The following is a list of found art artists that I am using for a lecture with my sculpture students at Radford University. If interested, feel free to look through some of the images for how we have developed the art of appropriation in the development of what art is. All work is sculpture. Enjoy!
Marcel Duchamp invented the concept of the found object in art and was followed by other artists such as Man Ray’s sculpture “the gift” which was an iron with small nails down its face, a very simple way to render two objects of utility into a non-utilitarian object that expressed a different “use” in the world of humans…..
The object below, titled “Fountain” was more about Duchamp’s insistence that the locus of art is not in the gallery, or museum, or in the minds of jurors who “judge” artwork, but rather in the INTENT of the artist. Since Duchamp entered this piece in a show that was advertised as not refusing any work entered into it, he did not put his name on the piece, but used “R. Mutt” instead. The piece was refused. Duchamp stepped forward and explained it was art because he SAID it was art. This was a powerful statement when you consider that for a very long time artists have been subject to an elitist social and political structure that liked to say what was good and not good, what WAS art and what was NOT art. Once Duchamp came along and said those famous words, the world of art changed significantly. Picasso and Braque followed suit along with a long long list of artists who have put the art of the “find” into their way of working.
The idea was that it wasn’t the object that determined whether something was art or not, but rather it was the INTENT of the person to make art. This opened the door to ordinary objects being used like collage had been used prior to this, in creating artwork.
Found object can be very immediate and simple. It can also be more complex, more worked, or fabricated, as following images will show…..
Note the pairing of two very different materials to create a new context and message: is creating an elephant out of consumer objects saying something about the impact of our society and activities on wild nature? Is our consumption the “elephant in the room”? Found object can often pair two very different types of objects (the found object and the object they are creating) to create a new synthesis of meaning, of visual relationships.
Consider if this wave was made from different materials. How would other objects change the message?
What if you made a heart made out of glass objects. What would that say to the viewer. Now take it another step forward and what if those glass objects were wine bottles? Would that suggest romance? How about bottles of bourbon and cheap booze? How would the use of those objects change the message? What if you took ordinary glass objects that were indistinct in their association and had them encrusted in dirt? What would THAT convey? What if you made a heart out of lead? A heart out of wood? A heart out of plastic? A heart out of crushed auto parts? What associations would we have with each material? How would those materials change how the image was read? What if you found a valentine tin in the shape of a heart. What would that say? What would it say if you took a rifle and shot holes through it and painted it black? Or red? Or plaid? What if you covered it in wallpaper and shot holes in it? Would that suggest some kind of domesticity or connection to home? And what would THAT be saying to your viewer? You see, ALL of these choices and options will impart a different narrative or suggestion to push your work into a given content area, imbuing it with a very different message one from the other.
Black and white cords? Is our world all connected? Is the result black and white? What do you think the artist is saying here?
Shell made of cigarettes. Everyday object transformed into a pointalist object.
Just the artist’s bed. Controversial but the artist leaned on Duchamp’s concept of found object; it was her INTENT to make art that made this piece art.
All plastic trash….look her up online…amazing work…
What would have happened if shoe strings were used, or artificial eyeballs? What if rocks were used? How would each object give a different message? How does pairing different objects to create a new message work?
As artists and designers, our work is very visual. A designer puts her work as a silk screen on T-shirts and sells them to make a living. Someone comes out with a new shape to a shoe, a new configuration to a cabinet, a new look to a car, or a painting, rug, or sculpture. Perhaps someone is making music and wants to protect their ideas. How do we go about protecting what is rightfully ours? In this age when images and products are either being appropriated outright or stolen quietly (something we call piracy), what safeguards are there for such new works that represent new thinking, new ideas, and the hard work of millions?
In the United States there are four main ways to protect your ideas and designs.
First, there are patents. These fall into three broad categories:
Patents are registered with the U.S. patent office and are good for twenty years. This allows the creator the time needed to profit from the idea before its being opened up to the broader market of makers and manufacturers and designers. While it’s a protection, it is limited since the patent office’s other purpose is to help people retrieve information about expired patents so they may learn how to reproduce the idea. One role the patent office serves is that of educator, helping to disseminate accurate information for those wishing to review older patent applications.
Utility patents are applied for to help protect useful processes, machines, manufactured articles, and compositions of matter. Some examples: medications, computer chips, and fiber optic cable.
Design patents guard the unauthorized use of new, original, and ornamental designs for articles of manufacture. How a shirt looks, the design of a piece of blown glass, pottery, furniture, the design of a shoe, or even the characters in a children’s t.v. show can all be protected under a design patent.
Plant patents are the way we protect invented or discovered, asexually reproduced plant types. There has been an explosion of these lately with court rulings allowing companies to patent certain genes. More traditional examples of this are Burpee seeds that are hybrids like the “Beefsteak” tomato. All of these are protected under plant patents.
Trademarks are another form of intellectual property protection. Examples of this type of protection would be the “swoosh” developed by Nike, and the shape of the Coke bottle. These can be symbols, logos, words, or even sounds, that help to distinguish a company or its product in the public eye. Unlike patents, trademarks can be renewed forever.
Copyrights protect works of authorship, such as writings, music, and works of art that have been tangibly expressed. The Library of Congress registers copyrights which last the life of the author plus 50 years. Movies, screen plays, and music are all examples of copyright protection.
Finally, there are trade secrets. Some examples of these are the recipes for Coke and for Kentucky Fried Chicken. These are not protections made by any government agency but by the business itself.
Since my area of interest is in art and design, I will be looking more closely at the Design Patent since it will in most cases be the one application that most artists and designers will be concerned with.
The Design Patent Process. There is a process for applying for a patent, and in order for the office to work with you certain basics have to be observed. Before embarking on such an effort, it would be important to hire a patent attorney so that they may guide you in setting up the best protections built into your application. While the patent office does not require legal representation, it’s always been advised that you do so. The application begins with something called a “drawing disclosure” which is a set of drawings or photographs that describe in a complete manner all aspects of the design that are relevant. A furniture designer would include all scale drawings for the manufacture of their drawers, pulls, how glass or panels are installed; essentially all aspects of he making of the object in order that these details can be plainly understood by the patent examiner to make sure that there is not a current patent that already exists that covers the same design. The patent office describes this part of the process in this way:
Of primary importance in a design patent application is the drawing disclosure, which illustrates the design being claimed. Unlike a utility application, where the “claim” describes the invention in a lengthy written explanation, the claim in a design patent application protects the overall visual appearance of the design, “described” in the drawings. It is essential that the applicant present a set of drawings (or photographs) of the highest quality which conform to the rules and standards which are reproduced in this guide. Changes to these drawings after the application has been filed, may introduce new matter which is not permitted by law (35 U.S.C. 132). It is in applicant’s best interest to ensure that the drawing disclosure is clear and complete prior to filing the application, since an incomplete or poorly prepared drawing may result in a fatally defective disclosure which cannot become a patent. It is recommended that applicant retain the services of a professional draftsperson who specializes in preparing design patent drawings. Examples of acceptable drawings and drawing disclosures are included in this Guide so that applicant will have some idea of what is required and can prepare the drawings accordingly.
In addition to the drawing disclosure, certain other information is necessary. While no specific format is required, it is strongly suggested that applicant follow the formats presented to ensure that the application is complete.
When a complete design patent application, along with the appropriate filing fee, is received by the Patent and Trademark Office, it is assigned an Application Number and a Filing Date. A “Filing Receipt” containing this information is sent to the applicant. The application is then assigned to an examiner. Applications are examined in order of their filing date.
The actual “examination” entails checking for compliance with formalities, ensuring completeness of the drawing disclosure, and a comparison of the claimed subject matter with the “prior art”. “Prior art” consists of issued patents and published materials. If the claimed subject matter is found to be patentable, the application will be “allowed” and instructions will be provided to applicant for completing the process to permit issuance as a patent.
There is an entire process for applications that are incomplete, or are denied or rejected for noncompliance to patent office standards. Its a rather daunting task, but each step is there to make the process one where the patent officials can quickly and speedily process your application.
It’s important to know the requirements of a design patent over a utility patent. The patent office distinguishes these two forms this way in their description of the two:
In general terms, a “utility patent” protects the way an article is used and works (35 U.S.C. 101), while a “design patent” protects the way an article looks (35 U.S.C. 171). Both design and utility patents may be obtained on an article if invention resides both in its utility and ornamental appearance. While utility and design patents afford legally separate protection, the utility and ornamentality of an article are not easily separable. Articles of manufacture may possess both functional and ornamental characteristics.
A design patent must be comprised of those elements in the work (also called “The Art” in the application) that impact the appearance of the object or item being patented. If the appearance of the object is secondary to its use or function, the application can be denied, so being able to differentiate how an object is used as opposed to those elements that serve to be of a decorative or artistic nature need to be well understood. While a car may have an engine that has numerous patents applying to it, it is how the car looks that is served by its design patent. If a door handle on the car has a specific appearance that is not tied to its utility, then it can be protected by a design patent. The patent office also includes that anything that can be deemed offensive to any race, religion, sex, ethnic group or nationality, is not considered for design patents. This provision certainly suggests a degree of interpretation, and this is where an experienced patent attorney can be of some assistance.
A design patent will contain the following elements as standard:
Preamble, stating name of the applicant, title of the design, and a brief description of the nature and intended use of the article in which the design is embodied;
Description of the figure(s) of the drawing;
A single claim;
Drawings or photographs;
Executed oath or declaration.
While it is beyond the scope of this blog to go into each of these elements, they are included in order that you can become familiar with those most basic portions of the process. The fee for filing such an application depends on whether you or your company is of sufficient size to warrant a standard design application fee or the opportunity to have this fee reduced by half if you can prove that you are a small entity. There is an application for this that has to be filed along with the application. At every step of the way, there are applications that must be made if you are going to, for example, include photographs as opposed to drawings. These photographs have to be printed on the correct weight paper, and they each have to be identified in the proper way so they can be referenced accurately within the application!
For more information on the process and what is required you can go to the patent office website to find out more. The link to the design patent location is here.
The fee schedule for all patent applications can be found here. The cost for a patent search, which is just the portion of the application that makes sure there is no one else with the same kind of patent that is current is $60.00 for a small entity and double that for a larger entity. The design patent examination itself currently costs $60.00 for a small entity, and again, is double that for a larger company. There are other fees associated to the proper application for patent and it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with them and decide if patenting your idea is what you would like to do.
The single best way to keep fees down is to make sure that your application is completed with as few errors as possible. If you have educated yourself and are willing to do the patent application on your own, taking the time to go through all of the requirements and making sure they all conform properly will save you headaches later on down the line. It can also keep your patent application running smoothly through the patent office, cutting down on the time that it takes to process it. Asking for a “rush” on your application, for example, will cost you in excess of $2,000.00. Learning how to best prepare for a process such as this can save you later. As a final word of caution, be careful about letting a company that helps people get patents. It has been the experience of the patent office that while some are reputable, some are not. Some may have a contract that serves to reduce, not enhance, your rights under the patent. They might not take a fee, but instead have provisions that make them a defacto partner in the making and marketing of your design. It’s always advisable to read the small print, and even then, better to hire a patent attorney who understands current law as it related to Intellectual Property (IP) issues.
For an up to date listing of attorneys in your area who are currently able to present patent applications to the Patent Office, go here. As you will see, you can view by state or by zip code. The zip code list is the most up to date (its updated daily). I would suggest getting references for these attorneys so that you can decide which one is right for you. Having someone familiar with the design application as opposed to a utility application could result in fewer hang ups or problems later on down the line.
As a final little zinger and reminder about how important it is for the customer to be educated and prepared…..a number of years ago I was involved in work with a CPA who was part of a prestigious firm in my area. His services were used for a number of basic tax and accounting issues. When the business entity shifted gears and we chose to keep him on without my looking deeper into his credentials, we later suffered a big upset when he interpreted the law in such a way that it doubled our tax burden! He was a well intended professional, but he was out of his league on this one issue, and it caused a great deal of problems until it was corrected. I had assumed he knew the law because even I knew how the law was interpreted by the vast majority of accountants in this area of expertise. While it is not always possible for you to know ahead of time WHAT the law is, having already familiarized yourself with the basics can help YOU in choosing the person who will be right for the job. If you go into this process not knowing the right questions to ask, you could easily miss an important question to ask the person who will be serving you. While you can make an argument for the professional needing to know his or her area of expertise, the bottom line is not doing so and having it result in a hang up is still a hang up or unpassed hurdle. By being somewhat prepared, you can go into this process with eyes more open. I hope that I have included some resources for you that will help you to familiarize yourself with the design patent process in your journey towards protecting your designs!
Prior to having a patent in place, having very good forms of documentation of the existence of your work as a copyrighted entity can also be of some help. Doing this though means sending yourself images of your work via certified mail and then keeping this envelope unopened and on file should any need to take action arise. Other forms of this could be printed materials with your designs clearly printed on them along with a date of some kind, establishing when you were making these. While not as good as a patent, it can provide some measure of protection especially if you have a patent application pending or the case is a clear one involving stealing your designs. Sadly, with the advent of optical scanners, someone can take a sculpture, scan it, and actually reproduce it using rapid prototyping technology. While still developing, the technology already is causing some concern over intellectual property rights. When I look on web sites and see so many images of others’ work being appropriated for a personal web site’s content, I have to wonder how far adrift we have gotten where we do not think about an image possibly being the work of another person, or seeking to provide attribution. When I was in school, I could be kicked out for plagiarizing another’s work by not providing proper attribution! Awareness is key, and then having the reverence to understand the work that went into making that item and NOT copying it but instead getting the artist to whom it belongs to provide you with their OWN work!
It’s not often that the little guy gets a big break. Artists often struggle to get their work to stand out, to be seen, to get a chance to rise to the top, to be known for what and who they are. They are, after all, very small businesses. In rural Southwest Virginia, that is exactly what one foundation has sought to do. No compromises, no shortcomings, no disappointments, no big stuffy boards that oversee a project and have their OWN ideas about how the arts are best served, all without really understanding what’s really needed. Someone was able to bring a vision to full fruition. Now that vision needs everyone’s support to help push it forward in its search for becoming self-sufficient, and is one reason why this blog entry fits in so well with the purpose of this blog overall, which is to highlight great design wherever, and whenever it happens.
Over the last five years or so, there has been an initiative on the part of Todd Christianson to develop a “family” of organizations that will help bring the artist and artisan to the attention of a wider public. By being the driving force behind this effort, he was able to garner the state money and grants needed to get this lofty concept off the ground. He also brought into being several organizations that all help to serve cultural tourism in the region of Southwestern Virginia. These organizations include The Crooked Road, and ‘Round The Mountain (home to Heartwood Artisan Center). The former organization promotes the roots of country music in the region of Southwest Virginia by developing and promoting trails that lead to some of the best kept secrets of the music industry, and also some heavy hitters, too. Who knew that you could travel back into time and find fiddlers gathering on porches and in barns to perform like they did way back in the day, untroubled by the hype and commercialism of modern capitalist attitudes that so often destroy and wreck a good old thing? Not so in our neck of the woods; The Crooked Road has been met with fabulous success and has helped to push forward his efforts for ‘Round the Mountain. People sign on and travel its windy roads to reach the homes of musicians now rising in popularity. Ralph Stanley himself is associated with this wonderful piece of culture and history, along with a host of up and coming musicians now making names for themselves.
At the heart of all of this lies the jewel in the crown of Southwestern Virginia culture; Heartwood Artisan Center, which is located in Abingdon, Virginia. Part of an ambitious 17 million dollar project, the Center sits along interstate I-81 in a town known for other great cultural institutions such as the Barter Theater. The artisan center is a 30,000 square foot structure with a cool and regional theme that is an eclectic blend of sensibilities: the building looks like a barn split down its middle with a silo to help add to the effect. Very simply, it’s a remarkable building to be in. It blends a feeling of the barn with a feeling of some of the most up to date technology. All around there are kiosks with video monitors showing images of artists at work, musicians in concert, and pictures of the sweeping panorama’s that this region offers. The floors have wood planking that were made locally. The stone for the building was quarried just miles away. The entire building is stocked with the work of artisans from the 19 county region that the organization ‘Round The Mountain serves. From inexpensive jewelry to locally made produce, music cd’s and a rocking chair that fetched over $4,000.00 for its maker there, there is something for everyone. All artisans who have juried and have been accepted into the individual artisan trails that are part of the overall vision of “Round The Mountain, are able to exhibit at Heartwood. Think of it as the outlet for all the artisan trails that the organization helped foster and build. It’s a testament to collaboration and community that this facility was able to get off the ground in the way that it did.
The building, designed by local SpectrumDesign, the engineer and architect for the building project, has a number of other regional projects that show a similar sensitivity to the building and identity of the organizations and businesses that operate there. It boasts a commercial kitchen for special events as well as an eatery all under one roof. To get an idea for what the building looks like, a picture is worth a thousand words. When you first see the structure, it’s so funky-cool that its exciting to actually approach and go inside. Once inside, though, the view is open, airy, cathedral-like even. It’s an inspiring and exciting space to be in for the interesting sense of design that draws on many different sensibilities yet never becomes maudlin or steeped in stereotypes. This is an interesting space, no doubt about it, and its drawing visitors on a daily basis to see what all the fuss is about. While there is a barnsy look, and while there is even a lofty look to the interior, you have to understand that a barn is a country cathedral. If you think you know what a barn is like on the inside I ask you; have you ever been in a barn so beautifully put together? Below and to the left, you will see an example of how the architectural design has helped to bring about a fusion of many different sensibilities all under one roof. This is remarkable. Gifted with plenty of space, storage, meeting rooms, offices, kitchens and display space, this is a wonderful achievement. The building is divided into two main wings with a central desk that serves to check out customers and guide visitors into the building. There is room for a permanent exhibit that helps to tell the story of fine craft in this part of the country. Beyond the main desk is an open area where visitors can rest, eat a meal from locally grown produce at their own eatery, and a second wing that hosts musical instruments, music cd’s of local musicians that are part of the Crooked Road. While embracing the design sensibilities of fine craft, there is a broad range of work at the Center.
Towards the back, or is that the front?…. The building is so light and airy that its open all around to the outside, a feature that gives it a four corners effect. But the space is soaring and open, rich and alive, cool and warm all at once. The lighting in the photo to the left was made by a member of the Floyd County Artisan Trail of ‘Round The Mountain (RTM) Crenshaw Lighting. With similar building techniques as employed in barns and even cathedrals, the resulting effect is inspiring.
Display areas are in the two wings of the building. This one, near the front of the Center, includes some story boards that explain a little about the history and culture of the region. There is a little something for everyone…from educational information, the opportunity to meet artisans during demonstration weekends, and listen to live music. The displays are laid out so that its easy to move through the spaces. It’s a great design and easy to navigate. When design is both intuitive and well thought out, it creates an affirming and enjoyable experience for visitors.
The eatery, located more in the center of the building, provides those who are sitting down to have a bite, with a view of both wings, and the opportunity to consider where to go next.
For my money, this is a great facility. It’s a great home for the regional artisans. It helps to bring their work to the public in a high-profile way. It finally honors the role that the arts play in our community. In the town of Blacksburg, which is a few hours west, the local University has been busy building an arts center. It turns out that this center will allow for programming to take place, but no room for artists, no consideration for their work or workshops. Its been the result of a very real disconnect between a very corporate kind of entity (albeit a state-run one) and the community it is supposed to serve. I contacted its director and asked what I had to do to locate my studio in their facility. There was never any consideration for such a thing. My calls were never answered. I wasn’t worth the time, or consideration, or perhaps it wasn’t something that occurred to its board which oversaw the conceptualization of the project. Its okay, though, because the arts begin at home, and whooo what a home RTM has made for itself and for the artists that they serve! This is an example of how big business can serve the little guy and gal, celebrating our culture, boosting cultural tourism, as well as the business of every artisan associated with it!
For more information on ‘Round the Mountain, The Crooked Road, Heartwood Artisan Center and the people who make it happen, you can visit these sites for additional information:
For a story about Heartwood and its recent opening, see this article (which also has a picture of a piece of glass made by yours truly). It includes an interview with Todd Christianson and other artisans.
If you who would like to learn more about the artisan trails that are part of this regional effort and the opportunities they offer to visitors all across our region, go here.
Support your local artist, artisan, and designer; its all local and made in America!
I’d like to take a moment and explain a little about this blog, what its about, what the thinking is that is behind it, and why yet another blog and why a blog about Stafford Art Glass. First off, I am an artist, artisan, designer, and educator. I write a good bit, having a 620 page manuscript in the works (which looks like if I can get a big enough crowbar could be turned into three books), have written some as-yet unpublished children stories and am working on a second book related to the first (this might be that crowbar I was looking for). I also write two other blogs on other subjects related to nonduality and I run a studio in the Alleghany mountains of Virginia. I am a father of two and my life has been turned around recently in such a way that I have begun to look at creativity very differently than I did before. Maybe I should say my thinking has blossomed a little more. While my interests are broad, I am keeping the focus pretty tight on this blog.
We very much need good things to help reflect our values in life. Everyone has different ideas, philosophies, and approaches. All of them are valid, of course, all have merit, and even if by looking over our shoulder at our neighbor we have trouble understanding some of them. The truth is, there is a tendency we as humans have that serves to lock out whole worlds of possibilities, and it doesn’t just happen in art and fashion. Our brains are designed to see the patterns in the chaos, and because of that, we like to hold onto those patterns, and often deify them much to our limit. We become biased and this bias closes us to the possibilities. This has a broad application in life, and this principle is anathema to being innovative or creative in my opinion. I very much love taking the most obvious idea or form and think how I can turn it on its head, turn it inside out, change it, reform and recreate it. This is part of the very essence of the creative, and its necessary if you are going to attempt to think differently, and have a chance at creating something new. By being able to innovate, we as creators and innovators can bring to market those products that matter and that tell the story in an entirely new way. Sometimes new is very very good, but new often is built upon the old in such a way that it changes the conversation, the very content of the past so that it can speak to a new generation. All great innovation is built upon this precept.
It might be a little silly for me to be titling this post “The Exquisite Object” because the truth is, one person’s exquisite is another person’s eeeew! However, I think that the better we can innovate and create the New, the better we are able to insert something into the dialog of our lives that has some meaning. Many strokes for many folks!
I am a glassblower, artist, as well as sculptor. When I think of glass, though, I tend to think of it as a sculptural medium, even though I often make very functional items. Glass can be a material that we instantly have certain assumptions about. Its a perfect example of how we can crowd out a world of possibility, as well as innovation and creativity by keeping our horizon limited. The techniques I use to make my work set it apart from the usual run of the mill glass that you might think you know. A lot of what I do, like most good designers and artists do, is seek ways to set myself apart from the pack. I also do what matters to me. If I did what sold, I’d still be making those god awful ornaments I took to New Jersey that one time that were, I thought, horrible color combinations and sold within the first hour of the Artfair! What I know is that I am looking for the right person for my work, and this falls entirely outside the design process and becomes a marketing issue, but it is a basic philosophical precept to how I operate. If I seek to please everyone, I wind up not pleasing myself, and asking just what on earth I am doing. So I stick to what I believe and out of that comes something of consequence to me and my customers. I do not look at the materials I use in a limited light; they are just that, materials, and can become anything. Sometimes the greatest ideas are waiting to be discovered and they are right in front of us. I don’t bring to my glass work any of the same biases that I found once I got into the medium.
Perhaps as a result of this orientation, I don’t have much of a purist heart in me because it is that “purity” that I also know in another language also means “bias” and bias is also a way of limiting yourself. On the one hand, you need FOCUS when doing art or design, but I have always sought a range of different sensibilities that have all informed one another or told different parts of a much larger tale. For sure, I am interested in certain kinds of design, don’t get me wrong, but I am restlessly creative, and this is evidenced in my enormous writing output over the last year as well as my going into teaching sculpture at the local university. Its more like I can’t tell the whole story in English, and I need four more languages with which to explain everything! This flies in the face of everything my teachers tried to convey to me early on, and yet, just like our need to find objects that are well designed and made that help express our OWN sense of style and design, so too must I range across a multilingual landscape in order to tell my own story! Besides, who is living this life, me or my teachers from long ago? Sometimes it also means sticking to your guns and not being afraid to believe in something.
I can remember a number of years ago when I attended a workshop by the well-known sculptural glass artist Pino Signoretto. That’s him at the bench with all the guys crowded around him. It was a demonstration workshop, which meant we all watched. I filmed the whole thing, hoping to learn as many tricks as I could from this great master. As I sat with camera in hand an attendee and I began to chat. He asked what I did in my work and we had a nice exchange that was pretty cordial until he found out that I also made these little sculptural pieces I call Andromeda Geodes and Inscape Geodes. For lack of a better name, these would be referred to as paperweights. With a change in his body language and a roll of his eyes, he said to me that he REFUSED to do paperweights and quickly ceased any conversation with me. He had, at that point, decided I was one of THOSE glass artists, and quite suddenly, I was beneath him. I remember being a bit surprised by the arrogance that was being leveled at me, but also a little happy at the same time. I thought that this was one less person to have to compete against, and how nice it was that I wasn’t so closed-minded about what glass could and could NOT be, or what was good or NOT good.
Since then, I have run across a number of glass artists who look at the subject of making sculptural glass the same way. Its largely from a place of ignorance, and thus bias, and the fact that “paperweights” are thought of as easy to make by those who have dabbled in them, which they can be, the act of bias, a very subjective activity in itself, closes off any intellectual or creative curiosity for some people. Its when we make assumptions about what we THINK we know that we can miss a world of possibility. In fact, many of the great discoveries were accidents that forced people into thinking about a given phenomenon, technology, in a different way. So often, we just get STUCK in what we believe is possible, or not worthwhile. Often, by turning something on its head, we can peel off entire layers of new material and possibility just by NOT assuming we know all there is to know. Truth is, we really know very little, but that ego of ours sure doesn’t want us to believe or be mindful of that!
Here is what I mean: paperweights are normally round, clear, and brilliantly colored. They are a delicious slice of eye candy. For me, though, I never saw the paperweight as anything with a history. I didn’t KNOW the history of these things. I didn’t grow up owning paperweights. I never saw them made. I didn’t know what you were SUPPOSED to do with them, or any of the traditionalist baggage that could have served to limit me. I simply came innocently into their grove and like a child, looked anew at what they could become. I had nothing that told me anything about any of this was bad, or more desirable than any other. I was a sculptor getting my M.F.A. and I was just taking glass because it was such a cool medium. I took a beginning glass class that covered the basics, but was so intimidated by the skill and knowledge of the other glassblowers in the program, that I wound up working alone much of the time. In some ways, it may have been my own loss from a technical stand point, but the flip side was I remained a conceptual vacuum where I didn’t always know what should or could be done. Normally, this way of working is not one I would even suggest as being productive for my students in sculpture, but I have to admit that it served me in a way that helped me to dream in a different way, in a more unlimited way. I learned all of my techniques pertaining to solid work entirely on my own. As a result, I did everything opposite from the way its normally done. Instead of making my “paperweights” clear on the outside, I made them opaque. The design on the outside wasn’t even a design, but a rock-like effect. Light did not dance across their surfaces, but instead they had a shell that obscured their interiors. I also didn’t make my pieces round. They were lumpy, bumpy, and organic. I was more interested in real geodes and how their surfaces looked. I wanted to make the glass NOT even LOOK like glass! Then, by cutting them open, I revealed their interiors, which were sparkling worlds and galaxies full of brilliance and crystalline beauty. Everything about these pieces has defied what the assumed definition of a “paperweight” is to the point that I often have trouble even calling them paperweights. People seem to need to have a way to peg them, so they get this categorization. The truth is, these pieces are hard to make.
Already, have had two artist attempt my designs, one who sought to adapt it to his own color effects and design sense while another has not taken my design very far from the tree from which it was conceived (which bothers me the most since this feels like theft to me). One of them gave up the work because of some technical problems that I faced in the work but worked through. It was interesting looking at his derivative work and being able to see that the issues I had worked so hard on to fix were still remaining in his version. A given type of work can be difficult to make technically, but the user doesn’t want to know about this, they want an object that they can use, and while part of their enjoyment is the “how’d they do that?” factor, it doesn’t matter much since its all just details. When people go to see a movie very rarely do they want to see a film about HOW the film was made; they just want to become absorbed in the art, in the story being woven. Regardless of the level of difficulty (or lack thereof), the bottom line is: is it exquisite? Is it finely crafted, thought out, does it have good design, and does it say something in a way that hasn’t been said before? If the answer is yes to all of this, then its a “go for launch.”
In my teaching, I try to get this across to my students. We talk about what art is, and while its a sticky wicket sometimes, part of what art is about is its ability to take an old conversation and turn it into a new one. Most great artists took what was assumed and turned it inside out. Duchamp took ordinary objects and said they were art, underscoring how important INTENT was in art making, while at the same time also using everyday mundane objects in an entirely new way. Sometimes it can also mean starting an entirely new conversation based on new concepts, new forms, and new ideas. Ultimately its about transforming the mundane into the profound, and this is no mean task. It means thinking different, and it also means not allowing the mundane to trip you up, or to believe that there isn’t some new way to go about making something so that it breathes new life into the artform. Its about not letting our biases rule the day because just beneath the bias runs the strongest and most powerful current we know; creativity. It also means stopping before you begin your eye roll when you hear of something you think you already know everything about! When we can learn to think different, we can also create different. When you can make different, you can come up with new forms, new product, new stories, new ways of seeing and feeling. This is one of the powerful sides of the human spirit, and that is a great thing to embrace!
So much about design and art is taking established guidelines or forms and creating something new out of it. Being able to break out of those old molds, modes, and ways of thinking is the essence of innovation, and that means design, too! To that end, this is in large part what this blog is about; innovation. As I write, I now have several new lines of work waiting for me to continue to tune and tinker with. The concept is well fleshed out, but the form needs to follow the function, and the function is the concept. How well do these two align? How do I pull on the idea of utility and art to create something new? What taboos can I break, or old notions can I leave by the wayside in the search for the next big thing? This is where the rubber meets the roads, my friends, and this is the very meat of what interests me most about what I do. In the posts that follow I will be discussing the processes and ways that have led me to knew work. The studio is a place of flux. I am not a factory, although the studio sure looks like one. It could be one, or it could be an entirely new model based upon a very old one, that of the individual studio artist and artisan creating new work just as they have for millenia. I might even manage to comment on the state of design in our world, perhaps in small bite sized chunks!
Please contact me directly for studio hours: our work is seasonal and sometimes the studio can be down for repairs, for example. Some days we are blowing glass while other days we are running errands or away at a show. Let us know when you are free to come see us and we can work something out that works for you.