the bowls, I would like to see the performance part of the piece continue. We made a factory. Perhaps we could make a warehouse and a store. Maybe we box the bowls and sell them to people who know there are imperfections, but do not see the imperfections until they get the bowls home and unpack them. Maybe it could even be mail-order? 

What other questions could we ask? What other ideas?  

Thursday, April 5, 2012

We are constantly bombarded with objects in our daily life that are generic and mass-produced. Michael Cardew noticed this trend to “depersonalized the objects we most admire.” Handmade qualities are sometimes seen as flaws that might limit the function of a thing. To me making is a way to repersonalize the objects around us. It is in opposition to the sterility and uniformity so many objects that surround me seem to be striving for.

There is also something inherently human about making. Animals build nests and other architecture, but given the choice I would imagine they would opt for an easier route. In my eyes, choosing to make a bowl (or 1000) as opposed to buying one couldn’t be a more human action. That choice connects to a human culture that reaches as far back as prehistory when people were manipulating materials in a way that is not so different from the way we do it today.

Dem Bones Dem Bones: Where does making begin?

This entry is a recollection of ideas that came from the 1st night of dialogue with Clare and classes on Monday, March 25, 2012.

Does "making" relate to an object or does it extend further back into choice of material?  Ceramic artists have many options for clay bodies.  Options can be straight forward and pragmatic or they can hold great intention and represent philosophies.  In past studios I recall stigma placed against buying boxed clays.  Also some clay artists place a great deal of pride and status on developing their own clay recipes and then mixing them.  Others might take the purity even further to mine their own clay or to move their studio to sit adjacent to a natural source for clay and rocks for glaze.  Potters Ruggles and Rankin, formerly of North Carolina, made incredible pots and lived without electricity other than that produced by a small generator powered by a stream on their property.  (I've seen this and hope my description is accurate.)

So where do we start the making?

Likewise, I sometimes get lost in thinking about the pottery and where its utilitarianism begins or ends.  Determining that place also determines my own parameters as the potter, as the maker.   I'm quite satisfied in my work for the homeowner and cook to do the prepare the meal and to figure out where the cooking begins - from grocery store or garden to plate.  I design the pots to hold some absence so that the cook can complete the work with a nicely served dinner.  In this way, I've chosen that my making must imply opportunities for the cook to "make" as well.  I chose the reserved glaze color  so that the cook can mix and match color and texture with every meal.  In my current work, it's important that my making promotes and highlights the cooking by the homeowner.  I hope the lack of permanent color inspires the cook to fill the plate and thus make it truly functional.  Making encouraging making.

But in other ways, where the making of a utilitarian form begins and ends is confusing.  I sometimes think about it like this.  If my plate sits on a tablecloth or on a place mat, do I need to design the textiles for either of those so that the plate fits in?  If yes, the textiles sit on a table.  Do I then design that table? Which materials and forms would complement that pottery?  The table sits on a floor or a rug, is there opportunity for me to move from the tableware through the table to have some say in floor or rug design?  And that rug and floor.... eventually they will tie into the walls and floorboards................

Dem Bones (song)

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,

Now shake dem skeleton bones!

The toe bone's connected to the foot bone,

The foot bone's connected to the ankle bone,

The ankle bone's connected to the leg bone,

Now shake dem skeleton bones!

The leg bone's connected to the knee bone,

The knee bone's connected to the thigh bone,

The thigh bone's connected to the hip bone,

Now shake dem skeleton bones!

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,

Now shake dem skeleton bones!

The hip bone's connected to the back bone

The back bone's connected to the neck bone,

The neck bone's connected to the head bone,

Now shake dem skeleton bones!

The finger bone's connected to the hand bone,

The hand bone's connected to the arm bone,

The arm bone's connected to the shoulder bone,

Now shake dem skeleton bones!

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around

Dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk around

Dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk around

Now shake dem skeleton bones!

I think you see where this is going.  One object touches another.  If each object has its own specific purpose and if the proximity between them or the partnered functional needs among them lead to the comprehensive experience of a dining room, for instance, where does my making end?  Within the specific object - the tableware?  Or does the tableware open up the possibility to design the entire dining room....and if the dining room is part of the house, do I make the house.  Frank Lloyd Wright, among others, worked this way.

All of this calls up the purpose of boundaries or limitations.  Parameters is likely a better word.  Knowing when the making is framed by a boundary that contains it and keeps it from a natural expansion is often difficult to distinguish between the parameters that help focus and drive the specific objectives of the making.  

Andy Shaw

The Big Entry: origins

"Far and away the best gift that life has to offer is to work hard at work worth doing." – attributed to Theodore Roosevelt

In 1991 when I first stepped into a clay studio at Kenyon College's craft center, I was a bit scared and unnerved.  I was 21 and had never thought about "making" things or working artistically.  My two great loves were my history studies - I was always in the library - and swimming.  For history I loved writing papers, I know that sounds weird, but I did.  What made the papers fun was that each time I sat down to compose the latest set of conclusions; I was synthesizing all of the previous week's research into what I believed to be as comprehensive an historical model as I could produce.  My studies were about Medieval Iceland and relied heavily on the sagas, which are rich in historical, cultural, and legal details.  Not ever having been to Iceland and the impossibility of time travel, my job as an historian was to sift through these primary resources and to establish links and connections, which, I hoped, would lead to some kind of understanding.  My papers attempted to reveal that understanding with each proposed model about how the medieval Icelandic legal system worked.  Without fail, in the week following each new paper, I would begin a new book that would show me the foolishness of my model and would demonstrate just how little I knew.  It was frustrating and to an extent, futile, but it was exactly this cat and mouse chase that made me love research.

With swimming, what I found great satisfaction in pushing myself and my body beyond what I thought I could do, only to reach the end of the practice...alive, energized, and reflecting immediately on that practice saying, "that was bad, but not so bad."  Each practice taught me about my limitations and boundaries, where they existed both in self-perception and those that were much more real.  As a competitor, the opportunity to surpass previous achievements was an incredible motivator.  Reaching each peak of accomplishment, I knew it would not last and that only through continued dedicated engagement could I sustain it or surpass it one day...maybe.  That was always the task, trying to move further but not quite knowing how.  I knew that it was possible in some way and I needed to find out how.  As a coach of 90 kids, I had the same feeling.  Watching my team members reach personal goals and beating one of the best teams in our league (the only time in my 11 years with our team that we were victorious)...these were thrills.  The accomplishments pulled the team together, yielded the most wonderful maturity, self-awareness that 10 year olds could offer, and set the groundwork for several of those kids to compete at nationals in their later high school years.

Well after college, once both swimming and my historical studies had been traded out for time in the studio, friends and family would often wonder if I made connections among swimming, medieval Iceland, and pottery.  (Wouldn’t that be something!)  Their sense of connection was literal, printing Icelandic imagery onto the pots or maybe drawing swimmers onto mugs.  For me there were subtle connections, all of which go directly to the heart of this question that Clare has been asking us these two weeks, "Why Make?"

In making pottery, there is a rhythm, one on the wheel and one in the studio, not too unlike the rhythm that our LSU community established this week working with Clare.  Swimming has this too.  Where many people say they would get bored going back and forth in the pool lanes for hours each day, I found the rhythm to be extraordinary.  In both the pool and the studio, the union of physical and mental energies within, more or less, repetitive actions was able to extract thoughts and consciousness that I don’t believe I’ve ever experienced outside of similar activities – running and long hikes for instance.  The actions and the intensity of them brought my mind to places where I could feel aspirations, where I could recognize and see myself and the potential that was mine as a human, and then to feel the conviction to these thoughts evident in my body, exhausted and tried by the labor of both the athletic practice and the studio discipline.

It took at least 4-6 years in my studio before I started to understand the links between my historical research and the studio pottery.  There are few apparent topical similarities but there are a great deal of shared procedures in method, and I quite enjoy the development of successful methods.  At base, the similarity is really quite simple.  In each, historical research and studio pottery, I begin with raw materials, primary sources for history and dry ceramics materials for the pottery.  From those, it is my task as either historian or potter to organize, compose, and to suggest a model that represents my understanding of historical concerns or those relating to finding form within utilitarian purpose.  The models, a historical paper or a cup, bowl, or plate, address my rationale, knowledge, and objectives at a specific point of time.  With analysis, revision, and further research, I inform the project which leads to the next model, which hopefully is an improvement.  It’s that cat and mouse all over again.  Add to that the sensation that marks a new achievement, the composition of a better pot than the previous one or of any that I had made before and then the motivation is similar to the athletic personal accomplishments.  From that point, I work with focus and continue to make in order to find my own personal best again.

I have known about many of the reflections shared here for nearly half of my career, but I’m still realizing just how internally they were known at the very beginning, at the point of recognizing pottery as an interest.  What’s most exciting in this context is that that very point of recognition speaks directly to Clare’s question, “Why make?”

In college, after burning out from swimming – a person can work too much at something – I no longer had an outlet for physical exertion.  My body and mind both felt the absence of swimming practice and I knew that somehow I needed a substitute but just did not know what it might be.  At the same time a friend and I would walk through the rural hills of Ohio talking romantically about working on a self-sufficient farm.  We liked what seemed to us to be the purity of a life spent producing what we needed and we found that the philosophies underlying this were quite exciting.  I was 21 and that is one of the best times in life to dream and project philosophies into action.  During my days at college I felt lacking in skills, wishing to chop wood for a fireplace or to grow a garden, but living in the dorms, I needed neither.  Although I loved reading the history, the satisfaction that I gained from the books each day seemed incomplete.  What was missing was a connection between my studies and other people.  To find balance I tutored a 2nd grade reading class.  I liked sharing my time with the kids and I loved the reciprocity in the relations.  Teaching them to read helped me to learn about learning, to gain awareness of the specifics for each of these 8-year old lives, and to work alongside kids whose undiagnosed but apparent learning disabilities were visibly separating them from classmates who would move forward, graduating to 3rd grade without them.  Their needs to learn, to feel good in achievement, and to face the struggles of connecting sounds to written symbols prodded me to develop a reading game.  One boy, in his second year in 2nd grade finally learned his vowels with this game.  Somewhere in this 2nd grade classroom experience, there was something present that my historical studies could never address and whatever it was, it made me anxious to gain a skill, as I called it.

So it was with these three things prominently on my mind - a physical outlet, self-sufficiency, and a skill that I could share with others – that I joined a friend in a casual afternoon trip to Cleveland to see her sister.  The home was huge.  My friend’s brother-in-law, Jim, was an oil executive.  As we toured the house, some objects kept coming into my view.  In the kitchen I saw a distinctive set of pottery canisters.  In the living room, large open bowls sat on side tables and around the house there were similar pieces. The pottery resembled itself but didn’t match anything else in the home.  I turned to my friend Katie, curious about the oddity of the pots in this environment.  “Where did these dishes come from?”  Katie said that Jim had made them.  I then asked a pivotal question, but I had no idea that it would be.  “If Jim is an oil executive, why would he make them if he could just buy them?”  No joke, instantly in that moment, those three life needs that I described above instantly intersected.  The intensity of that moment was so much that I knew it to be impossible to ignore.  I don’t even know how my friend replied.  My mind was racing, filling in the response to my own question, but instead of clear answers, what I found was self-recognition and more or less a dare to pursue the revelation to see what was there.  I had never had one of these Road to Damascus type moments before in my life and knew that something truly monumental had happened.  To ignore it would be a grave error; I didn’t’ know why; I just knew that it would be.

So at 21, without any prior interest or experience making art, I stepped into the craft center and threw my first pot.  Love at first touch.  I think many clay artists felt the same way in their first contacts with the material.  The rest, between 1991 and now has been an interesting, surprising, and curious search to figure out what is or was underlying that intersection of ideas in that home in Cleveland.   The question, “Why would you make something if you can buy it?” is a strong component of Clare’s project and it has brought me full circle back to where I began.  Funny thing is that I never feel like I move too far away from that initial question from 1991.  Each semester, I start class by asking each student, “Why are you here in an art class?”

In a Macro sort of way, each time I step into my studio, I’m asking this question – or those relating to it – and the work that I produce, even the fact that I would still produce any work at all, suggests that I’m still trying to establish a model for understanding, one that seems complete, knowing that of all things, good questions only open up to more.  For me, the making confirms that there is something to extract from my life, from my time, and from developing forms that represent how I would like to address my world.  The making, in a bit of a twisted way, also lets me know that I will never really get it; that I will never really comprehend the complexities behind the making and the motivations for it.  And I like that quite a lot.

Andy Shaw

Reflections on the drive home from the studio - Brooke Cassady

In general, when I think of the question,"Why make?" I immediately think of a personal need I have to work through an idea, see it physically realized, and take an active and engaged role in that realization.  If I were to come up with the idea and watch other people manifest it, I don't think I would feel as connected to the object, or the idea anymore.  However, having my hands involved in the actual making allows me to derive pleasure or satisfaction as the goal is met.  Partially, my hands simply need to feel the clay and watch it respond.  Watching others scrape away the excess at the rim of the mold gives me a sense of how it might feel, based on the way the slipcast clay absorbs or reflects lights off its wet surface, but I find I still need that tangible confirmation.  I also want my hands and my body to follow through the action of pouring slip into the mold or scraping the partially solidified clay off of the table.  It is the kinetic experience, the physical registration of movement and then the memory of that movement when I look at the end product of that effort.

Another thing that I began to recognize in that room, is there was a sense of rhythm in the movement that occurred between everyone.  It would be interesting to see how it would change if people were given distinct spaces or work areas, restricted to one specific task, with clear delineations between workers and processes.  I find it curious, because in some way, if it became more regimented, the flow could become more seamless, and the sense of rhythm could build within each individual's movement and the movement of the group as a whole could become tightly syncopated.  However, one thing that seemed to add to the sense of rhythm that I was experiencing, was almost an imperfect ebb and flow of workers assuming roles, then quickly switching to the next task that required a worker.  That organic development of a need arising and people being attentive to where those needs were, seemed to make the whole interaction feel more integrated, regardless of how graceful the execution. I noticed I was attentive to what I was working on, but I was also very conscious of how my movements might effect those around me in a somewhat tight space.  Having to intuit and respond to the movements of others made the interaction resonate a deeper sense of communal space and provoked a greater awareness of the physicality of other people.  

There is also the basic level of camaraderie that develops while collectively working towards a shared goal.  It is comforting and rewarding to take part in a group effort.  Each careful action I make within the process honors the work that went before me and is also conscious of the work that will follow.  In addition, having a reason to work alongside a stranger gives a reason for interaction, a simple excuse for starting conversation.  

One thing I question is how other collaborators feel about their involvement in this project with regards to the ambiguity of the next phase of life for these bowls.  To what extent do you feel compelled to know the end goal or result for these bowls once they are finished?  Would it be more motivating to know that they might be used to serve a particular function or is it enough to imagine the excitement of seeing all 1000 bowls, stacked or neatly displayed in one room.  There is something peaceful and simultaneously invigorating about the sheer joy and satisfaction that is derived from the repetition of a single round form.  We can already begin to experience that with tables and ware carts filled with bowls at various stages in the process. Does the air of mystery help to focus on the act of making itself, as opposed to getting lost in what the end result will look like, somehow keeping each worker focused on the present experience? 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Endless Big Conversation

I recently read an article which proposed the sort of "why make" question to a series of different artists (an animator, dancer, performance, painter, etc etc.). Some reasons for their making included provoking empathy, connecting & participating in a larger human dialogue,the engagement of process, escape, harnessing/combating fragmentation of thought and feeling  and so on and so on.

Among these was one response that resonated with me strongly, to my surprise. This particular artist said that his reasons for making were, mainly, unimportant. For him, the only thing that mattered was the endless, inner compulsion TO make, and that all else beyond that was merely speculation, although interesting (and obviously for this residency) to discuss. On any given day, he makes for a different reason than the day before. He spoke of not seeking to generate his "own propaganda" in respect to such a wild, variable factor.

I think the idea of this compulsion and its nature is interesting, It also seems to naturally cycle back around the question of "why?".

I Make Because I am.

Coming from a sculptors perception of making, I make because I am. Almost in a sense of leaving some sort of  legacy behind.

Every piece I make holds something dear to me, some part of my life, be it past, present, or future holdings, that I wish to be archived. I make in ways of remembrance, a story to be conveyed in some way or another to the viewer, of my life.

There is a story hidden in each piece I make, some obvious, some not, and with those stories or memories, I make to connect to whomever views so that I become immortal so to speak.

Everyone wishes to make some kind of impact on life, to not be forgotten after their gone. Whether it be and actual realization of this, or a hidden recessed idea. I know that anytime someone views a sculpture of mine, it will be in their mind forever, even if it is only a fragment of that memory, it is still their. That connection that I have made with that person, no matter how small is still there.


Aesthetic judgement.

For me, the question "Why Make?" comes down to an aesthetic choice. It is dependent on intentionality in what the maker is trying to communicate. In the last week, we have made all of these bowls by hand, not with machine, and as a result there are variations in each despite our best efforts to keep uniformity. If the maker needs uniformity, utilizing industry is the best possible choice. It all comes down to a judgment call on the part of the maker: How can the idea be clearly communicated based on a sensory, emotional and intellectual consideration of what the viewer will distill from the object or image? If this requires handmade objects, so be it. If it requires industrially produced objects, so be it. It is a judgement call.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Human Nature?

Perhaps we make because it is our human nature. One thing that my grandfather ( a potter for over 50 years) said is "we have hands, we have human nature." Our bodies, and our brains have evolved in a way so that we are able to make and create things to use and to look at.

We are well equipped for making, so why not do it ourselves? Industry, and factories have made our lives much easier in many ways, there are far fewer things that we have to do every day to get by. But we still have our hands (well, most of us do..) and we still have our human nature, so it only seems natural for us to feel the urge to use these things, and feel fulfilled, and useful by making things by hand.

Monday, April 2, 2012

What does it mean now that we've made a factory? -Clare Twomey
The making has taken over. Is this what craft does?-Clare Twomey
"What we do with the clay, what we create with our hands, what we offer up from our spirits may not end racism or stop injustice, but it may just help keep our culture human."

-Malcom Davis

"Idle hands are the devils plaything"
- proverb

Perhaps this is taking Clare's question "why make" a bit too literally, but partly I feel that making keeps us from being Idle (with a capital I) and wasting what could be growthful, productive "becoming" time. The hand and mind, in terms of human growth and development (The Hand by Frank Wilson) are inextricably linked. The developing dexterity of our hand -in an evolutionary sense- separated us from other primates. Contemporary neouroscience confirms that engaging in manual/ tactile activity stimulates brain development. So- if in the process of using our hands to physically work at a thing- we grow- physiologically in terms of our brains, as well as individuals- are those not reasons to make?

Making also keeps us, on the advice of poet Mary Oliver, "beholden to what is tactile" in a world of encroaching virtuality. "Making" is one means to keep us in balance with what our bodies crave doing- movement- of our hands and selves in a kind of memorable choreography (to quote Forrest) of 'figuring things out'. In making we physically and mentally engage in a process of subtle improvement that eventually reveals better and better renditions of a thing. We then have these tangible objects before our very eyes. The objects become evidence of our growth. (The bowls of Clare's feel like sentry's keeping watch over a kind of poetic space we have all, in this week, created together... )

In studio (or even in factory-based) ceramics "making" also, literally, keeps us nested within a community of fellow makers and problem solvers, allowing for both shared and individualized growth of knowledge within that communal environment.

It's always gratifying to hear from a student that they feel they "belong" in the ceramics area. That sense of belonging could be an outgrowth of the basic need many studio ceramists have to rely on a shared space, shared equipment, shared time, etc. Also, the studio environment offers a unique kind of balance for its participants. It involves solitude but also interdependence, with one moving from independent time to community spaces and back- partly out of necessity, but also with connections being built as their own reward, too.

Making can be a contemporary version of being an explorer- albeit on a smaller scale... within material there is rich discovery of possibility that can arise from problem solving and an entering into uncharted territory.

Clare said last night that her greatest fear is that (I hope I am quoting her well) "making doesn't matter". (Basically, what we are doing with her here at LSU doesnt matter). This seems like a great question to grapple with while she is still here and we are madly making...

(to return to the proverb above- Idleness in essence is passivity. There is little that is passive about making this project! The studio is a virtual hive of activity)

Saturday, March 31, 2012

To simply be.

I think every human being holds the creative energy needed to create art. I do believe some are better at harnassing this energy and using it to express In whatever form that may be. For example, I don't think I could function without music yet hand me an instrument and I'd resemble my toddler discovering keys for the first time.
My personal preference is art objects, any and every material I can get my hands on. I make to simply BE. Without the creative process constantly flowing through my body nothing else in the world would make any sense. I use material and conceptual ideas to speak in a way words would leave empty space. I connect myself to my work in a lot of ways and some projects are much more personal than others. Some works are fleeting thoughts while others are life experiences I know that only through my own creative process that I can love, accept, and share those experiences.

Amanda Songy

Friday, March 30, 2012

The dichotomy of making.....

There can be skill and craft in production, even in the midst of consumption. 
So a celebration of craft that denigrates industrial manufacture is an act of hypocrisy. 

Daniel Miller 2012(Power of Making)
Are these two ( craft and industrial manufacture) in opposition as the comment above suggests?

The process of making can inform the content. For example, if we filled a room with 1000 similar bowls from the Pottery Barn, the work might be about consumerism and the choices we have as consumers. But, if we make 1000 similar (or ideally identical) bowls in an art school studio (rather than a factory), what does that mean? It seems to question the hierarchy of authorship over team work, labor, and production. (It brings to mind the lyrics of "Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes.") Regardless, it feels good to participate in this project!
There are many reasons why we make. Here are some I thought of:
  • for self-expression (i.e. making is one of the ways we can effectively communicate thoughts and feelings) 
  • as a form of therapy (i.e. "it feels good")
  • for provision (i.e. you have to "make money" somehow. And historically, some people had no choice but to make the things they needed because of the time period [i.e. food, clothes, shelter, utensils, tools, dining ware, etc] )
  • to bring a vision/idea/need into reality (This applies to a lot of things other than art, i.e. schools, programs, buildings, etc.)
These sum up what I currently think our reasons for making can be. If I come up with anything else, I'll try to post it.