The box. There is always a box. We say that some people can think outside of the box. We say this because those people’s thinking is outside of our own box. We make these boxes ourselves and dutifully place or just find ourselves inside them. Much of our personal box is determined by the frame-set we grow up in; the boundaries defined by parents, teachers, children, environment, and cultural identity, our own unique Ethnocentralia.
We, the big we, humans, have a box that we all live within, the box is bounded by our earth, and the box of our common mental structure, maybe astronauts and the insane can escape in some measure. Physics boxes us. We understand momentum, mass and acceleration as we move our limbs. Because of our box instantaneous acceleration of arms or legs is hard to comprehend. Light stopping as it travels is hard to comprehend. Our senses box us with their limits. Even trying to visualize, to internalize non-visible forms of radiation, infrared ultraviolet, radio waves, these visualizations lie outside our box. We can only pretend to have them inside, to use comparison, metaphor, or some sort of visualization transferance.
Artists are supposed to be able to think “beyond the boundaries”. They are supposed to be able to develop new ways of thinking, new relationships. They should be able to create “the new”. Yet even artists create seemingly arbitrary boundaries to their thoughts and work. This personal dogma defines us as we define it. We box ourselves.There is absolutely no help for it. When we manage to expand our boundaries, it is only because they were not boundaries but stumbling blocks.
Fortunately artists, people in general, humankind are not homogenous, and different cultures and groups and individuals place different boundaries on our thinking. By comparing where these boundaries are we might be able to discern where as a species we limit ourselves. It is these intercultural differences, specifically in American/ Thai art or more generally culture , that I am trying to ascertain, to get a handle on, to try and grasp. My hope is that by understanding these differences a little more light can be shed on the larger boundaries of thought, the boundaries of expression and the boundaries on art that we needlessly impose on ourselves. Knowing each other brings a broadening as well as homogenization. Its conundrumous.
Some of us play with box shifting. Until recently I called it phase shifting. The word box puts me in a more open frame of mind than phase. It is less abstract even if just a different metaphor.
These shifts seem easiest when they are applied to organizational schemes. The best example I have is the typical structure of art schools around groups of tools and techniques; media specific structure.
We tend to structure our courses around media and tools:
• Drawing classes,
• Painting Classes,
• Printmaking Classes,
• Ceramics classes.
We could instead organize around content types:
Formalism, and minimalism etc. .
Or perhaps we could take the sculptor’s beginning approach:
and use whatever materials to teach these things.
We could also have a freshman art class, a sophomore class, junior and senior and rotate media people in and out or just use individual instructors. There really is no end to the variations on these box shifts.
It is only recently that I realized it, but nearly the entire body of my work has been the investigation of these shifts with a fixed center of clay.
What is function? This started with oddly functional objects, as mundane as soy sauce droppers and as far afield as ceramic counterweights and insulators.
What is a pot? What is the art object, is it the pot, the message, the effect on the viewer or the viewer’s perception and understanding of the artist? When a clayer paints a pot on canvas, is it a pot? Is their relationship to clay more important than the paint?
The question I seem to be asking has been getting more general. What is clay? Is it just the stuff, the material. Is the real primary object the “finished product” or is it the thoughts and feelings we have about it, how the cup affects our lives and hearts, minds and relationships?
My work at the Archie Bray several years ago, “Manifestation: Bray” and its predecessor “Manifesto” make the case that “we” are not just “makers”. Certainly many of us make ceramic objects; sculpture and pots. But many of “us” are also historians, critiques, and just our buying public. It is a mistake to view “us” without at least a query of our boundaries. Since this is about people, it becomes a question of “us and them”. “Them” are those that don’t see, appreciate, breath clay. To us they are as Muggles, “Them!” said Stan Shunpike contemptuously. “Don’ listen properly, do they? Dpn’ look properly either. Never notice nuffink, they don.” (Rowling, 1999)
These last few years I have fixated on “What is Art?”. There are lots of ideas floating around about this. In about 1997 I asked some colleagues. One said, “Art has to be transcendant”. “What does that mean?”, I asked. “It has to transcend reality, to go beyond reality.” In Dysaniuk’s words “it has to be made special”. I call people with this opinion “Art Transcendtalists”.
Another said that it had to have intent. Questioned they said, “Artistic Intent”. These are the “Intentists”
I am an “Art Meglomaniac”. If I did not need to communicate with others I would call everything “Art”, Space, time, matter, nature, what people make, say, think, yes, even dog poop. The main reason is related to Dysaniuk, “To make special”, and the word “appreciate”. A viewer who looks upon the poop and thinks about it, appreciates it. Once thought about, once it has acted as a vehicle for thought it has risen in value. Before it was just poop, now it is more than mundane. It has been appreciated. This set of thoughts brings the question around, Is art made by the artist, or the viewer?
Rowling, J. K. (1999). Harry potter and the prisoner of azkaban. (1st ed. ed., p. 36). New York: Scholastic Press.