Monday, November 19, 2012

On Making Things

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a craftsman/artist, and about what it means to make an object. A recent conversation with Petr Florianek sparked all this. He had been having conversations with Jake Powning and Peter Johnsson over the same topic. Regarding the objects that we make, he told me: "They are like knots on a string, something you can feel while running the string through your fingers."

I looked at this two ways. First is the way that I think Petr had not intended, which is that the string represents history and myth. The material objects that have been made throughout history are represented as knots on the string. The old masters took up the string and tied a knot for every object that they made. And we today tie new knots when we make a new object. But the string is not the same as it was back then. Maybe we've lost some objects to time and decay, maybe their knots unraveled. Maybe some objects have become so ingrained in our consciousness that we can't discern them anymore, maybe their knots have been pulled so tight that they feel no higher than the untied string. As modern craftsmen, we tie our own knots. So the string is like the legacy of material culture left to us by our ancestors.

The second way I looked at this is the way that I think Petr meant for me to understand it, which is that the string represents art, and being an artist. The knots are the products of our artistry, but the processes of making those products are represented as the straight sections. Whether tied or untied, the string is still art. Whether a crafted object or the processes behind its making, it's still art. He said that Peter Johnsson has said that both the objects themselves and the process of making them should be art. It could not have been said better. Art is beautiful, find the beauty in making it.

Another term that's been lingering in my mind is "sole-authorship". I read it while browsing J. Arthur Loose's Etsy page (etsy.com/people/jarthurloose). It really made me think. What it ultimately means to me is making something entirely by yourself. You can apply that at the level of forging your own blades instead of buying blades. You can take it really far, and only make blades from iron and steel you smelted yourself from naturally occurring ore. And I definitely think that the closer you can get to nature the more sole-authored it is. But I don't think that's what's important about this concept. What's important about it for me is the feeling that I get from something that I've made myself. I picture the object in my head before I make it. When I complete that object, I've given my thoughts form. I have put my imagination, my spirit, into a physical object. When I use an object I've made myself, it's not like I'm using an object at all. It's like I've just found another part of myself to put to use. It's just me.

So, to tie all this together. The act of making an object (big or small, blade or not) with your own hands is really an act of magic. You are taking your thoughts and giving them tangible, physical substance. You are literally bringing your imagination to life. And no, it's not like your thoughts steam out of your ears in a cloud of vapor and manifest into a physical object. But the process of making that object is no less magical, and is in fact much more beautiful. You are making art, being art, and establishing an almost spiritual connection between yourself and all the craftsmen that came before you, communing with them through your work. So what it means to be a craftsman, to me, is to be a kind of modern wizard, a magic worker in an age of plastic and factory-made objects.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

More Petr, More Poem

Here are a couple pictures of one of Petr's latest works (check out this man's engraving skills!!!), along with my latest poem. This one tells a story of a Danelaw era battle between the Northumbrians and the Danes, where a blade like this one might well have been used.



Mighty were the men     who marshaled their strength
against the heathens,     greedy for slaughter.
The Sea-Danes struck,     strong and fearsome,
with sharpened spearpoints,     shield-bearing fighters.
But the hearts of the Angles     are hardy and steadfast.
Boldly one thane     brandished his war-knife.
It was sorely suited     to sit in a corner,
rusting and pitting     to ruin and frailty
while its cowardly master     succumbed to old age.
Its food was the flesh     of fell opponents
and it hungered fast     for the heathen earl.
It bit his neck     and his blood flowed forth.
The raiders were broken,     bereft of their captain,
and yelling aloud     "Jarlabani" they cried.
The northmen so named     that knife of the thane
that had won the field     for the weary Angles
and had so well     upheld their rule.



Copyright © 2012 Myles Mulkey
Images courtesy of Petr Florianek (gullinbursti.cz)