Had an interesting conversation today at the kitchen table with the current Mrs Budd (Tiffany) about progressing as a craftsperson and artist. We both work at opposite ends of the same medium, metal: Tiff being an extremely talented goldsmith (www.tiffanybudd.com). As we live in a part of the world which does not offer much in the way of training for either of us, gaining new skills most often means teaching ourselves, mostly through trial and error. The conundrum there is, it takes longer to gain skills in this way and when do you fit in that time? It’s a conundrum that every working artist/crafts person faces and on a regular bases.
It’s a hard balance to get right; some might think there comes a time when an artist has become fully rounded but in my opinion that does not happen. If you want your work to continue to move forward you can’t afford to live in your comfort zone. If you do, you are stagnating which can be the kiss of death. I look on gaining new skills or techniques in this way: my experience is like a combination tumbler lock, every skill I have learnt is a wheel on that tumbler. So, every new skill learned is an extra wheel on the tumbler which in turn gives new combinations. It also changes the combinations already on the tumbler and propels your work forward into new exciting possibilities. In fact, what I once saw as learning new skills I now see as gaining greater understanding of my chosen medium, steel. The more experience I gain, the more I am able to see and realise the possibilities, and understand hot forged steel.
In order to gain a greater understanding of your work you need to give yourself time to develop new skills and, as we all know, time means money. I’ve done this over the years by designing speculative items like fire sets, candle sticks and sculpture to incorporate skills I want to learn. In this way I’m motivated, as I have a project to finish and at the end of it I have something to sell which helps to pay the bills. So in a way I’m paying for my own on the job training, if you follow.
This time of year lends itself to refection, as the year wanes to a close and, having achieved this year one of the goals I set myself when starting my own forge back in 2006 – inclusion in Metall Design International, an annual book showcasing 11 metalworkers/blacksmiths from around the world. ISBN No:978-3-931951-69-6, in case you want to check this wonderful book out) – I have been reflecting on my journey so far. I started my forge with very little: an anvil, hammer, leg vice and a set of old bellows. At the time I bemoaned my lack of tools, having come from working in a very well equipped forge. Everything slowed down for me when I wanted it be leaping forward but now I realise that this was one of the most fortunate things to happen to me. The lack of tools and money forced me to focus on hand skills and propelled my abilities forward at what I’m sure was a much faster rate than if I’d been able to fill my wish list of tools and equipment. So, training myself became a necessity from the start was quickly incorporated into my everyday work to the point where I didn’t give it much thought. I just set aside time at the start of every project to develop new techniques, and the end of the project to evaluate them.
This leads me on to something fundamental. If we want skill and craftsmanship to continue in contemporary work, we must afford new people coming into the creative sector the chance to develop their skills. Not just put them on treadmills of mass production of craft or art. Otherwise, as in a much of our culture already, we will end up with homogenised work all running along similar themes that we will all too easily walk past without giving a second glance.
How do we do this? How do we afford people the time to develop as artists and crafts people? By simply promoting them. Give them the chance for people to see their work and invest in it. The best way to be funded as an artist is through people buying your work. Most of the media and art institutions we have spend the majority of their time and resources promoting artists and crafts people that are already successful. We have become a reactionary culture where nothing is interesting unless it is already “trending” whereas human history’s greatest achievements have often come from leftfield, from the unexpected. In short, new ideas.