Jump to content

Technical ability and its influence on your work


Jon Shaw

Recommended Posts

Hi Folks,

 

Reflecting on the response to my crab claw, I thought it could be interesting to open a discussion on how you choose a subject to carve when confronted with the limitations of your own technical abilities, and indeed, do you feel this has any bearing on your own standing as an artist?

 

There are, of course, a few extremely gifted artists out there for whom this question would be irrelevant, insofar as they have the technical ability to produce whatever it is they want to achieve. On the other hand, I am only too aware myself that the crab claw was only the third piece I have carved after a 24 year gap, and that there are many subjects that I can visualize and wish to execute, but would shy away from, at present, for lack of confidence in perfecting their execution to my own high standards.

 

Every now and then I see a website of someone's work and amongst some truly impressive pieces, they may have, for example, carved a figure with a very weak face which lets it down and reveals their lack of technical ability in that area.

 

Be honest, do you play safe within your own limitations and refuse commissions, or are you happy to attempt it with a degree of confidence in your abilities on a subject you may never have aproached before?

 

Jon

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Be honest, do you play safe within your own limitations and refuse commissions, or are you happy to attempt it with a degree of confidence in your abilities on a subject you may never have aproached before?"-Jon

 

Jon

Best case scenario is to just create a piece and let the world beat a path to your door. Just put yourself out there.

 

As a P.S., I did add a new comment to the claw, that may have been appropriate to this section (The Way).

I do feel sometimes, that we get so caught up in our own self doubts and limitations that we can create a case of "artist's block". I feel that the ones who make it in a public setting, regardless of the degree of success achieved, are the ones that just let their hands do the talking. My personal philosophy is sort of blunt to anyone in regards to my art. In a nutshell, it is this: "If you don't like it or want it, there's plenty of people out there who will." And don't we have a tendancy to gravitate towards the light? I appreciate the purists like Ford and the technical guys like you. I draw inspiration from a wide range of styles and tastes. Somehow they amalgamate inside my brain, and when I create something that I feel worthy of showing, then out it goes, warts and all. Granted I have a job that pays my way through life, but my artistic career, as been self sustaining for 25 or 30 years. All my equipment in my knife shop, all my materials, all my painting supplies, frames and canvases, and any gallery space that I rented has been financed through sales of my knives and drawings and paintings. To me that's success, because I have a kid who needs a home, braces, college, etc., and I know that I can't provide that on the revenues generated by my art. Fortunately, I like my job. I hope that I haven't gotten too far off track, but in closing. I've hampered myself in refusing commisions, but I've also found out that it's hard to satisfy some nitpickers, too. So my suggestion is to continue to do what you do best and see what happens...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Jon,

Of the work I do 95% is on commission. I do refuse commissions when the subject matter is not something I like, if they are portraits or if they are horses. Horse people know their animals inside out and prove to be tough customers giving me little leeway for expression or deviation from the specific type of horse. Portraits are difficult and few people want to sit or pay the price for them. They also consume way to much time and energy for my tastes.

 

Most of the advances in my career have come when I bluffed and said sure I can do the work. As soon as the deposit was made the research and sweat started. The decision to take these jobs was based on the idea that fear will cripple me, that playing it safe will make my work stagnant and that the only way to learn is by doing. Risking failure even in the public eye is motivation to do well. Two things I have learned...there is no motivation like starvation and the only limitations we have are the ones we place on ourselves.

 

As I tell my kids...Life on the edge of the stream is great, watching as the water rushes by but the middle of the stream is where the real fun is. Sure its rough and tumble and occasionally you hit a rock but damn does it make you laugh and feel alive and you see so much more! One of my older clients told me that the older you get the more afraid you become. Afraid of losing you retirement, your health, your security and all those other things. I for one do not want to live life like that.

 

Failure is an event and defines that moment only. Take a chance...I am sure you will surprise yourself! If the claw is only your third work then I for one am sure you are capable of far greater things.

 

Mark

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Jon,

Good topic.

 

I have found, like Mark (in my field of jewelry) that if I concieve of a new idea with a client that will push me to new levels, I will say yes and learn. I also say no to some things that are just not what I want to do or that I don't see as a learning path to something I want to do in future projects.

 

Magnus

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Jon,

This is an excellent topic. I find that I tend to gravitate towards things that will challenge my design ability and my technical ability carry out the design. For me, the two go hand in hand, in that I will often avoid overly technical aspects, which I may be confident that I could carry out, in favor of a balanced design that incorporates both good technique and good form (at least I hope….) without one taking away from the other.

 

Phil

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest ford hallam

Hi Jon,

 

In my opinion the avoidance of challenging work, be it the technical or aesthetic aspect, or both, is what marks out a lot of what we see as dull and lifeless. I think this challenge is the whole point of genuine creating, this pushing at the limits of one's expression,.... as opposed to merely manufacturing. This is certainly what has driven my mastery ( if I can be so bold :) ) of the technical aspects of my medium, a constant wondering "what if....?" or "how can I..?.". I've also immersed myself in the work of those I regard as being the truely great artists in metal. I tried to feel and grasp that which they were seeking and have tried to find my own way in that path. This has drawn me along as I continually look for "my own voice" in this area and naturally enough I find I use, and need, ever more refined and sensitive technique to help convey what I am feeling. The feeling I refer to is primerally to do with the process as I experience and apply it. As such, I hope is reflected in the end product. The other really important thing for me is that the technique, in terms of process as opposed to skill, is that it be as unobtrusive as possible. Personally, I don't feel the need to exhibit skill, or virtuoso technique merely as an end in itself.

 

Mark makes a very valid point when hes says that failure is only an event and only applies to that specific moment. Without failure ( I may be making one right now ;) ) we will never really extend our awareness of possibilities or discover better ways of doing things. I think also, that sometimes, after a certain amount of practice or training, "flying from the seat of your pants" can often result in some pleasant surprises.

 

If you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much room. B)

 

Regards, Ford

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Jon,

I edited my thoughts above, to give a bit more of a response. Sometimes I just get pressed for time.

 

 

Hi Mike,

 

Your thoughts on this topic make interesting reading, for which I thank you.

 

Hi everyone else!

 

Please forgive me, but I don't know how the more computer literate amongst you out there manage to select the relevant quote you wish to respond to in a reply, so I hope you don't mind if I adopt a kind of blanket response!

 

I wrote the original piece late at night after an excellent bottle of red (cheers Ford!) and should perhaps have indicated that my thoughts were focussed primarily on professional practice.

 

I was a practicing professional for nearly 25 years, albeit in the field of predominantly one-off furniture to commission, so I am more than familiar with your reference, Mark, to starvation making for excellent motivation! In addition, I would of course wholeheartedly agree that you will never develop and improve as a designer if unable to confont failure every now and then. I too have taken on commissions worth thousands, never having tackled a similar project before, and yes, these creative challenges are what make it all worthwhile.

 

Technical mastery is for me simply a means to an end - no big deal - the realisation of the design is actually my raison d'etre. I worked at the highest end of the market, where perfection in a piece, no matter from where it was viewed, was the standard. It had to be so because it was expected by the clients, and the slightest flaw could give grounds for questioning the invoice, which in turn could have disastrous consequences for the business. For reasons of professional pride,I wouldn't accept anything less either.

 

Needless to say, working under these conditions places severe restrictions on how often you can afford to fail, which prompted my initial question. These days I am in the priviledged position of not being the major breadwinner in the family, but producing carvings is my sole source of income even though my output is small, as I also run the whole house and take care of our 9 year old son.

 

I opened the topic in an attempt to learn what your views would be concerning an artist who, for example, produced an excellent stylised rendition of a human face, as opposed to a true likeness. Would those views be any different if you learnt that the artist was actually incapable of carving a true likeness? Indeed, if you yourself are in this position, do you think you are somehow diminished as an artist, or curse your lack of ability? I actually don't think you should, not least because it's unlikely others will ever discover the full range of your abilities, but I find the issue of interest, hence my curiosity! I have certainly come across furniture designers before now, who because of their inability to produce high quality drawings of curvilinear work for clients, tended to produce only rectilinear designs which I felt severely limited their creative potential.

 

I suppose I belong to the old school of thinking whereby in order to innovate one was expected to have first achieved a sound command and understanding of the basic skills and history e.g. Picasso's early mastery of the traditional, prior to his journey to the heights of abstraction. On the other hand, for the past 2 decades at least, many art college tutors have slammed the notion of acquiring traditional skills, e.g. painting, as totally uncool, encouraging instead a move into "conceptual art" where the supposed quality of the thinking seemingly outweighs the often appalling quality of the construction.

 

Maybe this is all becoming too intellectualised, so I think I'll just go and open another bottle of red!

 

Cheers,

 

Jon

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Jon,

Thanks for not taking offense to an answer that I think was geared more to a true novice in the field. I do hope you are enjoying your new found freedom. I have been working for the last year or so to remove myself from the strains of deadlines and difficulties that come with producing the quality in a given time frame. Rewarding work with the high end clients but a great deal of pressure comes with the paycheck.

 

I am self taught and when I started there was not any formal training available to me. My "mastery" of the basic skills is not complete by any means and of course I do curse my limitations as a result. I do not think this makes me any less of an artist but it does make the creative process more difficult at times. I do not doubt that I can complete a work but it is a question of how long it will take and what difficulties will be encountered along the way. I often have to do extensive research, quantities of studies and even test carvings to find my way.

 

Of course this is the reason for my explorations, experiments and oft times limited success with my work. Also the reason for my recent post of the figurative piece. I that piece might even fall into the category you described in your original post about the carver carving a face that reveals his lack of ability in that area. Needless to say I persevere and hope to improve with each work.

 

Mark

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest ford hallam
I'll just go and open another bottle of red!

 

Try the Chilean cabernet sauvignon "Casilero del Diablo, you may find this rather smooth red to your taste, particularly considering where it claims to come from :D My wife is more fond of the merlot. It's available from Tescos. btw; Although we moved back to the Cape at the beginning of last year I spent the previous 9 years in Chippenham. My in-laws live in Thornbury. Pity, we might have enjoyed a bottle, or more, of red together while putting world to rights :)

 

To your post though,

 

I must admit that I gererally feel more of a craftsman most of the time, the idea of actually taking the "title" artist seems foreign to me. This is mainly, I believe, due to my initial training being as a classical goldsmith apprentice, in the German tradition. It was always my little brother ( he of the big shadow, which is cast by his head :) ) Clive, who has been the constant agitator daring me to extend myself beyond my relatively safe world of craft skill and expertise. He may have his own thoughts about our having arrived, eventually, at a very similar place but having come from opposite ends of the debate spectrum. Clive, of course started out from a university art schooling.

 

In my own approach to my training in my medium I believe the acquisition of my skills and my fairly thorough familiarity with my processes and materials frees me up now to far more easily explore and express myself without too much thought. I have found that the "problem of defined style" that many artists seem to seem to think is so very important, is a non issue for me as my instinctive modes of workmanship are my signature. This apparently is evident to some viewers, and handlers, of my pieces. This actually means a great deal to me, particularly on the odd occasion I am able to create work that, while in fact is very technically involved and requires a great deal of skill, appears somehow natural and uncontrived.

 

It occurs to me at this point that I ought to mention that for me the subject matter per se, is not a primary concern. My own approach is more a matter of gentle exploration of my own processes, materials and feelings. The subject is often selected as a vehicle, or canvas, to "work out" my take on it within my frame of reference. In this sense I think I am more abstract in my work despite dealing with recognisable subjects, at the moment......perhaps in time I will abandon the representational aspect completely and follow my more instinctive impulse. For now though, as I tentatively make the transition from commercial restoration work to "doing my own thing" I'm finding my feet while hanging on to something which both I and my clients can recognise. I do think that the route that beckons will also allow me to make the fullest use of my experiences in my craft. I think also that it will be a more honest and direct expression for me.

 

What I suppose I've come to realise is that if I have any pretentions to being a "real" artist then that urge is best served for me exactly by my technical mastery (such as it is) and skills. Of course this may be precisely because of my training and underlying mindset but as I'll probably be in the minority in this it will suit me. :)

 

cheers to you, Ford

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi all,

 

normally I try to avoid quoting texts written by someone else. Regarding this topic I want to make an exception. The original text part appeared in Hans Wimmer "Über die Bildhauerei" (On sculpture). This little book is written in german and I hope I am able to translate this part :unsure: :

 

"There is one criterion: the harmony of wanting and the ability. This harmony makes a masterpiece. If the ability has more power than the wanting one will call the result virtuosity. On these pieces one will have respect because pure ability is always impressing. If you have more wants than ability someting awkward is created - dilettantism. This disharmony causes physical pain. Why we do not get this feeling when looking at a primitive work like a votive medal ? Because wanting and ability are corresponding to each other. When I am summing up data nothing of my person is revealed but when I am making a sculpture everything of my person is laid bare. This is the reason of the self-confidence of an artist."

 

For me this text is quite relevant. I reminds me to make things with my abilities as a trained craftsman and artist and the wants that I am moved by. Everything else is just an exercise for the fingers.

 

Not sure if I will be understood :blink:

 

cheers,

 

Karl

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest ford hallam

Hi Karl,

 

I get the meaning perfectly. Thanks for making the effort for us, I can imagine the trick of getting nuance of meaning from the German was quite challenging. I think you've expressed the intent of the author extremelly well and I think it sums up the situation perfectly for me, it's beautiful in it's precision....so German :unsure:

 

Regards, Ford

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Jon,

Thanks for not taking offense to an answer that I think was geared more to a true novice in the field. I do hope you are enjoying your new found freedom. I have been working for the last year or so to remove myself from the strains of deadlines and difficulties that come with producing the quality in a given time frame. Rewarding work with the high end clients but a great deal of pressure comes with the paycheck.

 

I am self taught and when I started there was not any formal training available to me. My "mastery" of the basic skills is not complete by any means and of course I do curse my limitations as a result. I do not think this makes me any less of an artist but it does make the creative process more difficult at times. I do not doubt that I can complete a work but it is a question of how long it will take and what difficulties will be encountered along the way. I often have to do extensive research, quantities of studies and even test carvings to find my way.

 

Of course this is the reason for my explorations, experiments and oft times limited success with my work. Also the reason for my recent post of the figurative piece. I that piece might even fall into the category you described in your original post about the carver carving a face that reveals his lack of ability in that area. Needless to say I persevere and hope to improve with each work.

 

Mark

 

Hi Mark,

 

I sympathise with your wishing to relieve yourself of the pressures that come from having to deliver quality within a given time frame. In my experience the only people I have ever come across who have achieved this successfully are those whose fame and reputation ensure that they can dictate their own terms to clients, or who have an alternative source of income. The rest of us, meanwhile, are rarely ever able to say no to any commission that comes our way, and estimating time and cost, no matter how experienced, are never an exact science.

 

On this front, in view of the much smaller timescale involved in small scale carving, I don't see this as such a problem, though as you say, the research involved can often be an unknown and very time consuming episode. Having said that, I have no contacts in this field professionally here in England with whom I can chew the fat, so to speak, regarding their pricing, marketing and general approach to clients in this field.

 

Incidentally, I thought your rabbits captured the very essence of rabbit! Great work.

 

Jon

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Karl,

 

I get the meaning perfectly. Thanks for making the effort for us, I can imagine the trick of getting nuance of meaning from the German was quite challenging. I think you've expressed the intent of the author extremelly well and I think it sums up the situation perfectly for me, it's beautiful in it's precision....so German :unsure:

 

Regards, Ford

 

I couldn't agree more. Beautifully expressed, and thanks for this Karl. I lived in what was then West Berlin as a musician in the seventies, so have some knowledge of both your language and culture. In fact my closest friend still lives there and I return every year.

 

Meanwhile, I am familiar with this red Ford, and must admit I am easily seduced by big, fat powerful, in your face reds! Whilst not a great fan of your native Pinotage, I have drunk some superb South African reds courtesy of a very wealthy former South African client, and if you fancy a decent white, your Vergelegen Sauvignon Blanc is well worth checking out.

 

I feel that your own thoughts concerning craftsman versus artist are very similar to mine, and it would indeed have been pleasurable to have shared a bottle or two were you still living down the road in Chippenham. Who knows, it could still happen.

 

Your analysis of the "problem of defined style" is one with which I would also be inclined to totally agree. I can remember students constantly worrying about how to produce original work when doing my degree, and striving in usually the most contrived fashion to achieve these ends. Ultimately, of course, your own voice develops quite naturally through a process of informed analytical and critical thinking combined with your own development, provided you have the correct aptitude.

 

Time for bed!

 

Jon

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I must admit that I gererally feel more of a craftsman most of the time, the idea of actually taking the "title" artist seems foreign to me. This is mainly, I believe, due to my initial training being as a classical goldsmith apprentice, in the German tradition. It was always my little brother ( he of the big shadow, which is cast by his head :unsure: ) Clive, who has been the constant agitator daring me to extend myself beyond my relatively safe world of craft skill and expertise. He may have his own thoughts about our having arrived, eventually, at a very similar place but having come from opposite ends of the debate spectrum. Clive, of course started out from a university art schooling.

 

Its a pity that you think that I started out from a university art schooling as I've always thought some of the most successfull work was created many years before my university time. I'm not sure I accept your notion of the debate spectrum either... but then I think you know that... nice try though... but no cigar. :P

 

To be honest I find these reveries about art or craft, artists or craftsman leave me cold.. Its always been very simple for me... I just like to make stuff and I don't like living much when I'm not. Sometimes I wish it wasn't so... I get lonely which hurts but thats life. Does that make me an artist? ... I don't know.

 

I prefer to let the body of work I made over the last 30 years speak for itself.. if you believe that you've arrived at a similiar place then good of you. :blink:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest ford hallam

:huh:sorry for missing the fact that you feel your artistic expression began in ernest when you were 12, Clive, and I merely mentioned that you had been to university as a way of drawing attention to our different starting points. I was under the impression we'd disscussed this at length together in the past...evidently I'm mistaken.

 

I think that we all feel some degree of loneliness, this is one of the inevitible consequences of being self aware and ultimately insignificant mammels. I believe through, that through our expressions we may in fact achieve a more genuine form of dialogue, and if only for a short while, be able to touch each other.

 

and in reply to your question;

I just like to make stuff and I don't like living much when I'm not. Sometimes I wish it wasn't so... I get lonely which hurts but thats life. Does that make me an artist? ... I don't know.

 

no, I don't think the conditions and feeling you express are enough to justify anyone calling themselves an artist. As you suggested yourself; in this respect, your work must make that claim alone.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi,

"To be honest I find these reveries about art or craft, artists or craftsman leave me cold.. Its always been very simple for me... I just like to make stuff and I don't like living much when I'm not ....I prefer to let the body of work I've made over the last 30 years speak for itself.. if you believe that you've arrived at a similiar place then good of you". Clive

 

Over the past five decades I have produced a couple thousand pieces of "stuff". Big, small, creative, not so creative, good, bad and horrible in almost any media you can possibly imagine. The only thing they all have in common is that every piece was the best that I could do at the time they were made. Worrying about your work being art or craft is a waste of time. Like Clive, I also prefer to let the body of work I've made over the years speak for itself.

Dick

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"I feel that the ones who make it in a public setting, regardless of the degree of success achieved, are the ones that just let their hands do the talking. My personal philosophy is sort of blunt to anyone in regards to my art. In a nutshell, it is this: "If you don't like it or want it, there's plenty of people out there who will." And don't we have a tendancy to gravitate towards the light?"-Me (Mike R.).

 

 

 

"Its always been very simple for me... I just like to make stuff and I don't like living much when I'm not. Sometimes I wish it wasn't so... I get lonely which hurts but thats life. Does that make me an artist? ... I don't know.

 

I prefer to let the body of work I made over the last 30 years speak for itself.. if you believe that you've arrived at a similiar place then good of you."-Clive

 

"The only thing they all have in common is that every piece was the best that I could do at the time they were made. Worrying about your work being art or craft is a waste of time. Like Clive, I also prefer to let the body of work I've made over the years speak for itself."

-Dick

 

 

Wow, it's getting crowded up here on the cosmic level.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest ford hallam

While I appreciate that some prefer to let their work do the talking I still believe that the present discussion, and ones like it, are of value in helping us clarify or challenge our understanding and perceptions with regard to what we do. There is also the possibility that by remaining mute on these very vital issues one can actually just be avoiding what otherwise might be a bit of hard work, this may be a dangerous trap also, allowing ourselves to become far too self-referential. The obvious problem with becoming too inward looking is that while we expect the world to take the time to understand us, through our work, we don't hear what the world is telling us in return and our work becomes a "statement" rather than being part of an ongoing dialogue. But each to their own form of expression.

 

These quotes may more eloquently express some of the other thoughts that have already been discussed here; the first one expresses the same point as the piece Karl translated for us.

 

"Rising artists are frequently expected to tap their knowledge directly from the ether, disconnected from history and labor. However, when the instincts of the individual are elevated above education, the artist can become stuck in a perpetual adolescence where passion outstrips his ability to perform."

 

Julliette Aristides; from "Classical Drawing Atelier"

 

"Traditional skills are necessary for developing a foundational base for the artist to work from. It is craftsmanship that opens the door to effective self-expression. I am excited about teaching the methods from our artistic inheritance. I know that once this knowledge becomes commonplace again, it can only enrich our cultural life." -- Juliette Aristides, August 1, 2002

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest ford hallam

and then there is this one, which is probably my favourite on the matter of art. If anyone knows who said this I'd love to know;

 

“Perhaps there is no such thing as art, there are only artists….Men and Women who are favoured with the gift of balancing shapes, colours and textures until they are right, and rarer still there are those who possess that integrity of character which never rests content with half solutions but is ready to forego all easy effect, all superficial success for the toil of sincere work.”
Link to comment
Share on other sites

While I appreciate that some prefer to let their work do the talking I still believe that the present discussion, and ones like it, are of value in helping us clarify or challenge our understanding and perceptions with regard to what we do. There is also the possibility that by remaining mute on these very vital issues one can actually just be avoiding what otherwise might be a bit of hard work, this may be a dangerous trap also, allowing ourselves to become far too self-referential. The obvious problem with becoming too inward looking is that while we expect the world to take the time to understand us, through our work, we don't hear what the world is telling us in return and our work becomes a "statement" rather than being part of an ongoing dialogue. But each to their own form of expression.

 

I wonder if you do appreciate what "others" mean when they say they prefer to let their work do the talking. I make sculpture... that is the means by which I prefer do express myself. I challenge and clarify my appreciation of reality and communicate my perceptions of it through that activity.... if I wanted to use words I'd be an author.... but each to their own form of expression :unsure:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Clive,

 

of course I can. Here it comes:

 

Hans Wimmer, Über die Bildhauerei, München 1986, p. 25-26.

 

"Dabei zeigt sich ein Kriterium: der Einklang zwischen Absicht und Vermögen. Dieser Einklang bestimmt das Kunstwerk. Ist das Können stärker als das Wollen, so spricht man von Virtuosität. Vor ihr wird man immer Respekt haben, weil Können immer Eindruck macht. Ist das Wollen stärker als das Können, so entsteht eine peinliche Sache, der Dilettantismus. Das Mißverhältnis in einer Arbeit löst körperliches Unbehagen aus. Warum haben wir dieses Gefühl nicht bei einem primitiven Werk, etwa einer Votivtafel? Weil Absicht und Vermögen sich entsprechen. Wenn ich Zahlen zusammenzähle, so sage ich dabei von mir nichts aus; wenn ich aber eine Figur mache, sage ich von mir alles aus. Darin liegt der Grund für das Selbstbewußtsein des Künstlers."

 

Hope it helps. :unsure:

 

Cheers,

Karl

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

×
×
  • Create New...