YouTube surprise

Look what my sister found on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbp2_0huciE! Apparently, someone I’ve never heard of, a California artist named Brandon Teris, found my “Imagine a World without Art” essay and made a video of it. It’s fascinating for me to see someone else’s interpretation of my words. (You can read my original essay here on my blog).

“The beauty that changes the soul of the world . . .”

Another quotation, this one from “Thirst for Beauty, Thirst for Soul” by Joan Chittister, in Creation out of Clay: the Ceramic Art and Writings of Brother Thomas:

What we do not nourish within ourselves cannot exist in the world around us because we are its microcosm. We cannot moan the loss of quality in our world and not ourselves seed the beautiful in our wake. We cannot decry the loss of the spiritual and continue to function only on the level of the expedient. We cannot hope for fullness of life without nurturing fullness of soul. We must seek beauty, study beauty, surround ourselves with beauty. To revivify the soul, the world, we must become beauty. Where we are must be more beautiful than it was before our coming.

The Artist and Monk Are One

The following quotation is from “The Monastic Spirit and the Pursuit of Everlasting Beauty,” by Joan Chittister, in The Journey and the Gift: The Ceramic Art of Brother Thomas:

If, indeed, truth is beauty and beauty truth, then the monastic and the artist are one.

Monasticism, in fact, cultivates the artistic spirit. Basic to monasticism are the very qualities art demands of the artist: silence, contemplation, discernment of spirits, community and humility.

Basic to art are the very qualities demanded of the monastic: single-mindedness, beauty, immersion, praise and creativity. The merger of one with the other makes for great art; the meaning of one for the other makes for great soul.

It is in silence that the artist hears the call to raise to the heights of human consciousness those qualities no definitions ever capture. Ecstasies, pain, fluid truth, pass us by so quickly or surround us so constantly that the eyes fail to see and the heart ceases to respond.

It is in the awful grip of ineffable form or radiant color that we see into a world that is infinitely beyond our natural grasp, yet only just beyond our artist’s soul. It is contemplation that leads an artist to preserve for us forever, the essence of a thing that takes us far beyond its accidents.

Only by seeing the unseen within can the artist dredge it out of nothingness so that we can touch it, too. It is a capacity for the discernment of spirits that enables an artist to recognize real beauty from plastic pretentions to it, from cheap copies or even cheaper attempts at it.

The artist details for the world to see the one idea, the fresh form, the stunning grandeur of moments which the world has begun to take for granted or has failed even to notice, or worse, has now reduced to the mundane.

It is love for human community that puts the eye of the artist in the service of truth. Knowing the spiritual squalor to which the pursuit of less than beauty can lead us, the artist lives to stretch our senses beyond the tendency to settle for lesser things: sleazy stories instead of great literature; superficial caricatures of bland characters rather than great portraits of great souls; flowerpots instead of pottery.

Finally, it is humility that enables an artist to risk rejection and failure, disdain and derogation to bring to the heart of the world what the world too easily, too randomly, too callously overlooks.

Charles Peguy wrote, “We must always tell what we see. Above all, and this is more difficult, we must always see what we see.”

Tuesday, July 17

Today was a fairly quiet, intensive work day.

Lesya came in not to dance but to carve waves for Siegfried’s collaborative wave piece. Sadly, there were misunderstandings early on in the communication process for this collaboration, and Sean and Jean-François won’t be working on it. Happily, Peter did and Lesya is and I will and Elisabeth may. And in the end, the public also will, as the piece will be installed as an interactive work, with anyone free to arrange the wave forms as they like.

Lesya carves waves.

Siegfried continued carving his box elder vessel. He later found that mounting it on the lathe to carve let him see and control better what he was doing.

Siegfried carves a box elder vessel.

Siegfried carves on the lathe for better position.

Sean worked on new and old pieces. The black in this one is not painted but ebony.

Sean paints a new piece.

Jean-François and I began our collaboration, based on an idea I used in a previous work, of breaking and repairing vessels visibly. Here are the vessels we started with. Jean-François turned the Chinese elm and osage orange bowls; I turned the sycamore bowl (the smallest).

Jean-François's and my bowls.

Breaking the piece takes a bit of will. We broke the sycamore bowl into just three pieces.

I break the first bowl.

Jean-François hit the Chinese elm bowl squarely and got a complicated break, which made gluing it—using 5-minute epoxy with a working time of maybe 2 minutes—a real challenge. Adding acrylic paint to the epoxy for color decreases (maybe even halves) the working time, so I use 30-minute epoxy at home. The 5-minute version is what we had on hand here, though. (For anyone who wants to know more about coloring epoxy, I discuss the subject in an article called “Nulling Voids: Filling Cracks and Holes in Wood” that, along with other articles, is available on my website under “Other links.”)

Jean-François's broken second bowl.

We used red for the sycamore and black for the Chinese elm. I mixed the red from acrylic paints; the black we achieved by mixing in charcoal from burnt wood (which Jean-François happened to have in jar).

I like the way the interior of the sycamore bowl came out; the exterior needs some touchup, though.

The interior of the first glued bowl.The exterior of the first glued bowl.

This technique—this trope, really—is deeply meaningful for me (you can read a note about the backstory on this here, under “About the work”), and it is one I intend to explore in a series of works after I return home. Using it in this collaboration is a little odd for me—like choosing a subject like, say, “death” or “incest” for a poetic exercise—and I find myself holding back emotionally, treating the process as more of a technical exercise than an act of artmaking. I would like to talk with Jean-François about how he feels about this process—indeed, how he feels about artmaking in general. I have wanted to from the beginning—the chance to explore the subject with other artists is one reason I applied for the residency—but before now, I have felt stymied by the language barrier—even though Siegfried and I managed a deep conversation about it driving home from D.C. This now is an opportunity to explore the subject.

For me, turning is deeply emotional, not just an application of technique, and it is an act in which meaning is both intentional and discovered. For me, the aspect of meaning—not technical sophistication—is what makes turning an art and not just a craft. I can argue with myself about this, of course—is not craft about creating beauty and is not creating beauty meaning enough? Yes, yes—but I’ll put this statement out in hopes of eliciting conversation about it. Turners who regard yourselves as artists (any artists, really), what do you say? Have your objects meaning? Is the meaning intentional? Do you start with wanting to express something, or does the expression emerge through the work? How do you create? Have you something to say? Must an artist have something to say? Is it enough to create objects in which others find their own meaning? Is beauty enough? Do any of you care, or do you care only about the making?

I really must sleep now. Let me hear from you, readers.