An email filled with enthusiastic bile arrived from a commenter with the backbone of a whelk; “I do not wish for my comments to be published, or have my name mentioned”, they state. Tosser.
The email was basically a tirade against the “simplistic and artless objects displayed” in my last post. Well now I’m told! The email also claimed that turning (and carving I assume) such things were a “retrograde step unlikely to further the interests of wood turning”.
Even if the commenter were correct – which I would dispute – so what?
It seems that some people are incapable of reading anything I write as anything other than a statement of national intention, a declaration of the feelings and thoughts of the National body I am on the committee of. What is wrong with you?
This Blog, and my website, are mine. Personal. And the thoughts expressed here, and there, are likewise personal. If I have comment to make which is intended to reflect the thoughts of the Association it would be made via the Association’s website, Newsletter, or Forum. Not here.
I do hope those morons previously incapable of accepting the difference are now better equipped to do so in the future. And if you’re not, then please take your green biro and write to the Daily Mail instead. I’m sure they’d be only too happy to read your drivel. And not publish your name and address.
And on to the specific complaint…
Firstly, the complaint seems to indicate that I have a duty to only publish items which will push woodturning forward into new areas. Why? And who imposed this restriction on my actions? And with what authority? Nobody of course. Accept in the mind of Name and Address Withheld.
I have never claimed to be anything other than a woodturner. I’m neither wholly a traditional, nor a contemporary woodturner. I just turn what I feel like turning on the day. Commissions notwithstanding.
It is true to say, and I have never hidden the fact, that there is a type of woodturning which leaves me entirely cold, and because it has been prevalent for such a long time it is often referred to, erroneously, and even by myself, as being “traditional”, but in fact is not. It’s simply clumsy and ugly to my eye, and has been the staple output of far too many turners for far too many years. And to my (PERSONAL!) view, has blighted craft events for a few decades to the wider detriment of woodturning as a whole.
However, there are facets of woodturning which can rightly be called “traditional” in its wider, national, and historical sense, and many of these I find very appealing and interesting, and make no apology for doing so.
The simple utility bowl, intended for daily use, and by close association the hand-carved spoon, would fall easily into this category.
To my eye many of these early objects, and their contemporarily-made counterparts, have a simplicity and honesty about them which is, or perhaps should be, timeless. A well-made item is a well-made item, and if you admire craftsmanship, the date it was made is immaterial. It is what it is regardless. And a well-made object can always teach you something about technique, form, shape, proportion, and if you examine it, execution. If you can carry those things into the work you do now then you have a benefit.
An example…take a simple turned item, a bowl. Not an arty bowl, a simple bowl. One perhaps that is intended for fruit or nuts, or a bowl for eating from.
Look at photographs of old utility bowls, or go and view them in a museum, and the shape will have appeal, and it will be fit for function; It will be stable when empty or loaded, and will be shaped in such a manner as to be of use as a vessel.
Look at a selection of recently produced bowls, not ART bowls or experimental pieces, but bowls turned as bowls, and you will not see the same things in them. Often their shape is dictated by the angle of the bevel of the tool rather than the intention of the turner. Many are lumpen and unappealing; many are simply not fit for purpose, being unstable when empty and loaded. In short, they seem to lack any appreciation of design and/or suitability for purpose. In my opinion, many are simply what resulted from poking a piece of wood with a gouge for a while and then sanding the result down to 400 grit.
So how is it that these old turners managed, with little formal education or training, to achieve what many of their well-educated, and certainly better equipped, contemporaries fail to do?
The answers are, I feel, simple. Firstly, they had an understanding of the intended use of the item. Secondly, they needed to produce an item which was suitable for purpose of they would probably starve through lack of orders. The prospect of starvation would be a good reason to perfect your product. And thirdly, they may well have served what amounts to an apprenticeship. And of course they had an intimate knowledge and understanding of their material and tools.
I am sure that the very first turners made many mistakes, and produced many items unfit for purpose. But I suspect the impetus for getting it right was more of an imperative then than now, and that mistakes were learned from and lessons learned very quickly.
So there’s nothing to lose for the modern turner in at least looking at these objects, or even trying to emulate a few to see how and why they worked. Maybe if more turners tried this approach we would see more attention to form and shape, more understanding of basic design, and a sounder basis upon which to take these ideas forward within contemporary pieces?
Carving a simple wooden spoon by hand can teach you as much about the properties of wood: short grain, long grain, how to cut cleanly, how to use the inherent strength of the wood where you need it, how to impart strength by careful selection and preparation of the blank, than almost any other method I know of except perhaps being taught one-to-one by an expert.
Anybody can shape a piece of wood on a lathe. Anybody. And anybody can produce a bowl. The difference is in the items produced. There a good bowls, and bad bowls. Attractive bowls, and unattractive bowls. The differences are in the understanding of the material, wood, the tools and their function, and the intentions of the maker. And these old traditional items have as much to teach us as any modern book on the subject. And besides all this, they are fun to make, enjoyable to use, and satisfying in many respects.
I am not for one minute suggesting that we all revert to old ways, and neither am I saying that only the old ways are correct, what I am saying is that I, for one, am quite happy to accept that there are lessons to be learnt in past practice, and I am happy to attempt to grasp them. If in the process I produce something “retrograde” in the common opinion, then so be it. My ultimate aim is to use these experiences and lessons in what I do today, not to set myself up making replicas of ancient objects day in and day out.
Name And Address Supplied seemed to imply that woodturning should be forced forward, and that everything of the old is wrong (retrograde), and from this I infer a preference for the modern, contemporary, so called “artistic woodturning”( which I’ve previously spoken about many times in this Blog), and that’s fine. I like much of what is often termed “artistic woodturning”, and also believe that woodturning needs to change in order to survive. But I do not necessarily believe that we all need to become “artistic” Woodturners for this to happen.
If we did, then surely woodturning would not survive? The process of turning as a tool of the artist would, but not woodturning. In order for woodturning to survive, markets have to be developed, appreciation fostered, and in order to achieve this end, wood turned objects need to become desirable to the consumer. So how could this be achieved?
This is not news, and not my idea, but by looking at what kind of objects are desirable and building some of the design concepts used to produce them into your woodturning. The old standbys of glass, ceramics, jewellery Etc., are obvious choices as research tools, though not exclusively, and the internet is a good resource, offering many sources of inspiration and tutelage. And there are other avenues you might explore…design courses, art courses, art appreciation course, in fact many avenues which could bolster your arsenal of ideas. But without a basic understanding of how to achieve the ends you envisage how will you achieve this? If you cannot produce a simple item, like a bowl for the sake of argument, which fulfils its brief, then how will you ever produce an item with some ethereal and artistic intent?
I firmly believe that work in the realms of the “artistic” is where the future truly lies for woodturning, and by this I mean work which has new and exciting elements, work which had evolved and is “different” enough from what is commonly available to make it desirable to a previously woodturning-resistant customer, but doesn’t mean we all have to be artists. It simply means that we will need to be more aware of design, be it shape, form, colour, texture, added and combined media. But I also believe quite strongly that there could be resurgence in more traditional objects if only they could be turned with more attention to detail, with some flair, and with an eye to the “designed object” as opposed to the “resulting object”.
So maybe there will develop two distinct strains, and maybe one of them will become so wildly divergent that it becomes something other than woodturning in the truest sense. But again, so what? There is room for both avenues to be explored.
I suspect that woodturners will remain woodturners and artists will remain artists, and those who wish to combine the two disciplines will become something else entirely. Whatever happens, the truth remains that for woodturning to survive, and prosper, it needs to change. If it doesn’t it will simply survive as another Past Times historical artefact ,whilst the new vanguard forges onwards towards a greater and more appreciative audience.
This last month or so has been a difficult period, and one during which I have wondered whether putting yourself out there is at all worthwhile. I have no axe to grind with anybody, and keep the Blog and website as what I hope are interesting diversions for others interested in woodturning. The fact that it is read would seem to support the assumption, which should be cause to continue. But I wonder if it is lately, and am considering putting a stop to it all. I don’t have all (if any!) of the answers, but have hoped that in posing the questions, and offering my own thoughts such as they are, that the discussion may prove helpful. Or at least interesting. I am beginning to think that my judgement was flawed, and am becoming convinced that the only approach is to stop Blogging, publishing the website, and taking any active role in woodturning. Locking the door to the woodturning public , both here and at the workshop, stopping demonstrating and all other active involvements, and simply turning.
I wonder if it’s too late to make a New Year resolution?