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Aesthetic Balance


Christine

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Hi - I'm new here and Jim made a comment on my work that brings up something important to me that I'd love to hear more thoughts on from the group.

 

He said my carving of a pig had it's "cuteness in balance".

 

Balanced with what, though - Uglyness? Seriousness?? Corectness??? What could it be?

 

I've often struggled with this - what makes something appealing or pretty and still "good" craft or art?

 

I worked as a professional plush toy designer for seventeen years and my specialty was taking a drawing of the latest licenced character and turning it into a 3d cloth item that could be mass produced. I confess that rarely was I proud of my work as most of the current popular characters I found totally unapealing and sometimes just out 'n out appalling in their crass depictions of something designed to strickly move widgets.

 

I've often looked at my book on Japanese Netsuke or Ojime and just love the cartooned depictions of animals. Some seem very sweet and shall I say it, cute, to me. It does stir up those feelings of thinking something is precious, needing to be protected because it is more innocent and vulnerable.... Is it just that the time period and original meaning may be lost on me or did they really have more "class" (for lack of a better term)?

 

Penny for your thoughts, anyone?

 

Christine

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Guest ford hallam

Hi there Christine,

 

I was quite intrigued when i saw your little pig, although i did`nt appreciate the tiny scale until i noticed your little puppy in your hand that you posted as an avatar. I don`t think I`d have suggested that the pig was cute at all, I think the way you rendered its head in particular took it away from any possible Disneyfication, if you know what i mean.

 

It`s a difficult one though, It can so easily appear cynical to reject out of hand anything that is too obviously appealing. Strangely this has never been an issue for either sex of any species for millions of years. Yet we "highly developed" (?)creatures are often uneasy when confronted with the overt or obvious. Perhaps that is exactly the problem, it is ultimately unsatisfying in any meaningful aesthetic or intellectual way. Cute is ultimately just too dull.

 

We do seem however to delight in cleverness, subtlety, humour, irony, the unexpected , etc.....all those essential spices which when artfully expressed give a work a life of its own. In my opinion it`s exactly these kinds of traits that allow us to experience a sense of communion with the maker.

 

Well, I`ll stop my ramble here , wander off and have a cup of tea.

Great topic for mulling over though, probably won`t get any sleep now. I look forward to what the rest of the gang have to say.

I think your take on tiny wooden dolls is excellent, btw. I`d like to see more.

 

regards, ford

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I think the cute issue for me is one of depth, or lack thereof. We're all too familiar with so many icons in our culture that are one-dimensional. Perhaps, as Mickey, they started out fairly rich in character and flattened out as they became commercial icons.

 

Nute seems a cute enough fellow to me, but I percieve a lot more: a certain joie-de-vivre and adventurousness. Just as in people, cute is fine, but if it's the only thing going, it doesn't take long to get tedious.

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Guest Clive

I think it was Picasso that said "good taste is the enemy of good art", which I'd go along with if it wasn't for the notion of good art ultimately leads to the creation of good taste. Some stuff just works but most stuff just doesn't. All I've ever managed to grasp is the more you try to make it work, the chances of it not actually increase.The stuff that works is created on the odd occasion we human occupy a state of grace or what zen would call Mushin. In such a place there simply is no conceptualisation, no cuteness, no subtleness, no self. One cannot intellectualise such a place ...only create the conditions that are more likely to facilitate it visiting you.

 

Enough of that though... I've noticed many members sign off there posts using either the expressions a "penny for your thoughts" or "just my 2 cent worth"

Now it might just be me ... but that obviously means somebody's making off with a spare cent... come on ...own up. ;);)

 

...such a cunning plan would be described as cute in Ireland. Cute being another word for clever.

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Guest ford hallam

Clive,

 

I think Picasso also said , probably a glass after the quip you refered to, " good taste is the last refuge of the artist". This is clearly our excuse for being so lacking in good taste. Cheers pablo.

 

we`ll chat later.

ford

 

;)

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Thanks for the comments all,

 

Ford, hello and thank you for your kind words. From your bio, I am just amazed at your life path. I'd be curious to hear more about your analysis of the emotional underpinnings of traditional Japanese art and how that relates to the modern culture there in the "land of the rising yen" :) Do the artists there that you interact with live in a subculture of reenactment to reinforce a sense of historical nationalism? Or is historical technique kept alive because it they genuinely think it is more beautiful?

 

Jim, I guess you are right that cute is only more than momentarily interesting if it is also accompanied by a whole host of other emotions. So perhaps what you meant by "in balance" was that the cute aspect (which seems to be seen as predictable) was also balanced by some unpredictable elements and that keeps the hole thing from getting dull...

 

Clive, I think it's right that cute and clever should go together. I see cute as a subset of humor mostly...

 

I'll send you your penny now :)

 

Christine

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Guest ford hallam

Do the artists there that you interact with live in a subculture of reenactment to reinforce a sense of historical nationalism? Or is historical technique kept alive because it they genuinely think it is more beautiful?

 

Hi Christine,

 

Interesting query, the artists i visit are in no way involved in an attempt to retain the past. Rather they have learned their crafts and while cognicant of the various traditions are not particularly bound by them. These people are mainly members of the Traditional Crafts Association ( Nihon Dento Kogeikai ). The other large group is the Niten. There you will see very avant garde work in any concievable medium and many of the technologies utilized are the same as those used in the past, just to a very different end. There are also, and this is the face of Japans craft-world that is most familiar in the west, those craftspeople who faithfully mantain a tradition that was probably still evolving throughout the Edo period. (1600-1868, exact dates vary with authorities ) In a sense this is somewhat analogous to the reenactment you alluded to. The reasons for and value of this situation are many and complex ( and probably not of much interest to most ) but romanticism would probably be high on the list. And just to be clear, I for one am very grateful that they do exist.

 

As to the question of technique being kept alive, I think most people utilizing whatever technologies they choose ultimately comes down to what they may be exposed to and what they are drawn to. In that regard the craftspeople of Japan are spoilt for choice.

 

I must add that the very brief picture i`ve described of the situation in Japan belies a much more complex reality.

 

Hope that sheds a little light,

 

regards, Ford :)

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Thank you, Ford. Why, yes, that does shed a little light on it :)

 

What I'm getting is: because the traditional arts in Japan are kept alive in a very real way by who ever for what ever reason, the artists there - modern and romantics alike - are spoilt for choice as you say and have the happy opportunity to include or not the techniques of the past.

 

Interesting that people in the west are mostly interested in the more taditional craft-face of Japan.

 

Will look forward to further reports from the front ;)

 

Christine

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Christine, Ford, Jim Clive and Kathleen,

 

Jim, I guess you are right that cute is only more than momentarily interesting if it is also accompanied by a whole host of other emotions. So perhaps what you meant by "in balance" was that the cute aspect (which seems to be seen as predictable) was also balanced by some unpredictable elements and that keeps the hole thing from getting dull... Christine

 

I think the subject of balance is interesting. Here is a piece I did a few years ago. I believe it balances cute with bizarre. I'm not sure if it was a success but little kids love it. The sculpture is polychrome bronze called "Fruitloops" and is lifesize.

Dick

post-15-1119281529.jpg

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For me, the comment of "cuteness in balance" alludes to knowing when to stop during the process of creation.

 

What I like about many of the artists and craftspeople here is that they succeed in being aesthetically reserved. Cuteness is fine as long as it is tempered by other things. For me, successful art is that which is in tension- visual tension, tension between different meanings and interpretations, etc. This is important with small-scale sculptural works. It's what separates our work from the merely decorative. In my opinion, Asian art- Japanese art in particular - excells at this. We get repetition without boredom, cuteness with cloying sweetness- a certain dynamism to a composition that can also remain very staid and formal.

 

In my carvings this notion of tension has become what is most difficult to arrive at. I admire the works of Bisho for his contorted, dynamic forms. I've mentioned in other threads my attraction also to ittobori-style work with its direct decisiveness (which isn't to say those carvings aren't planned out, to make each cut count)- what I interpret the term mu-shin as meaning.

 

Clive- I think you mentioned in one thread something about coming across a very early work of yours which you hadn't seen in a number of years, and admiring it. What our early works lack in technical skills, they make up for in directness sometimes. There's the old cliche about unlearning what you've learned... We've all created pieces where we've tried too hard, haven't we?

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