There are four levels of artistic understanding.
- Unconscious Incompetence
- Not understanding a lack of knowledge and practice
- Conscious Incompetence
- Understanding a lack of knowledge and practice
- Conscious Competence
- Understanding a high level of knowledge and practice
- Unconscious Competence
- A natural flow of knowledge and practice beyond understanding.
The last is the level that all of us who create strive for, that natural flow of working that transcends the conscious choices. I’ve heard it described as “being in the Zone” or “I’m feel’n it.” Whatever you want to call it, that is what artists across the broad scope of disciplines would give their left big toe for. What the artistic community does to achieve this often reaches a level that’s illegal and dangerous. Alcohol abuse, drugs, and other scary stuff can come from the pursuit of unconscious competence.
I designed a table for a customer. The original design of the piece had turned legs. There’s nothing wrong with turned legs. In fact, it’s one of my favorite treatments for a classic table design. Yet, as I worked, the idea of the legs kept nagging me. Like a kid that wanted a different toy and was on the verge of throwing a temper tantrum, it wouldn’t leave me alone. But I was on a deadline, as usual. I had to just push through. As I pulled out the leg blanks, it was as if a force came over me. I didn’t even look at the lathe, I went straight to the bandsaw and proceeded to start cutting cabriolet legs. Unfortunately, I wish I could brag that this is how I always work. Sadly, this was a rare flash of clarity.
The table turned out perfect! I couldn’t have asked for a better look. You know that you made the right decision when the customer loves the changes you made, even though you didn’t consult them. This got me thinking about this phenomenon.
What do drugs and other things artists use to induce “the zone” have in common? They remove inhibitions. “Second guesses and over thinking, go away.” The issue is trust, and you can’t buy that in a bottle. No one can give you it, either.
Plan ahead, the more you have figured out before hand the better the project will turn out, right? Some media takes more planning than others by their nature. However, exhaustive planning is a sure way of settling for conscious competence.
Don’t plan out your stair traction. To allow those wonderful serendipitous things to happen in your work sometimes its a good idea to intentionally leave out a detail here or there to be dealt with on the fly. Don’t know what you’re going to do about traction on your spiral stairs? That’s ok, you’ll think of something. The eye loves something unexpected, and so do those who experience your work. If you are planning on something, it’s not going to be unexpected. Over planning is a good way to get the same ol’ same ol’ over and over again.
So, if you find your work constrictive and static, plan an unplanned event. Don’t worry about messing up. In the words of the eternal Boss Ross, “We have happy mistakes.”
Thanks to Tom Dimond for his four level of artistic mastery!
There is possibly no greater challenge for functional art than standardization. For most makers, you’d sware it was a four letter, get-your-mouth-washed-out-with-soap, filthy, word. If you dare to utter “standardize” in your college art class, you are sure to receive an F on your next project. The world of art does not square with having to work inside set parameters. However, like it or not, it’s a fact that those of us that make things that are to actually be used must accept and deal with.
You’ve seen her. That pure gal down at the office that has the plaster ”barouche” pin that her son made in 2nd grade art class pinned to her blouse. Not only does it not resemble “a rose” but it’s also so heavy that it looks as if that rose pin will take a piece o f her blouse with it if she jostles it to hard. The plaster rose is 6 inches in diameter, weighs a good 1.5 lb., and has a 3/4 inch brass pin holding it on her. The thing is a safety hazard as it knocks stuff off the shelf as she walks by, but she promised her son “I’ll wear it all day long” and she will not lie to the little guy.
Standards are established for a few reasons. Pretty much all of them can be summed by the concept that we are lazy and or cheap. Basically, we want things to be done the same, over and over with as little effort and training as possible. Better yet, let’s get a task lowered to such a level of mundaneness that a machine can do it for us. So we, the makers, are left with this constant quandary; do we conform to prefab factory-made standards, or do we blow off the parameters and risk making something that has no place in a standardized society? If you build a chair, throw a clay mug, knit a sweater, construct a guitar, design a room layout, or any other form and function task, the function must be present. It’s the ability to flourish creatively inside those standards that make us artisans.
I recently got the wild hair to build a casket. I had always wanted to give it a try and besides, “It couldn’t be that hard.” How many great men have died for uttering those words? I conceived a nice box that was person-sized, four walls and a lid, right? Wrong. The burial industry has formed their own set of standards that must be adhered to. Unless, that is, I want to buy my own cemetary, pour my own vault, and wait ’til someone dies whose family doesn’t care that they are burried in my backyard. The interesting thing about standards is that they describe a whole world, and to design a casket I had to become a part of this world. There was so much to learn about how things are done, why they are done that way, and who came up with it. There is a rich history that can be learned just by studying standards.
When I worked as a patinur at a bronze foundry, the artists were the worst part of the job. They sat for hours and hours sculpting their clay. All the while envisioning the final piece and what they wanted it to look like. Yet when they brought their piece in to be molded and cast, they had on idea of what could be done, or how to do it. It was like pulling teeth to get these folks to understand the limitations and standard of casting a bronze sculpture. Artists can be the hardest people to live with, just ask their spouses. It was those few sculptors who had taken the time to understand the casting process that made the finest work. They knew what could be done, therefore they knew what should be done. One of my favorite of these artists said to me once, “Don’t call me an artist, I prefer to be call a Designer.”
I think design is the key to this conundrum. An artist pushes boundaries, but a designer asks why the boundaries are there. An artist seeks to break though establishments; a designer seeks to establish break-throughs. An artist shows people art for art’s sake but a designer creates art for people’s sake.
If you’re a crab or a seagull on the Washington coast, there is one guy that has just become a part of the coastal scenery. His rugged figure just blends into the coastline. Blending in is helped by the fact that he’s usually lugging around a piece of drift wood that is commonplace on the inlet near Tokeland. His bent form under the weight of the wet wood perfectly mimics the shape of the gnarled piece he carries.
His shop is not your typical furniture shop. But that’s okay. His work is not your typical furniture and cabinets. Forms that come out of this shop look more grown than built, and there isn’t a square line on them.
“I guess, naturally, the lines I’m most familiar with show through my work. I love to create lines that are easy to look at, with balance and flow.”
It’s the history of the these forms that create a flow. One of Jeffro’s underlying talents is to participate in the creation of these compositions without getting in the way of its natural growth. It’s almost as if he is just one stage on the evolution of the slow, graceful formation.
“I appreciate the journey of each piece. What a privilege to be able to bring a little life back into them. Nature has the wildest lines, very inspiring to design. There’s an art in being able to use nature’s lines without the piece looking hindered by man.”
Talking to Jeffro is an education in breaking life down into its simplest elements. Most people see a withered log. You may even appreciate the rustic look of the wood. Jeffro, however, doesn’t see a log; he sees a set of lines. Each naturally etched crevasse rolls and dips to describe it’s organic potential. It’s Jeffro’s willingness to become part of those natural lines that make his work truly inspiring.
I asked Jeffro to dicuss some of his favorite work
“I spent over a year and a half collecting the right pieces for the Eagle, putting them aside until I thought I had enough natural shapes to pick from. I had good signs through this project: at the right time an eagle would fly over head while I was gathering material for it. One time, the plastic eagle from the top of a flag pole had washed up in the middle of nowhere to rest on some pieces that were used in the project. For the most part, it was made from cedar roots, and it has a wing span of 9 feet. Why did I build it? I felt I needed to. I wanted to see if I could capture the life and movement of an eagle with theses natural shapes. It still lives in my work shop. I figure the right place will come around when it is meant too.
The Archway would have to be one of my biggest projects. I put over six months into it, off and on, and I can’t count the amount of time put into gathering material. Built mainly from cedar roots and some fir roots. I think this project is where I turned a corner on my scribe fits, hundreds of them to make everything flow together.
The person that commissioned it was the best to build for. He knew I was capable of doing some nice work, so I got a free range to create. When I was finally finished, everyone was blown away! This one turned out to be off the charts.
You can checkout the rest of Jeffro Uitto’s work at http://www.jeffrouitto.com/
A man once applied for an executive position at a large car manufacturing company. During his interview, the CEO asked him, “You have no prior experience in car sales, you’ve never worked on or around a vehicle assembly line, what exactly do you know about making cars?” The man confidently looked the CEO straight in the eye and replied, “Nothing. I don’t know anything about making cars, but I know how to surround myself with people who know everything about making cars.” The man got the position.
When you comment on something nice that a person you meet has, have you ever noticed the way they say, “I bought this here” or “I picked this up in this country?” Sometimes it seems like they are saying, “The Sheppard tended the sheep, the sheer harvested the wool, then the spinster spun the yarn, and the artisan knitted the sweater, but I, yes I, bought it.” As if the purchase made them part, and even the most important part of the making process.
Though mechanized factories have brought down the price of goods and brought up their availability, we have lost a connection. That connection is that deep warming understanding of what it took to make something. When you walk into a department store there are all these things that seem to have magically appeared for your enjoyment. Have you ever asked yourself, “who made that?” With the loss of that connection we have lost a lot of the power and importance of what we fill our lives with. As the car manufacturer applicant knew, and we’ve forgotten, we are only as great as those we surround ourselves with. If you don’t know how something is made, and who made it, you can never tap into that inspiration.
I know that there are some amazing people out there that can make some wonderful work. Rogue Fine Living will be hosting some great artist’s works in the coming months so be sure to subscribe and don’t miss the chance to truly be a part of their work.
I like wood because you can put stuff in it. I don’t mean you can make a box and fill it with things. That’s not the kind of stuff I’m talking about. I mean the sort of stuff that makes us willing to change the worst baby diaper or ride your bike 50 miles a day out in the cold to train for a race. The stuff that makes you satisfied and at peace when you come home after a hard day’s work. Even though your body aches, your heart is well and warm. It’s more than gratitude, more than joy, maybe it has something to do with love, who knows.
All I know is that it takes something that is alive to hold this kind of stuff. I know it’s there because you can feel it when you lay your hand on an old dresser or sit in an antique chair. The wood has a memory. Those old steamer trunks that were carted all over the world could tell you such amazing tales of far off lands.
A great client and a dear friend, Linda, called me and asked me to design a memorial box. In the box, she wanted to put items that she had from her loved ones. There was, however, one little catch. She wanted her box made out of a table her mother had when Linda was growing up. Even I, who loves a challenge, hesitated to take it on. The table sat in the corner of the shop for a few weeks as I tried to figure out what to do with it. By the time I did finally muster up some courage, or some crazy, to take it on I was pleasantly surprized. As I disassembled the old table, I heard it in the back of my mind. It was like an old record player running without the speaker on. A small whisper vibrated from the wood of that table. I couldn’t hear every word it said but I know it was profound. As I worked, the story of a home full of love and rich history filled the shop from each fiber of the wood grain. And, how amazing it was to get to be a part of that story. To this day, this chest was the most fun I’ve ever had building. Thank you, Linda.
That’s what this place is about. Putting value where it belongs. Do you put value on an item if it’s rare, or if everyone wants one? A Rogue life is cherishing things that can hold stuff, stuff that can tell memories of the past for the future to learn from.