Why Make Things

Thursday, February 6th, 2014 @ 12:49 am

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   Embarking on a creative endeavor means that you are sacrificing materials.  Things must come in to go out.  There is no escaping that.  The debate in making them, then, stems from their worth, the question of whether or not they belong in the world, or deserve to exist.  That question has supreme stopping power.  It is also usually unanswerable.  We cannot know beforehand if something is worth making.  And when it comes to it, it almost always is worth making the thing.  It doesn’t exist yet, in your form, and you won’t know anything new if you don’t make it.  Even if the only thing learned is that you don’t like it, you’ve changed your mind, and you never want to tread that creative ground again, at least that lesson has been learned.  The door to that interest is closed and you are certain of that, sure, resolved.  Without the pursuit, there is no resolve, and there is no finality, no satisfaction.  Or less of it, in the least.

    To decide whether or not to make a form before you’ve seen it real is impossible, and will only prevent you from growing.  For that is in fact also what we are making when we make things.  We are making ourselves.  Making is a process that we undertake in order to realize something greater, the process might be secondary to the product, or it may be the real source of joy, fulfillment.  They might be equals.  But without both, there is no fulfillment, and there is no growth of self.

    My argument over whether or not to make things was tough, and it stopped me for some time.  It developed when furniture became too singular, too clear of a thing to make for the people involved in my critiques, and they wanted more.  More expression, more abstraction, more content to unpack and explore than a functional piece would give them.  The conceptual landscape of a form stops suddenly when it is a usable form.  Our minds don’t continue to pick it apart, to turn it around, when they’ve found a place for it in their conceptual world of things.  Opinions do that.  Furniture does that.  And so I struggled, because the purpose of sculpture seems so intangible, at least in comparison to furniture, and I could not bring myself to explore the thing fully.  It felt like the result was missing.  The process doesn’t end like it does with furniture.  There is no ‘assembly’ and ‘finishing’ in the same way as it exists for furniture.  My process seemed not to apply if I were truly interested in exploring.  I needed to be more flexible than I wanted to be, than I was comfortable being.  I needed to embark without destination, even if I had a drawing, the thing at the end was less concrete than the chair, or the stool, and so I felt it mattered less, and that became less motivation.

    I also stuck to wood, being comfortable with it, knowing it, loving it, and enjoying the shop environment, the camaraderie, the collaboration of smiles that is a part of working together in a space.  I lived in that shop, how could I leave it?  That never even crossed my mind.  I tried to mold my ideas to the methods I’d already learned.  I figured I was capable in wood, so naturally I must be able to express something in it!  Yet somehow all ideas seemed to fall flat, or once drawn, I’d lose the inspiration.  The concept was enough.  The thought was enough.  It propelled me forward, thinking about new things, imagining more new things.  And the old thought was left behind.  Only recently has it occurred to me that I am not just wood.  I am not material.  I am a source, some spring from which the ideas flow, and the honor I can give to those is maybe the test of artistry, the test of how effective I can be in making and communicating.

    The best response I have to the question of whether or not to make something is to ask whether or not it might be satisfying.  The reason we humans quest, we travel and climb, pursue and indulge, experiment and play, is because of some inner need to express and be impressed.  There is a reciprocal relationship in nearly every part of life, and the making of things satisfies an urge to realize something seen only in the mind; bringing that full-circle is doing justice to the thought, doing justice to yourself, and indulging and experimenting with material and process in some way that you are driven to do so.  I am not arguing for the sake of mass production, or the scale of making which dwarfs humanity, simply the act of fulfilling oneself, having a reciprocal relationship with your creativity, your mind, treating yourself as an equal part of the give and take of life.  In short, making something for those with the real desire to do so is not an optional thing.  It resides within them as some force, some living aspect of their being, which can thrive and inspire when it is nurtured and exercised, but can flutter and shudder and die if ignored, questioned, and neglected.

    For a social commentary, I would advocate strongly in favor of making things as a generalization.  The handmade is a trend now, but the authentic, the real human creation, the thing which is made by someone for any reason at all, but genuinely, carefully, lovingly, is a rare enough thing in any aspect of daily life, especially in the lives of those who do not make things themselves.  I would say that it is social commentary to make things at all, and it is strength and individualism that pursues the making of things as a hobby, or a passion.  I saw an artist speak recently and he stressed that art making was a combination of two things: allowing contact with the wildness inside of us, the instinct and the drive that guides our hands, and having the rigor to stay focused on it, to keep faith in it, and let it out in pursuit of its spark across our lives.

    If we must leave footsteps across all of the things we tread in life, then maybe our footsteps can leave something for who comes next, or for where they are left, and not just be footsteps ruining the landscape.

Artist cited: Timothy Hawkesworth


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