Art versus craft versus product……Where are the lines? Are they (or can they) all be the same? What matters for what market?
In the turmolic washing machine that is now life at Canny Maker HQ this is the current question of the moment. I am standing still but beginning to look forward and wonder which way to turn next. This summer will mark 4 years since I left my office job to look towards a new pasture. The various life changing events in between have somewhat delayed arriving at the new pasture I had in mind, but we must still move on and persevere, There is now no way back. But what next? After finishing my MA I was set on working in the art world, making works which reflected an inner poetic expression, seeking to offer a personal experience shared with the external onlooker. I moved away from the making of map string, a natural shift but one originating in a creeping feeling of something being too contrived. The poetry of my work I shifted back to the writing and calligraphy – its natural home – and one where there are still so many worlds left unexplored.
But again, a pause.
As time passes, idealism fades into reality, and the reality of life with a family is one where the family must come first. Ideals are all very well when all I’m wasting is my own time. So I am back asking myself what I want to do – do I want to go back push my art, making work for exhibitions (of which I have not been in any) or do I want to make work which can actually sell. For money.
Someone once told me that they would be really sad if I ended up “just selling stuff on Etsy”. Lately I have been wondering why? Is there something so wrong with making handmade products and selling them online? Is it some elitist thing which means I need to only be making and selling in Liberty, not in some other small scale way? This is the question isn’t it – why do so many people see selling work as selling out. I could be just as much a designer maker as being an artist. Or both, at the same time. Its all just a matter of labelling isn’t it?
Someone sent us a card once which said “When life throws you lemons, make lemonade”. Sometimes though it is hard to see the way out when you are weighted down with so many metaphorical lemons. So you carry on doing what you do, running from the past, doing anything not to look forward and managing to completely miss “now” from any part of your life. It has been like that for a long time at CannyMaker HQ: I realised it is now 8 months since I last posted anything on this blog, and 16 months since leaving Camberwell. Time flies when you have your head in the sand.
Over the last few months, I’ve been doing some mindfulness training, and slowly trying to sort things out. I’m not sure what I’m doing or where I am going – both in life and work. In life I’ve at last been slowly making my metaphorical lemonade, and it is time to do the same in work. Perhaps the uncertainty will bring back the creative freedom which was lost in the post-MA haze of trying to make a career of it. Mum often says to me, “don’t try, just do” (I think that might have been from Yoda), but it is true that we are often guilty of trying too hard and not just getting on with things.
I thought I would start again, looking back through all of the ideas pushed aside during my MA. There was some really good stuff in there which was left half-explored and it’s time to blow the dust off. My starting point is the pure pleasure of a brand new sketchbook, and the topic I had originally in my first week at Camberwell – that of liminality and the liminal space. Now with my new practice-based research skills, I might have better luck at detangling the topic which I found just too big at the time. I dug through some of my old ‘inspirations’ notes and found this quote from Do Ho Suh; it suits both the topic and the life lesson rather nicely.
“I see life as a passageway, with no fixed beginning or destination. We tend to focus on the destination all the time and forget about the in-between spaces.” – Do Ho Suh
There is a long road ahead of each of us in life. Meandering though a land we cannot see until we pass through it. Like many, I find uncertainty difficult. My mind tries to help me by always fixating on finding a destination, finding the right path through the divergent choices we face, so each step points forward. When you are sure where you are going, the gentle meander of day to day life seems easy to deal with.
But the universe is too cunning to outwit it with such strategies. We can never see far enough through the rain to know where we are going. No sense of dimensional space applies to fate: what is forwards can also be backwards, and what can seem like downwards can often be forwards. Coping with this Escher-esque world requires us to continually change our frames of reference. Adapting ourselves to progress, meeting each circumstance as it is thrown at us. Lest we find ourselves crouched at the side of the road, too paralysed with fear to move on.
And so, I have found myself at a fork in the road. A fork with many paths leading off in different directions, with no signs to post the way. What do you choose when you no longer no where you want to be? Being forced to pause momentarily allows you the chance to reflect. Not just the school-book reflective essays which you write knowing your tutor is marking what you say. No, this is real, personal reflection where you don’t care anymore if anyone or no-one ever reads what you say.
It has been 7 months since the end of the structured learning of my MA has ended. Looking back from here I see how much I have needed the validation of others to give me a the confidence to move on. Once that is taken away, so quickly life is plagued by uncertainty and the shadow of creeping doubt – of your talents, your desires and your ‘plan’, which rapidly fades into dust once it sees the light of day. Where now? The old festival of Imbolc has just passed, the moment we start to see the light of spring slowly returning to warm the winter dark. This is the perfect time for reflection and re-dedication. Should I release myself from the pressure of achievement? Not doing anything for any reason other than the rawness of desire? In the business world, not having a corporate vision & strategy is the easiest way to fail. But life is not a business, and living without passion and joy is surely not living at all. Then again, we still have to pay the mortgage, and no decision (however hard you try) can ever be made in a vacuum.
Context is everything.
I have ran out of maps.
More are coming in the post, but for the moment, making has stalled while I watch for the postman to come by with a big parcel for me. This has given me the day to think about other things – and question just how many maps I actually want to go to (so far I have 25 done). The ‘other things’ however, are also starting to get quite important, with only three weeks left for any work needed before the show build / assessment begins.
I have decided I do want to put a book of poetry alongside the installation. This isn’t going to be full on long, wordy poems, but rather a single line – a glimpse – of the memory being invoked for each of the map strings I have made. This will offer an insight into the nature of the memories being described for those who wish to know more about the work.
Of course I will have to make the book myself, it will not do to just buy something off the shelf for a exhibition of this nature. I have made some small books before, so I know the basics of bookbinding and some of the formats available. This afternoon I looked back at some of the samples I have made before, as well as some new ideas in long overlooked books off my bookshelf. And ho! I have made an uncharacteristically swift decision! I am pleased that the impending doom of the final show is at least pushing me to make required decisions so swiftly.
Some photos of the finished book model (using bright paper colours for testing the construction but skipping the outside cover). I think I will go for A5 size – twice as big as the model in the photos below. Three reasons for choosing this structure:
- It has such a lovely feel to it both stood up and laid down, simple yet with an air of elegant complexity. The book is after all not the main feature of my installation
- It allows for hidden pages, things which cannot be quite seen. I know exactly what is going on here, but I’m not going to spoil the surprise!
- It offers what seems to be at first glance a continuous stream of text from page to page (on the red paper in the model). Since identity is a fluid stream of discrete moments, I like this symbology.
I remember very clearly the Symposium held this time last year, watching the then second years floundering under the pressure of presenting and responding to difficult questions. How quickly the world turns and it was our turn!
I went in the first group, a mix of people doing more functional, art based work with personal and poetic based content. It was a good grouping and I think all of the presentations in the group went well. I was pleased with how mine went, I did what I set out to do, although it is hard to tell how it went down with the tutors. I didn’t get any direct questions either – there was only one question about communicating emotions to the audience asked to all four of us. Perhaps no-one had anything to say to me, or couldn’t engage with my topic? Not sure.
The rest of the day was very intense but ok, most of the presentations weren’t too bad – most people had been a little more interesting than just a straightforward chronological catalogue of what they had done. As with last year, those who clearly do not understand their project nor their context stand out a mile. Also painfully standing out were those who are doing the course ‘just because’ and have no intention of building on it later. Perhaps people should just be more honest: saying that their MA project is just a one-off to build skills and they are going straight into an ordinary job afterwords. It would be much easier than experiencing a mauling under questioning. Overall, my main takeaway was about use of language, and how easy it is for someone to make sweeping statements and assumptions about people using their choice of words. You must be aware of how people will interpret the messages you put across. Also, there is no such thing as “Eastern” or “Western”!
First assessment box ticked!
Show: T-6 weeks
27 days until show build
The work in progress show closed yesterday, leaving the next show on the calendar as our graduating summer show…Arg!
We had a couple of opportunities for feedback before taking down our work, firstly from a group crit during the morning, and then from visitors at the show closing party after hours. Slightly mixed feelings about my feedback. I heard at least three sets of visitors comment on my work saying it was “amazing” and “wow! look, they are maps!”, but the response from the tutor was at best tepid. We had quite a lively discussion in the class when I introduced my pieces, and I was pleased to see the group arguing amongst themselves about the meaning of my work – just the sort of debate you would hope to achieve.
The crux of their question was to the level of my specific personal experience which is on display in the work. Some thought they related better to the work because it was more universally human (mountains, sea etc), while others felt I myself was less present – an outside observer of the places being constructed. Suggestions such as making my own maps, using photographs or recording paths etc to personalise the materials. [Some of which I have already tried, some of which I have mixed feelings about].
My concern, is that Maiko seems to think my experiments have not broken away enough and I got the distinct impression from what she said that she didn’t seem to be keen on me doing more weaving. I’m hoping to clarify this before the end of term as I’m not very clear as to what her expectations are – how can I just drop my plan so close to the end? to do what else instead?
Being positive, I do see a couple of key points in her comments: certainly on the inclusion of personal experience into the work, and perhaps also on the safety/comfort of the technique. My worry is that I don’t have enough skill to go anywhere else with the method, or not enough creative vision to figure out what possibilities I’m missing. With only 15 weeks to go, how much have time do I really have to keep experimenting?
I’ve been putting together some bits and pieces for the Unit 1 assessment which is now only a week away. This has been a great opportunity to reflect on the last year (and a bit) as a whole and see what I have learnt in that time. Reading back though my blog from when I started last September was quite something. At least the quality of my blog writing has definitely improved!
I wanted to capture some of my key learning points, things I think I understand now which I didn’t before:
- You have to OWN IT
- You must follow your own path – you can be inspired and collaborate with everyone, but you must walk alone. It doesn’t matter what your colleagues do or don’t do, you direct your own learning.
- I see people I admire and am fascinated to listen to and others who I don’t get inspired by at all. This is fine – we do not have to click with everyone and everything.
On the art process
- Intent: something made when you know why, what and how, can be so much more powerful than making on the go. Improvisation can still be intentional, but winging it will always show.
- You cannot separate your process from the object being made
- An object must be understood as more than a thing in itself, it must be placed within its whole system – its surroundings, history and context all change the way the viewer will interact with the object
- The making process is at the heart of turning concept into reality; process and material go hand in hand
- You can declare something ‘ordinary’ (such as a humble sheet of paper), but in the act of drawing attention to this aspect of its nature, you change that nature, generating an extra-ordinaryness about the object
- Fundamentally, I think I look at the world differently – or perhaps I just see things I would have otherwise missed before.
- However important I think the concept of an art piece is, I also value craftsmanship and quality; I think both need to work together.
- Just because something is there, it doesn’t mean you have to use it; just because something isn’t in front of you, doesn’t mean you can’t find it
- What is everyday to you may be brand new to someone else
- Even the rain means different things to different people
- I finally understand the agency that the material itself has in generating meaning
- Designers do not create meanings – they create form; it is users who create meanings