Tuesday, 22 October 2013

But is it Art?


Over the years, the answer to the question "What do you do, then?', posed by strangers at parties, has become increasingly more difficult.

In the early days it was easy - "I'm an Art Student", followed 4 years later by, "I'm on the dole".

Then a couple of years later, it was "I'm a Layout Artist" - end of conversation.

Three years after that, I became so claustrophobic with working between a small office and a dark-room, that I became a builder. If I said I was a builder, then I jolly well was one. The trouble was that I didn't look like one - or one from the popular imagination of one is supposed to look like.

People at parties - mistaking me for a gentleman builder - would ask how large my company was and how many employees I had and I would say, "One. Me".

When working alongside real builders, the only way I could get any respect from them was to make a big deal out of displays of strength and skill - preferably combined in one act.

After a couple of years of this, I decided to concentrate my attention on Stonemasonry, and burnt all my bridges in one week by turning down many offers of lucrative but ordinary building work. It was then that the phone stopped ringing for about a year. If you tell people you are one thing, they never come to you for anything other than that one thing.

I consorted in pubs with fully trained apprentice masons, who all thought I had not paid my dues, so did not have the right to call myself a mason. I simply pointed out that my level of skill was quite a bit greater than theirs, despite having had no formal education, so if I wanted to call myself a mason, I jolly well would.

The world of stone masonry started to blur with the associated world of stone conservation, and that - in it's turn - inevitably merged with stone carving.

People at parties would - and still do - ask, "You're a stone mason, aren't you?"

"No. I'm a stone carver."

"What's the difference?"

"Well for a start, a mason is a tradesman, and I am a professional. This is the most important difference."

These days - if I can get away with it - I call myself a 'sculptor'. This always leads to even more boring misunderstandings, and most people think they have categorised me by responding. "Oh, you're an artist!" to which I say, "No. I am a sculptor."

"What's the difference?" Here we go again.

I have just listened to Grayson Perry's second Reith Lecture, which dealt - very nicely - with these fine lines between Art and artistry, but it took a whole half hour of quickly delivered words to get the message across, and I bet it still didn't sink in with most of the audience.

We haven't heard from Sarah Toa for a while, but I bet she is practicing answering that question at parties with the words, "I am a writer!" for the first time, and enjoying the simplicity of it all.

23 comments:

  1. Grayson Perry talks such a lot of sense doesn't he Tom?
    I do find it easier to assimilate what he says when I can only hear him, rather than see him also, when I get distracted by his alter ego.

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    1. Yes me too. I would have to try and block out the tranny, but I suppose you soon get used to it.

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  2. In my brief stone cutting days, I used to call myself a 'Stone Cutter'. It had a very basic feel about it; which I suppose windows, doors, and arches, ARE.

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    1. That's the only term which comes up on any insurance policies which is not 'mason'.

      In Germany it's easy - 'bildhauer' = picture hewer.

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    2. In Germany there is the Steinmetz (stone)mason - he has learned his craft 3 years, and he is doing practical things, but also headstones, birdbaths, he is sometimes an artisan. Then we have the Bildhauer (stone or wood or metal) - he has mostly (but not always) studied for 3 - 4 years or longer - he is the artist.

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  3. Whatever 'it' is in your picture, 'it' is exquisitely beautiful...

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    1. It's a fire surround, done in the 17th century style. The brief was: 17th century, pears and as big as possible for the room.

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  4. Back in the day my contemporaries could go on and on differentiating between artist and artisan. I seldom joined in; I was just the fool setting up or tearing down, working damn hard to earn a living. I noticed the "artists" seemed to arrive with manual labor in tow.

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    1. Manual labor in tow is fine, so long as you are old/successful enough to need/deserve it, I think.

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  5. You are a sculptor. And the other professions when you like to. You studied/practiced a broad range of subjects, and so you can allow yourself to choose.
    I tell people who ask : "I'm an author - an author who not only writes but also sells books." Unabashed I tell the sales figures - then they are impressed.

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    1. I am also impressed. I would like to be able to call myself a 'consultant', but people don't trust me until they see me sweat.

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  6. and you just might simply be a Bull Shitter

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    1. I wouldn't be where I am today without bullshitting, but at least - in the end - I came up with the goods. The trouble is that you would not want to be where I am today.

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    2. You are correct. Where I am is where I want to be.

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    3. If only you could remember exactly where that is. Oh well, you'll just have to wait for the next sunrise on the next Solstice, then follow all those beardy people wrapped in hostel bed-sheets to get back again.

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  7. Very interesting trains of thought. I would like to hear Grayson Perry on the subject. Shall search for him on youtube. Your overmantle is indeed exquisitely magnificent!

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    1. He has lectured all over the world, but I don't think you can get BBC iPlayer outside of the UK - shame.

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  8. Student Architect, Stage Manager, Production Manager, Prop Maker, Picture Researcher and now God knows. I call myself 'artist' on the blog because Illustrator, which is what I wanted to do when I left school, wouldn't seem quite right. If people ask, I say I'm a researcher who gets no work. A few 'art' commissions recently but I'm not sure Grayson would like them. A sculptor is a very great answer to the question. I wish I could be so sure.

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    1. Look at the signatures on old print engravings, and the maker signs himself as 'sculptor'.

      There is a big difference between Art and art, and I am happy to fall into the bracket with a lower-case 'a'.

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  9. All art is nature. So that's what it is.

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    1. Nice one
      ( I don't undertstand)

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    2. Name me one thing which cannot be described as 'natural' and I might agree. (This offer extends only to persons over 18 whose names do not begin with John and end with Gray).

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  10. Ha! You're an entertainer!

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