I originally wrote this a number of years back and it was posted on a friends website. Last year the website closed down so I thought it about time that I posted this up on my blog to give a glimpse into how I see collecting. I have had a fair amount of feedback over the years to this short essay and hope it is at the very least an interesting read.ON COLLECTING
Why collect, why indeed! Is the presence of beauty and a “well made” object not enough of a reason? The honest truth in my mind, is the fact that I do not collect anything. This is not a mere exercise in semantics or some escapist clause looking to avoid the label of “materialist”. Rather I believe that my lifestyle is a dramatic and obligating choice to live with and around handmade or created objects. This choice involves me in the daily interaction from this “things”, feeding off their inspiration, the care and curatorial duties that maintain them and the ongoing study of the history, context and creation of the “well made”.
From the time I was 16 and handled my first Michael Price California Dirk and began to decipher the mysteries of the Japanese Sword, I made a choice to have a personal space, an environment, that I could have a degree of control over. A personal space began to define itself as one, which allowed me an uninterrupted moment of calm, as well as being able to give me inspiration and clarity. This choice created a space that fostered a dialogue that I continue to strive for today. To this end most people label me a collector, this looses site of a path my wife and I have embarked. A way of living, into which we can retreat, a sanctuary of handmade objects from which we can replenish and nourish our spirit.
For over 20 years I have made a conscious choice to own little, but to live with objects we find to have a sense of import or consequence. Our house is the only controllable environment that we have, and we strive to create a sanctuary from many of the worlds harsher realities as well as the stress and pressures of daily living. Within our home and it’s few pieces of handmade furniture, prints, painting, pottery and metalwork, we are managing a space that allows us brief moments of tranquility and clarity. The passion for living this way, in and around objects we see as beauty, has become our reward and personal connection to the works and talents of many inspired artisans, both living and dead, with whom we may have an ongoing and rich dialogue.
“The question, is not what you look at, but what do you see?”, this quote by Henry David Thoreau crystallizes my belief in the constant dialogue between object and viewer. “Good work” is first and foremost about this dialogue. The primary dialogue takes place between the maker and his artwork; the secondary dialogue is between the object and the viewer. In an object that qualifies as “well made” the dialogue moves through the maker, into the object, and to the viewer in a manner that can not be explained, only felt. It is like standing in front of Monet’s Waterlilly paintings or other masterpieces, the message, though at many differing levels, is understood by all who come in contact with them. It is in my mind, probably this dynamic that defines the object and all other objects that are of a like nature.
It is this dialogue, a very personal and often solitary experience that has forced me to live the way that I do. In this dialogue, I am able to place an object within an aesthetic context, but also a personal one within my own environment along with my interests and experiences from music and film to food, drink and literature. By creating this dialogue, I can also help decide how I live, influencing moods, pursuits and my personal creativity in my pottery and paintings.
Choosing things to live with is a very personal and rarely objective experience. I am guilty of responding to objects that I perceive as “well made”, and consequently in time the level of dialogue I can have with them is diminished. These were the wrong choices, things that I become complacent with or bored of. Things to look for should be a constant source of information and emotion. Over time and exposure to new experience the greater the dialogue with a “well made” object becomes. At 20 and now at 40, my ability to maintain a meaningful and rewarding dialogue with arts and crafts has changed and matured. A knife, sword or other object owned at 20 can not maintain this level of dialogue a piece acquired at 40 would take. Today decisions are made slower, even though an object may speak to me immediately. With time my ability to see within the object, beyond its technical craftsmanship, into its nature to transcend mere formality and function, has developed and with new experiences will hopefully continue to do so. Today the works I am looking to live with reach beyond a high level of craftsmanship and artistry, looking to push beyond the conventional and add to the field rather than simply rely on those things, which have come before it.
Most objects that I respond to now are stripped of the superfluous, and stand firmly on the beauty of a distilled line. These objects, whether chair or sword, reach for that indefinable “something” well beyond the concept of function, existing form and the preconceived limitations of contemporary materials. Contemporary damascus and modern studio furniture are good examples of this new aesthetic.
The qualities of a “well made” object are subtle. Inherently they possess a mastery or near mastery of the material, process and art of the particular pursuit. The simpler a “well made” object is, the more complex its definition becomes. Artists and craftsman after this “well made” work, after gaining a level of technical virtuosity, strip away these binding issues and in the conscious and unconscious mind, struggle with the greater concepts of contributing to the art, context and the act of creation. When all works well, as dained by the gods, the luck of planetary alignment or some other act of serendipity, an object is born that bares it’s presence or spirit. I have encountered things, such as a Japanese teabowl of the 16th century, which had enough presence to fill a large gallery space. For this reason, museums carefully arrange their spaces to avoid overwhelming their guest and burning them out. When these pieces are created, I believe a certain amount of the creative spontaneity and tension is captured within the work suspending a moment of the creation.
Spirited and empowered works, somehow possess a spark that captivates those who come in contact with it. It is in this way that the viewer and viewed share a dialogue, a moment, that unfolds or unravels the nature and intent of the object. It is through a sensitivity of concept, form, material and process borne of humble and noble materials alike, which establishes the criterion by which an art/ craft is defined and driven. Likewise those sensitive enough to perceive these subtitles are able to enter into a lifelong dialogue with the works. Irrespective of whether or not they own the work in question. “Well made” objects somehow contain an ability to open themselves and share their inner beauty, meaning and complexities with those sensitive enough, and receptive enough to initiate, maintain, and continue a dialogue.
Through the internalizing process of creation and sharing the created, both craftsman/ artist and collector are plunged into a moment that shares not only the present object, but also its foundation in the past, it’s context and presence in the moment and it’s vital role in pushing the art into the future. A “well made” object maintains this interest and dialogue. The dialogue is continuous and continues to develop over time. These objects constantly reveal themselves, the longer they are lived with and around. In time you think you know all the nuances of a piece, yet you are constantly made aware that there are things you discover with each encounter. By bringing new experiences to the table, as you grow, your perception of the details change and your insights become more acute. Every day a new dialogue emerges, this work is never boring. A good piece, "well made”, will always meet your aesthetic and emotional needs.
So, why collect, this is the personal, individual responsibility that needs to be answered. There are many reasons and definitions for collecting or living with art and craft. In my nearly three decades of “collecting”, I have found that the dialogue, curatorial responsibilities and a need to research and define an object’s context, have driven me into the esoterica of metal, clay and ink. I believe that this pathway has lead me to a more insightful and complete relationship with my environment and hopefully in time will help me become not only a better craftsman, but a more thoughtful and responsible “collector”.