Tag Archives: aesthetics

What is Creative?

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According to a recent government think-tank craftspeople can no longer be considered ‘creative’. Given the task of Classifying and Measuring Creative Industries they ‘classified’ a craftsperson as a ‘manufacturer who follows fixed procedures to produce articles by hand’. No creativity required! Having spent most of my life working in what I consider to be ‘creative industries’ I’m appalled, especially when the same report praises desk-dwellers like Town Planners and IT consultants for their creative input. At a stroke my status is downgraded to unimaginative; lacking innovation, artistry or aesthetics. But hasn’t there has always been an element of snobbery towards makers who actually get their hands dirty?

I was brought up on the premise that it’s exemplary to make things by hand. When I studied at Art College William Morris remained the oracle and he believed that losing respect for the past meant the future was in trouble. Making is in our genes – from making food to making clothes, mankind learned hand-skills in order to survive. But hand-skills are developed through creative intellect passed down from master to apprentice, and Morris challenged Victorian industrialists for failing to recognise this fact.

For some archaeologists the humble sewing needle marks the most crucial advance for prehistoric societies. This simple tool allowed our ancestors to finally crawl out of their caves. Needles meant clothing fashioned from raw animal skins could be made to fit. And clothes that fitted made winter hunting expeditions more endurable. Better diet meant survival rates improved and life-spans extended, enabling clans to pass greater wisdom and experience onto the next generation. The beautiful paintings left in caves remain the only evidence of their life stories. And of their instinct for creativity.

It took thousands of years before primitive societies discovered how to farm in such a way they could sustain life without the need to wander. And it was no doubt during this period a wider range of craft skills were perfected. Whether making vessels to store water, or weaving textiles or tanning leather to make clothes, people were discovering how to manipulate whatever materials they discovered in order to improve their lives. Perhaps that’s why the current government boffins think crafts lack creativity, because we’ve been using these processes for a very long time. But even if societies did have to produce everything required to sustain life there’s nothing to say they didn’t enjoy the process, people who work with their hands are nothing if not resourceful.

Each stage of early intellectual development can be credited to a breakthrough in manufacturing techniques brought about by craftspeople. Without skills honed from manufacturing hand-crafted products the Renaissance just couldn’t have happened. Blame glassmakers on the island of Murano for the invention of spectacles. And Guttenberg was apprenticed to be a jeweller, that’s how he learned the techniques necessary to ‘create’ moveable typefaces.

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It might take a given set of procedures to make a product by hand, but craftspeople are perpetually innovating, pushing the boundaries of what is possible, and it’s in their nature to explore and experiment. But an experienced craftsperson does not separate the workings of the hand from the workings of the mind. There is no such distinction. Neither do they baulk at getting their hands dirty.

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Love Affairs – Part 2

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English mountains and hills possess a rare form of grace. They dominate the landscape of Cumbria like gigantic beasts, asleep and content. The prospect of rolling hills and soaring mountains arouses deep emotions and, to my mind, encapsulates the perfect rural habitat. When times are bad we are told to look upwards, to seek inspiration from beyond our confines, and perhaps that is why some people are drawn to leave cities and towns to make the countryside their home. I know I am privileged to inhabit such a landscape.

 

The lane passing my house leads to a viewpoint where I can experience the full drama of the Caldbeck Fells, hills once claimed by Queen Elizabeth I to be ‘worth all England else’. On fair weather days I even have the bonus of Skiddaw’s peak piercing the sky behind. And when I turn back towards home I see an opposing panorama of patchwork fields spread wide across the Solway Plain. The scene is bounded to the east by a sweeping profile of dome topped Pennine’s and to the north, rising above the tidal waters of the Firth, the span of Scottish hills the Scots call Lowlands. My heart soars at this view. The plain overflows with history and makes me mindful of those who came before me, the generations who survived Romans and Reivers. This land has long been home to a race of free-thinking, independent souls. It encapsulates the breath of Borders tenacity. But ten years ago this complex, beautiful countryside was ruined by an arrogant line of industrial white turbines which stretch their mechanical wings like bunting across the plain. And because they stand barely a mile from my viewpoint they intercede with the horizon. A perspective broken is a perspective spoiled, ask any artist.  

 

I’ve only recently discovered that a large wind turbine has now been approved in the next village, Thursby, named by the Vikings for Thor. I wasn’t given any opportunity to raise my objections because it falls outside the boundaries of my ‘parish’ and the authorities are not obliged to make me aware. However this turbine will stand barely three fields from my home and cast its long shadow across my neighbour’s land. Those who cannot live with this monument to ‘progress’ have already begun their exodus; they refuse to endorse the spoilage. It seems to me The Reivers are back, except they are wreaking a different kind of chaos, one that attacks our ideas of what countryside represents.

 

And so to my real concern. There is a new proposal to build three of the largest wind turbines yet constructed ‘on-shore’ in our village, at a farm called Carwath. Even the title has been invented to deceive because the village is called Rosley and even locals fail to recognize the location of this project. These 150 metre turbines are to be sited in the heart our village, less than 1000 metres from the village primary school, community centre and church. They will stand a mere three fields from my home in the opposite direction to the Thursby turbine. When considered alongside a smaller turbine at nearby East Curthwaite and a wind farm being proposed in a village further east there will no longer be an unsullied view of the horizon whether you look north, south, east or west. We are able to raise objections to the proposed site but apparently, in the twenty-first century, the council have no authority to prevent a wind farm on the grounds of desecrating an unblemished panorama. Me….I blame the national curriculum. Thirty years of educating the mind without engaging the spirit and we’ve nurtured a generation of vacuous number crunchers. Do they even comprehend the concept of beauty?

 

“I love all beauteous things, I seek and adore them,

God hath no better praise, And man in his hasty days,

Is honoured for them.”

Robert Bridges

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Love Affairs – Part One

While researching in some old magazines recently I discovered an article called ‘Love Affairs’ which was published in the Goldsmiths Review of 1989, a magazine produced by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths and distributed to members.

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The writer, Geoffrey Wilson OBE, was then chief inspector of schools for Kirklees LEA. He wrote the article because ‘the educational prescriptions of the National Curriculum into which the child now has to fit leaves little room to have those deep love affairs which were of significance to all of us in the past.’ His prime concern being, ‘it does not even pay lip service to those deeper and more profound values associated with the spiritual and emotional growth of children which were of paramount importance to those……concerned with the teaching of craft and design in the sixties and seventies.

Wilson continues, ‘some of us remember revelling in the aesthetics of skill; the child with his eyes closed stroking his cheek with a piece of finished wood; or marvelling as he raised a piece of silver or used a graver or spokeshave.’

Wilson had hoped the National Curriculum would be a chance to redress the imbalance of a system which had only contempt for technical subjects. Instead five dissimilar components were amalgamated: Technology; Craft, Design and Technology/ Home Economics/ Information Technology/ Art/ Business Studies. Wilson said if there was one thing he believed after a lifetime in education it was that good learning takes place in the company of experts and to put together these five incompatible bedfellows could only be a recipe for disaster.

He then laid out a list of ten ‘confusions’.

1 Personal worth is confused with personal status and position.

2 Satisfaction is confused with reward.

3 Personal identity is confused with personal possessions.

4 Personal responsibility is confused with conformity.

5 Respect is confused with obedience.

6 Strength and resolve are confused with toughness and ruthlessness.

7 Change is confused with progress.

8 Education is confused with cleverness.

9 Fulfilment is confused with enjoyment.

10 Urgency is confused with importance.

Government, he says, comes down in favour of the measurable, instrumental features which form the second words in each confusion. Who moves the human spirit? Who will dare, other than in protest, to make those imaginative leaps encouraged by the old education system? We are classified by the words we use and management, delivery, assessment, audit, client, market place, discipline, toughness have become the ‘in’ words.

He ended with this story: ‘When Michaelangelo was going to Rome to see the Pope prior to his being employed to build the great dome of St. Peter’s and paint the Sistine Chapel, he took with him a reference which said: The bearer of these presents is Michaelangelo the sculptor….his nature is such that he requires to be drawn out by kindness and encouragement – but if love be shown him and he be treated really well, he will accomplish things that will make the whole world wonder.

The making of beautiful things requires care, compassion, encouragement and love. 

(Photograph of The Lady of the Lake, taken during filming)  

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