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Guest ford hallam

"Time is on my side", Mick Jagger

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Guest ford hallam

Greetings all,

 

I thought i`d share some musings of mine and see what kind of feed-back was offered.

 

This afternoon a client of mine popped in to collect a job and over a cuppa the conversation turned, as it invariably does. to the question of " how did they do that?" Specifically, how the craftsmen of Edo period Japan achieved such breathtaking levels of technical excellence.

 

The immediate and ( I`d suggest superficial ) answer is that they had more time.

I think it`s more to do with our relationship to time.

 

On Monday evening i was watching Bob Geldorf in Africa on telly. He was in some romote village in the Congo. The village in question had been denied any contact or assistance from central goverment with the admirable consequence being that the village had become entirely self-sufficient. Bob reported that the pace of existence was as a consequence, dictated solely by what was deemed necessary to sustain life. While listening to the commentry I found the phrase " living by your own heartbeat" forming in my mind.

 

Now you might quite rightly be wondering how i ended up lost in the Congo when I`d started out in old Japan. Well, it`s all about finding and sticking to our own rhythm. ( phew! struggled to spell that right.) :)

 

I find that the single hardest thing with regard to my work is resisting the temptation to rush. For whatever reason, delivery deadlines, financial considerations ( ie; no cash in the bank ) or lack of interest in a particular aspect or process. The latter can, in my opinion, significantly detract from the quality of the finished piece. I think it shows. :(

 

It`s all too easy of course to create a romantic image of a past that never was but i do believe our modern lives have a multitude of subtle (and not so subtle ) timing cues. Everything, from the calender to the whirring of an electric drill is a reminder to get a move on. Is it any suprise then that so many of the magnificent pieces from past masters which we KNOW took immence patience, discipline and care, are still a mystery to us. We`re not using time in the same way. Rather time is a constant factor, ever at our shoulder, nagging. Perhaps we must banish time from our workspace, create a sacred space outside of time. Oops, sorry, got a bit weird there.

 

I was hesitant about trying to articulate this idea and although I`m not absolutely sure I`ve managed to accurately convey my train of thought, it might provoke more insight or indeed critique.

 

So come on, jump in

 

Ford

 

:)

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Ford,

I think you have brought up a very interesting subject and one I have thought about often. I have been very lucky to be able to spend a great deal of time handling and examining some of the finest examples of Japanese metalwork that exists. Most of the pieces I have the honor if seeing wound up in top Japanese museums and private collections. When the pieces are examined under high magnification they look as good if not better than they do with the naked eye. I doubt anyone today is capable of creating work of that quality. Not because it cannot be accomplished by today’s craftspeople but because people are not willing to put in the thousands and thousands of hours needed to learn and produce such high quality objects. We tend to forget that people of that age worked at a craft as apprentices from the time they were capable of holding a tool at just past infancy. They worked their way up the ladder to become masters of their craft. They worked every day of their lives. Distractions were not acceptable because of one hard reality if they didn’t work their family’s would starve. It was a truly different world. If my answer sounds somewhat pat it is because I have said the same thing many times to my High School art students when they asked why people of past ages were so good at what they did.

Dick

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Guest ford hallam

[Thanks for responding Dick,

 

Not sure if you read my introduction but I`m also very familiar with the finest Japanese metalwork. In addition to which i`ve had to master ( at least to the degree where my restoration is invisible ) the many and varied techniques of this tradition. I`m afraid I must disagree with you about work of this nature or quality ever being made again. It already is. This may sound arrogant on my part but I`ll take that risk. Your point about people having to work hard or starve IS simplistic, in relation to technical excellence. If it were true then Africa would be flooding the market with excellent Kaigyokusai copies I`m sure. :)

 

Harsh economic necessity does not always engender excellence, I`d suggest rather the opposite. It`s a fact that most of the craftsmen who produced the amazing objects we now admire were not living hand to mouth, by any stretch of the imagination. Rather, they were supported by wealthy and discerning Daimyo ( provincial lords ) in part, as an expression of their own wealth and importance. Talented craftsmen were to a certain extent free with regard to who they chose to work for ( an unusual anomally in an otherwise strictly governed land ) and consequently were generally well paid.

No renaging Popes here. :(

The rise of the merchant class also fuelled the demand for the highest quality products, particularly as wealth moved from the heavily taxed provinces to the city. The factors in any society that promote the kinds of development in the crafts such as those we`re taking about are probably also worth considering.

 

Your comment that distractions would not be acceptable is no doubt accurate as is your observation that in the past training began really early in life, 12 years of age is the usual quoted. However, I feel you`ve missed my central point,(perhaps my fault for not being more clear ) that being our relation to time, today; contrasted with the working attitude of my imagined Edo period craftsman.

 

To return to the possibility of recreating those glory days of metalwork, personally I think that the final ( after acquiring the technology ) and most crucial ingredient required to produce comparable works would be an ability to utterly lose oneself in the work until it was done. Obviously stopping for food, sleep etc would be permissable, initially :)

 

Incedentally, my training as an apprentice goldsmith took 5 years, give or take 10 000 hours. I qualified with destinctions in 1986 as a master goldsmith. My subsequent instruction in the Japanese tradition started in ernest, one to one, in my teachers studio in Japan, in 1990. I`ve put in the hours. B)

 

Apologies, if I seem a bit intense but I think the wonderful legacy that my predecessors in this tradition have left us deserve more than a pat response.

 

sincerely,

 

Ford

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Hi Ford,

 

Hmmmm, are you saying that artists, patrons, or both are not what they used to be?

 

Interesting that we all have a greater longevity now but more pressure to rush....

 

I think the ability to lose oneself until the project is done is dependant on either living in a time of great stability or being crazy enough to totally ignore the chaos around you....

 

I had a professor in college who recommended the first thing we do as "artists" was take off the wrist watch....

 

Having peers who are similar minded surely must help no matter what your aim :)

 

Christine

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Ford, thank you for beginning this topic. There are many aspects in the above messages worthy of further discussion.

 

My comments are not going to be a cohesive composition (it is rather late for me), and is related to my own experiences rather than from the historical perspective you both have experience with.

 

As a consequence of being a parent, a spouse, a spouse of a potter, and one who wears many hats in this self-employed life, time issues press on all parts of my life. Carving is the calm within the chaos. When I work, it is a meditation. I come up for air occasionally to rejoin the world outside the door of my studio and to move the legs. There is a timelessness about the working hours.

 

I care about how carefully the work is done, tool placement, straight lines straight, a curve is smooth when intended to be so. I work with magnification, and try to work the wood or chosen material in such a way that when I see a piece again I won't want to take a tool and make further adjustments. I like to see what the tools have done, the myriad decisions which bring a piece to completion. (I personally enjoy looking at many things with magnification, insects, plants, frog eyes, even other people's carvings.) When the tool's work is invisible, no last scrape to make or missed scratch during sanding the piece is ready to move on to the next step. There is no way to speed up the completion of the piece, it is done when there is no more to do.

 

 

One aspect of life then that may differ in this time and in this Western culture, is the relationship of the roles of men and women. Were the masters of the centuries past required to share child care, kitchen duty, housekeeping? Were they enabled to work their hours in peace, without intrusion? Were the masters all men? This train of thought is one of curiosity, but there may be a relationship between then and now where women are masters, men are participating in family life, roles are jumbled up, and time for accomplishment becomes challenged.

 

 

Thank you again for beginning this topic. I'll tune in tomorrow with a clearer head.

 

Janel

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I see that Christine posted something while I was composing. My work hours are preceeded and measured by pushing a button on a count-up timer. Other than that intrusion, the work flows until someone else enters my sphere. The accumulated time helps me determine a price when all is done.

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Hi all!

 

Very interesting subject, Ford!

 

I think, all much simply! What purpose that you pursue??

 

If this is a money earning, then you will try to spend less effort and

time for your work. Hmmm... Then no reasons to wonder for result! You

will learn as quickly to create and sell your works. Your work will

become the very technological - nothing redundant! But the time and

spare thoughts will be your restriction in making the accomplished

work.

 

If your purpose this expression of your ideas(feelings, moods) through

create the form, then time does not matter. The amount of spended

effort does not matter. You just carve and nothing more. The result is

limited only by your skill on this moment. And each a next piece

necessarily will be better of previous. But if you think about the

money or(and) time when carve, this is unwanted(redundant). This is

other purpose, not for artists, for financiers!

 

WHY YOU THINK THAT IF YOU WILL NOT THINK ABOUT MONEY IN WORKING, THAT

THEY WILL NOT COME TO YOU????????!! This delusion!

 

The money earning it's good! Creating art subjects it's good! But this

is the different purposes and ways!

 

What your way? Place your purpose in focus of your attention and you

get the corresponding result!

 

Just my thoughts... :)

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Guest ford hallam

Thanks all, for the responses.

 

Chistine, I think patrons are pretty much as the`ve always been. people still commision work for many of the same reasons that`ve always done. Expectations about the product may have altered somewhat and artists today are perhaps a little more intent on self expression.

 

It does seem odd that in our "advanced" society we seem to be increasingly less free. I should mention that from what I`ve noticed longevity is mostly a factor of affluence and as such the upper eschelons of Japanese art world ate well and there are a great deal of artists i could mention who did live to ripe old ages. Incidentally, they suffered from less heart disease and cancer for a start. Damn hamburgers......

 

You`re absolutely right about the need for peer support, In fact since I`ve been visiting the forum I`ve felt quite motivated to get stuck into something meaty, then I`ll have to walk my talk... :)

 

Janel, thanks for the description of how you approach your work, I can imagine you entering your "space" to create. Your devotion to the process and the piece IS evident. Not sure i feel comfortable with the idea of factoring time into the cost though. I know we`ve all got to eat but surely you`d be better served by charging loads for work that you know has worked and letting those that "also ran" go for less. Perhaps a natural outcome would be a more refined appreciation of the important stuff. I suspect that in that respect you undervalued ( in monetary terms only ) that little cicida you recently shared with us. I felt it was quite special and as such should have had a little value added. B)

My use of the male pronoun was more a matter of habit rather than a suggestion that all masters were men. There are a number of female artists recorded, no swordsmiths, that was governed by strict Shinto purity laws. ( I exclude women from my workshop for the same reason, ;):P ) but I think in general your point holds, society required that young girls were raised to help mantain the household. O` the good old days. Where did we go wrong :):(B)

 

Sergev,

 

Great point, if your motivation is money then you are absolutely correct, the work will have no soul. As you say, money is the consideration of financiers. We must be very careful not to become merely merchants. I would suggest that merchants and their constant interference with market prices are not particularly helpful in mantaining excellence. I`m thinking about how no matter the actual quality of a piece, if a merchant owns it , it will be sold as though it was very special. This only serves to distort peoples perception of the true value of these works.

I thought your octopus was obviously made with all the time in the world.

 

thanks again to you all for responding, I`ve got a few more thoughts as to the circumstances that gave rise to those wonderful pieces from the past but they`ll have to wait until after breckkie and much work that must be completed today. Deadlines! :(

 

regards, Ford

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Guest DFogg

There are many reasons to do the work and time is at the core of all of them.

 

The pace and focus of modern life is at odds with humanity. I see much of the struggle on the planet today as a reaction to the pace of life and subsequent changing values. I think we are all struggling to find our humanity in this dynamic atmosphere.

 

My work for me is in large part therapy. It is a way of slowing down the pace on a personal level. Janel has another thread going on ears and it is related in that we are affected by the vibrations and energies that surround us. I must shut out the modern world for my own sanity and make a sanctuary in my backyard, a cone of silence where I can have the luxury of reflecton and the time to see.

 

The work is a way of engaging with reality. Tools and materials are an interface with the world beyond our minds, it provides a feedback system and a perfectly reflects our understanding and growth. When I look at work from another era that truly reflects mastery, I am inspired to find that same truth. It is there in the work, and it was wrung from the human experience by patience, discipline and a willingness to surrender to it.

 

"Although we may be satisfied with our lives both financially and materially, seeking only after material satisfaction could take away our very reason for existing. The question is this: self-affirmation or self-denial ("Do I stay true to myself or not?")? The voice forced this question." Shiho Kanzaki

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Ford,

Sorry about the pat answer. I have dealt with kids who feel if they have spent a 42 minute class period on a project that project has devoured their entire life. I have had to keep explanations simple. My point was that learning and craftsmanship take time and effort.

I also seem to have insulted you in several ways with my comments. Again I apologize.

I have seen the old work and haven’t seen anything new that compares in quality. My lack of knowledge regarding new work being produced is quite clear. I did read your introduction and only mentioned the antique pieces I have seen as a frame of reference. The individual who has shown me those pieces is one of the top dealers in Asian art in the U.S. He sends the best pieces to England to be restored which have included some of the metalwork now in the Khalili collection. You guys do good work. I totally agree with your comment:

“To return to the possibility of recreating those glory days of metalwork, personally I think that the final ( after acquiring the technology ) and most crucial ingredient required to produce comparable works would be an ability to utterly lose oneself in the work until it was done. Obviously stopping for food, sleep etc would be permissible, initiallyâ€

That is the only way to produce fine craftsmanship.

You have every right it be intense regarding a subject which is your passon. Again sorry for the pat answer.

Dick

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Guest ford hallam

Dick,

 

Thanks, very much for your gentlemanly and gracious response. I feel a little curmudgeonly after my earlier outburst. :huh: apologies.

 

Yes i know David Khalilli, having, as you`ve guessed, been of some assistance to him in the past.

 

After my initial thoughts on this subject it occured to me that one overlooked aspect of training in the traditional arts of Japan was the presence of "kata".

For any one familiar with Japanese martial arts the word relates to the choreographed training drills, either performed singly or as paired practice.

The word means form or shape, more specifically the correct form. These kata contain within them all the characteristics of their particular school. Things like grip on your weapon, physical posture and attitude, breathing, timing and mental focus are all inculcated in the trainee in this manner. No variation or deviation is permitted at the student level. Other, less violent arts such as calligraphy, flower arranging and the tea ceremony each have their own highly formalised kata. Indeed, practically all interactions in Japanese society are governed by relavent kata, the present generation may be less affected by kata but never-the-less you can`t escape it`s presence in Japan.

 

From what I`ve seen and understand, the kata aspect of training in the crafts was and still is very evident, albeit no where near as formal as in the arts I mentioned earlier.

 

It should also be noted that the approved journey in any of "the ways" consists of 3 destinct phases. Namely, shu, ha and ri. The first level entails the complete absorbtion of all the master has to offer. After this has been accomplished the newly qualified craftsman must begin to make these techniques and approaches to his work his own. Finally and not in every case, the now much older and hopefully mature artist can transend the limitations of his formal education.

 

As you so rightly pointed out, people are simply not willing to put in the hours, Kids today! <_<

 

hope this adds some more grist to the mill,

 

regards, Ford

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There's another aspect to time that I thought I'd bring up. Namely, as we become more proficient with our tools and respective crafts, the time taken for a given task often shortens. Ford speaks of kata- I interpret this concept sometimes as body-memory (as opposed to what's in one's brain). Repeat a task often enough, and the hands will to a great extent take over instinctively. This results in a great economizing of movement and time if we want to look at it that way. Of course there's a great deal of patience and failure required by the student to reach this, but it's well worth the hard work.

 

Also,

I've given my views of power tools in other threads, but in many instances, hand tools are just as fast, if not faster than power tools (once we consider changing bits, saw blades, cleaning and upkeep, time spent to earn money to afford power tools, etc). I have the luxury of approaching my carving as a hobby, and I am still at the point where I need to spend MORE time at a given work than LESS. I'm in no rush and know with time, improvement and higher achievement will come.

 

In all areas of life requiring tasks and labor I sense people's willingness to spend time lessening. I wonder what they're saving all of this time for? It's not as if we can cash it in at the bank...I could go on, but my hair will start showing it's Puritan roots <_<

 

Great topic.

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Comparing our time with that of 18th century Japan is like comparing two different planets. All the cultural influences for that work to be done were in place. Don't forget the incredibly entrenched apprentice system which gave the master artist nearly unlimited access to highly skilled, cheap labor: an impossibility today. Also there were many more rich, cultured people interested in that type of work. Most wealthy people today are interested in technology or cookie-cutter luxuries from expensive chain stores.

Perhaps the artists of the past did get started at an early age, which might just as easily contributed to early burn-out. Many of us have decades of concentrated study under our belts. I do believe what a human being has done before, can be repeated, but is there a need?

 

To me, the skill-level should always serve the artistry. Many of the fantastic Meiji pieces to me are overdone and lacking in artistry. They will always be amazing pieces of ultimate workmanship, but artistically, they were designed to impress at various Worlds' Fairs and after an initial impression leave me feeling empty. Of course there are exceptions to this from that era and perhaps I'll post a few examples on another thread to show what I'm talking about.

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Guest Clive

I'd rather say something badly than say nothing well.

 

Unfortunately its only after work that I know if I had anything to say... I do about 15% of the time... the rest is just garbage and either gets crunched in the vice or when its a particularly spectacular turd ...the full viking burning boat burial. <_<

 

I therefore am in a rush all the time... no amount of fine craftsmenship or time ever improves crap... you might as well get through it ASAP.

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Gee, the passion here. Me, I sometimes rush and sometimes take forever. In these days you not only have to be good, it also helps to have connections. I have never worked with a master carver, but have worked with a lot of hacks, myself included. When I was young I made a choice, Marry, raise a family etc. or become an artist. My wife is still happy with my decision (oh yeah, and me too) and in my rare time off I worked at my Craft? And I may still be an artist before I die. As the man said, crap is forever. I guess time is a relative thing. If you take three days to carve a pendant you have to get three days pay or better or you will be a hungry boy/girl/person. And that`s not minimum wage. Without a liberal patron who will pay your way, it would be difficult to carve solely for the soul. except as a hobby , or am I full of dung?

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Gee, the passion here.  Me, I sometimes rush and sometimes take forever.  In these days you not only have to be good, it also helps to have connections.  I have never worked with a master carver, but have worked with a lot of hacks, myself included.  When I was young I made a choice, Marry, raise a family etc. or become an artist.  My wife is still happy with my decision (oh yeah, and me too)  and in my rare time off I worked at my Craft?  And I may still be an artist before I die.  As the man said,  crap is forever.  I guess time is a relative thing.  If you take three days to carve a pendant you have to get three days pay or better or you will be a hungry boy/girl/person.  And that`s not minimum wage.  Without a liberal patron who will pay your way, it would be difficult to carve solely for the soul. except as a hobby , or am I full of dung?

 

Yeah, we're a passionate bunch and I suspect most of us have long hours to develop strongly held views with not much opportunity to test them out. (myself included)

 

I agree, biwolf, the artist/earner issue is always a matter of balance. Each of us has to find it for themselves given their unique situation and proclivities.

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Guest ford hallam
No restraint?  I'm so disappointed in you Ford...I never thought you would have subscribed to such archaic ideologies.  :huh:

 

Kathleen

Well, what can I say, Kathleen, I`m an old fashioned kind of guy. If I can`t beat it ( with a hammer ) then I don`t have much use for it. <_<

 

Ford

 

now, where`s my sake serving wench?

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Guest ford hallam

. Each of us has to find it for themselves given their unique situation and proclivities.

 

Woah!, Jim

 

don`t you go and shock these good folks ( puritans, the lot :D:D:D ) with talk of your unique proclivities :huh: You country boys......

 

Ford, "defender of the pure"

 

<_<

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we all have unique situations and some of us even uniquer (if there is such a word) proclivities. Isnt that how to catch a rabbit, yuneekuponit <_<

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Guest ford hallam
we all have unique situations and some of us even uniquer (if there is such a word) proclivities. Isnt that how to catch a rabbit, yuneekuponit <_<

 

Hey Biwolf,

 

By definition you can`t be more unique than unique ( superior pedantic smiley ), ( not taking self too seriously smiley) see how useful these would be.

and you be gentle with those furry little critters, when you`ve done neeking-uponem. Very good, I like Hmmm, do I hear the sound of a banjo :D

 

cheers, Ford :huh:

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Guest ford hallam
There's another aspect to time that I thought I'd bring up.  Namely, as we become more proficient with our tools and respective crafts, the time taken for a given task often shortens.  Ford speaks of kata- I interpret this concept sometimes as body-memory (as opposed to what's in one's brain).  Repeat a task often enough, and the hands will to a great extent take over instinctively.  This results in a great economizing of movement and time if we want to look at it that way.  Of course there's a great deal of patience and failure required by the student to reach this, but it's well worth the hard work.

 

Also,

I've given my views of power tools in other threads, but in many instances, hand tools are just as fast, if not faster than power tools (once we consider changing bits, saw blades, cleaning and upkeep, time spent to earn money to afford power tools, etc).  I have the luxury of approaching my carving as a hobby, and I am still at the point where I need to spend MORE time at a given work than LESS.  I'm in no rush and know with time, improvement and higher achievement will come.

 

In all areas of life requiring tasks and labor I sense people's willingness to spend time lessening.  I wonder what they're saving all of this time for?  It's not as if we can cash it in at the bank...I could go on, but my hair will start showing it's Puritan roots  :( 

 

Great topic.

Thanks Doug,

 

In my opinion, achieving that "body memory" is exactly what the traditional training processes sought. It`s a matter of making the technique utterly ones own, even transending the technique. Not having to labour at the actual mechanical process allows a more sensitive interaction with your medium and for more subtle aesthetic decisions to be made. One of my teachers in goldsmithing, years ago refered to it as having "intelligent hands."

 

I am of the opinion that in general, power tools, particularly in the end stages of rendering a piece are too fast for us to fully control. If at this point anything limits your potential expression I reckon the work will be impoverished :(

 

Plus, :rolleyes: they`re far too noisy.

 

I must also have a puritan streak, although i can almost hear the cries of "rubbish"! from certain quarters.

 

Regards, Ford

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Guest ford hallam

Greetings Jim,

 

You`re quite right of course, about the vast differences between then, there and here,now. My interest was to explore exactly what we might suppose were those differences. I refered, as did you to the social and economic situation and there is naturally the penchant the Japanese have for very refined and intimate objet`d art. Along with the oft quoted Japanese aesthetic preferences.

 

I must also agree with you about those virtuoso technical displays you mention, however I would also argue that the high level of sophistication that technique reached does not preclude the possibility of it expressing very a nuanced response. It might even ultimately be a requirement. Great technique is after all usually invisible. Which is why i can`t post images of my work :(:(:lol::lol: "Emperors new clothes" I hear you cry.

 

hugs and kisses,

 

Ford :rolleyes:

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