Monday, November 29, 2010

Hold the Dolby, Pass the Life, Please

I remember when I got my first cassette player with "Dolby® Noise Reduction". It was pretty cool. Gone was the hiss of the tape. Gone were the crackles and pops from the LPs I'd recorded into homemade cassettes.

But the polish came off that apple pretty quickly. Gone along with those vanished hisses, pops and crackles were the sounds of fingers on guitar strings, and breathing woodwind players, and sounds of picks on fretboard ends.

Dolby sucked the life right out of my favorite recordings. Perfect was, in this case, not perfect. Those extraneous noises were very much a part of the vitality of the recordings. The noise reduction that Dolby offered me came at a too high price -- lifeless listening.

Perfection, as a craftsman's goal is admirable. There's a strange balancing act. Always a balancing act -- achieving an end result that, in its perfection both appears to transcend the means of its production -- while at the same time leaving the hint of the humanity behind in the creation.

Craft has historically thrived when technology is perceived as a threat to our human expression. Man vs. Machine. The Steam Drill vs. John Henry romanticism. In this digital age when even much of our "art" is computer generated, there are still those of us who aren't ready to give up the hands-on exploration of human trial and accomplishment.

So, should thrown pottery be perfect?

Yes. In the sense of a craftsman's results coming close to meeting his intentions, yes. Perfection is a worthy goal. Control the medium. No excuses.

But just maybe that craft should also be a celebration of the idiosyncratic material -- clay -- a cussed substance that doesn't always stay where you put it, warps, shrinks, and cracks when handled poorly.

And just maybe the marks of the potter's hands as a reminder that process matters -- matters to lots of us humans -- should not be erased from surfaces, rather, be enjoyed as the part of a better whole.

It's not about celebrating imperfection or rationalizing lazy practice. It's not trying to accept a "it's good enough for..." mentality. The striving should always be there. The striving should always be evident.

I want my recordings to hiss and pop if it means I also still hear the squeak of fingers on strings letting me know that there was a living, breathing human behind the recording -- a human who was participating in the activity of filling the world with exciting, beautiful, thoughtful work.

And I want my pottery to have finger marks, double stamps, bent walls, irregular trailed lines -- not for their own sake -- not as added affectation to elicit calculated response -- but as evidence of process. I want those things that remind me that there was a striving human with lofty goals willing to risk time, talent, and not a small amount of hope that he/she'd be putting something of value into our shared world.

1 comment:

  1. I guess this post does take on a bit of a different nuance when placed in the context of the blog-to-blog etsy conversation, doesn't it?

    I suppose I was being more poetic and less literal in my comparison to, and use of the word, "perfect". More like Jim said -- if by perfect, one means "looking like it was machine-made", then give me imperfect.

    But I guess that's why I drew the line I did when I said...

    "So, should thrown pottery be perfect?

    Yes. In the sense of a craftsman's results coming close to meeting his intentions, yes. Perfection is a worthy goal. Control the medium. No excuses."

    My poetic use of "imperfection" really was in comparison to the standard of perfection that we associate with machine-made as opposed to handmade.

    And I'm saying that if we as potters offer anything that is a true and winsome alternative to our technologically obsessed world, it may be that reminder of our hands in our work. Not that we be purposely imperfect as some affectation for nostalgia, but rather (maybe) that we not consider the incidental marks of our hands as "imperfect".

    As to how this connects to the Etsy discussion:

    Someday it would be nice to find some half-way meeting point and have some sort of panel discussion with the participants in that etsy discussion. There's just SO much more that could be said about it.

    It's a hard thing for us to grasp when several things that seem to contradict each other can all be true at the same time. Paradoxes. But that's how Etsy is right now. Full of paradoxes. That's why it's so hard to talk about Etsy success definitively. But simultaneously it's true that on Etsy:

    1. Lack of quality gets rewarded if the work still has some popular appeal that trumps its lack of quality.

    2. Good quality gets rewarded -- even if the work is expensive by relative Etsy standards.

    3. Good quality work doesn't get rewarded because etsy is no different from every other market wherein higher quality often narrows the pool of buyers who are educated enough to appreciate why it is good quality (this one is the one that's probably been most argued throughout art history)

    4. Bad quality work does not get rewarded, as sometime it actually is obvious.

    5. Niche work does not get rewarded.

    6. Niche work does get rewarded.

    I think we could easily find examples of each of those six possibilities (and maybe even find a few more things to puzzle over).

    What I tried to say in Ron's blog was that I love what I do -- I make what I like -- I try to make it as perfectly as I can -- I strive for quality ...

    ... but I believe that to some extent my work sells well on Etsy because I did not come through the academic clay world -- neither did I haunt the clay workshop world. Don't misunderstand me -- that lack of training has cost me dearly too....

    ...But the accidental payback in my lack of training is that I'm not asking myself (in my work) if some former professor of aesthetics would approve of what I'm making. If anything, I lean toward the practical: Would what I WANT TO make have an appeal broader than my own interest?

    I'm also not philosophically tied to making "statements" with my work. I'm philosophically tied to making timelessly beautiful work. If I succeed from time to time, all the better.

    I think I started rambling again, didn't I?