Friday, September 28, 2012

Who do we create for?

As I worked on my Sunday quota of four blocks for Veronica's quilt, I thought about one aspect of craft that I haven't often reflected on:  that the craftsperson most frequently makes things that will be used in other people's everyday lives.  Although I'm having fun trying to make interesting blocks when faced with Veronica's idea of the quilt she'd like to have on her bed, I am not driven to make this quilt the way I was driven to make the New York Beauty that is now on the spare bed.  I had this theory about colours:  that all colours could go together if they were arranged or grouped in an effective way, if you paid attention less to the colour than to their level of saturation--the amount of black or grey mixed in with a pure colour, and if you created a rhythm of saturated and unsaturated colours.  I made the quilt, then, as a way of learning something I really wanted to know, as an experiment.  It didn't need to satisfy someone else's hunger, to speak to someone else's sense of who they are, the way something beautiful and well-crafted is able to do.

I seem to be managing this with Veronica's quilt; she looked at all the blocks I have pieced and said "That's it.  Understated with a bit of red.  That's me."  And in a way the need to understand someone else's desires and vision is a gift:  it stretches me as a craftsperson beyond my comfort zone.  I find that some of my principles still hold, though in different ways.  Many quilters, for example, talk about encouraging the viewer's eyes to move around the quilt.  What we're trying to do is to build in surprises that urge you to explore, or to build in echoes that you seek out.  I'm still doing that here, but in a way that's much more subtle. I have to intuit what Veronica would like, and that imaginative act is, in itself, exciting.  She's found a cream print with simple grey butterflies and moths on it, and I'm going to "fussy-cut" pieces and make a slight change to the block so that, perhaps three times in the entire quilt, there's a large moth or a butterfly right at the centre of the block.   

Thoughtful craftspeople imagine the person who will use their work all the time.  Randal Fedge, who tried to teach me to work on a potter's wheel, often took the lovely edge of a bowl and gave it a twist with his thumb.  He was anticipating the bowl's owner picking it up right by the comfortable, inviting divot he'd made.  Jack Sures makes inviting thumb-rests on the top of his mug handles.  I have a very flat porcelain bowl made at Chosin Pottery by Judy Dyelle.  She has made a tiny pleat on the edge of the thin porcelain that always makes me smile, perhaps because it made her smile when she created it.  

Thinking about craftspeople making invitations to future users or attempting to anticipate what would give their owners delight made me wonder whether artists do something similar.  Who do artists create for?  Other artists?  Past masters?   I had a chance to put that question to three young writers last weekend.  "Who do you write for?" I asked them.  Sarah Taggart gave an answer that moved me.  She writes for her characters.  Then because she messes it up, she says, she has to go back to write for herself--for her sense of self-respect.  And then for future readers. 

Brenda Schmidt launched a very interesting book of essays, Flight Calls on Monday.  All of these were prompted by rather enigmatic epigraphs sent by her Saskatchewan Writers' Guild mentor Gerry Hill:  clearly at some level she--like many of us--wrote for a mentor who perhaps temporarily comes to stand in for the audience we would like to have, an audience we respect and trust.

Adorno has a lovely phrase about a successful work of art.  He says it is the equal of itself.  In other words, what the artist has accomplished actually comes very close to the artist's vision.  Faulty craftsmanship, a simplistic world view, inattention haven't crept into the work so that it fails to reflect that Platonic ideal the artist had.  I kind of like Adorno''s notion, except that sometimes I suspect I don't grasp that complex ideal until I'm nearly there.  If I could articulate that ideal in words, I wouldn't have difficulty writing the poem or realizing the character, would I?  Yet I still believe that in the early stages I write for the work itself.  There's some complex aesthetic whole which speaks to what it means to be human that I strive for, even if I only imagine it at some level of abstraction.   It's only as I get closer to this hazy idea that I begin to think about how I'll create a bridge between the work and the world I want it to live in.

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