Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Contemporary Craft: An Odessey

We recently had three consecutive weekends with ceramics workshops- taught by visiting artists Kevin Snipes and Sharif Bey (who grew up in Pittsburgh), and Yoko Sekino-Bove, (Japanese born and now resides in Washington, PA).  Some students from the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild were given scholarships to attend these various workshops, and so we met Nikki.  Nikki’s an inquisitive and imaginative young lady that MCG sent our way, who initially questioned the validity of ‘contemporary’ craft.  Our artists helped her to understand what contemporary is and can be.  Here you will read Nikki’s journey through the mystical land of contemporary.  (I’m starting to think our studios lead to Narnia or Oz.)

Great were the white stone walls that encased our city on all sides,
And great were the efforts to recreate such perfection.
Beyond our realm was not known nor explored, 
For the inhabitants of our determined city,
Had brought about a need for flawlessness in great confection.

Hours and hours upon end, we each sat at our wheels,
Robotic hands born of the wondrous place,
And tried, tried desperately, to bare the magic
That had come of these walls that reached into the sky,
As white and gallant as bridal lace.

And then one day, to my surprise,
People began to lift hands, to touch the sky.
Few, rare was the man that scaled the walls,
And looked onto the other side.
What could there be after perfection?

I had counted three people, who’d mastered the white walls,
Before deciding to see the heights for myself.
Several attempts before I could climb to the top,
And finally, I sat on the freezing ledge.
I first peered down upon the frantic and striving.
I then turned my back, and gaped in awe, at all the color.
I looked back one more time, before deciding,
I’d had enough perfection to last a lifetime.
Down I fell to the new grounds,
Unsettled, unstable, innovative, incredible.

The land was a desert. The word ‘Contemporary’
Had been scrawled in numerous hands among the sand.
What had it meant? Entirely lost, I’d seemed to be,
In a nonsense world, where everything was what it wasn’t.
‘Contemporary’ was beyond my realm. Certainly not perfect.

Sand became canvas as time wore on, someone taking the opportunity
In stride, gangly figures hanging in picturesque color,
Almost coming to life, reaching out for it.
Faces had not been proportional, and objects held no meaning.
There was no message for me here, no perfection.

Inside a cave I met the man behind the figures.
Kevin Snipes, he’d introduced himself as.
“What do your pictures mean?” I dared to ask.
“Well, this one,” he said, pointing to a painting of a man
With limp arms and a woman looking the other way,
“Represents the tension between a man and a woman,
The awkwardness and misunderstanding between the sexes,
And how that affects themselves, each other, their world.”
And suddenly, ‘Contemporary’ had meaning, had reason.
Was not useless, but instead beautiful, 
For his art had no function, but served purpose greater than that
Of a bowl or a plate. ‘Contemporary,’ now shared
Ideals and philosophies, observation in artistry. 
I thanked Kevin for his insight,
And went about on my way.

Music seemed to twinkle in the wind,
And grew louder as it howled
And sand turned to snow.
But the musical inspiration drowned
In the wake of a hammer and a nail,
Residing in a nearby cabin, 
No perfect walls.

I knocked on the door. Scratched in it was ‘Contemporary.’
Why was ‘Contemporary’ entirely present in the realm outside perfect?
I pondered the query as the door swung open.
A great bearded man answered, clay faced and hammer in hand.
Sharif Bey, he introduced himself as.

1,000 pinch pots lay strewn on the floor,
And nails protruded from ceramic heads.
“Why,” I dared to ask.
“Makes them more interesting,” he said in response. 
“Why would I want to do the same thing as the guy next to me?
I want to be unique.”
Innovative. Conceptive. Interesting. Unique.
This was contemporary.
I thanked Sharif and went on my way,
Though not entirely sure of my way anymore.

The snow melted as my feet trudged on,
The crunch of ice replaced with that of leaves.
 On the forest floor,
I met a woman, black hair, skin fair, 
Attempting to place intricate leaves on a cup,
That was lovely, yet imperfect.

 Yoko Sekino-Bove, she called herself.
“What are you doing,” I dared to ask.
“Well you see, curious child, that this cup is not perfect.
It is close, close enough, but the artistic design is what
Makes a ceramic piece interesting. Therefore I take
My love of color, and use it to make near perfection,
Perfect art.”
I saw now. I understood ‘Contemporary,’ everything it was, and it wasn’t.
I thanked Yoko for her insight, and went back from whence I came,
Entirely sure of my way.
My feet trudged once more in the direction of the snow,
Then sand, then magnificent white wall.
Looking at this strong, stable wall,
It seemed plain and meaningless,
A functional piece with no beautiful use
Seemed more worthless than the entirely
Glorious world of color that lay outside the realm
Of perfect. 

Upon re-entering the boundaries of the wall,
I saw a sign. It read, “Society for Contemporary Craft.”
I had the benefactors of this place to thank
For teaching me that perfect was not everything,
That the great Contemporary artists who resided here
Had already mastered perfection, climbed the great
White walls of it, and dared to look beyond,
To use their understanding of flawless
In an incredibly bright and innovative way,
Shattering the white wall of perfection,
And bringing about a revolution in beauty itself.

I re-entered the city, and shared what I’d learned.
I was at first rejected, just as all the enlightened had been before me.
But as I began to create tea bowls with the beauty of imperfection in mind,
People began to see. The wall was soon destroyed.    

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