Saturday, 14 June 2008

Artistic Influences

One of the difficult elements in practicing craft relates to influences vs. copying. The statement that "nothing under the sun is new" is clearly not true, or there would be no advances. Each advance is built on earlier work, of course (with the occasional brilliant exception). I have often seen people claim a particular way of working as theirs, as in "no one else is allowed to do this". It seems to me that techniques, unless patented, are free for others to make use of in their expression. However their expression is their own, can be copyrighted, and should not be copied.
To make these ramblings specific, I need to give you my response to a visit to Joe Smith's garden during the Spring Fling Festival. Joe has a beautiful garden that is well tended and has some of his wonderful slate sculptures in it.

Although this photograph does not do justice to the house, you can see a few of the sculptures at the front and in the gable end of the house.

The garden has a number of the classical shapes as well as other sculptures. This picture shows a view of part of the garden, as well as what a nice day it was.

Joe had a tent at the back of the garden with information about his work, the Spring Fling, and a little set up showing the tools, materials, and beginnings of a sculpture. Now the relevance of this to artistic influence is how you take an idea into another medium. When I saw the work method, my immediate reaction was that I have a lot of glass shards, called cullet. These could be used in a similar way to Joe's work with the slate.

So I saw a technique that has a long lineage. As far as I can see, Joe is using a dry stone walling technique that is ancient. But he is creating a sculptural object, rather than a wall or fence. So I thought about things for a while, maybe trying to justify my desire to try out the building up of a shape from thin pieces. For me, the translucency that could be achieved from using glass was an attraction. It has the appeal of sculptural depth that I cannot normally achieve with fusing. It could have a different feel (both visual and tactile) than cast glass. It is not a single piece and yet it is a whole.

So I began work. As I continued up several layers, I began to think of the brochs in Glenelg (Images 13-18 especially). There are of course brochs all over the north west of Scotland and Orkney and Shetland have the most famous and best preserved. But Glenelg was the place I first experienced these amazing iron age structures. Their excellent construction is shown by the fact that after thousands of years they still stand. They speak to me of a completely different kind of life than I normally think of for Britons of the time of Christ.

So this object began to be an exploration of history and antiquity. This is not normally an area that I investigate, although my university degree is in History. This object became a comment on how through looking at history we are searching for an identity. We look at the past to compare ourselves and in looking reflect ourselves onto the past. So when we look into the past do we just see ourselves?

This led to building a small broch-like shape with a mirrored top. The piece will have an intensely coloured shape in the bottom that will glow faintly through the glass shards, inviting the viewer to look within the piece and so have their face reflected in facets.

I trust that Joe Smith will not be insulted, or feel copied. He certainly needs acknowledgement in this development though.

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