Below is a “free and frank exchange” between David Savage and American jeweller Bruce Metcalf. Here for your entertainment.
Thanks for the copy of “Furniture with Soul.” It’s a lovely book: beautifully photographed and produced. You should be proud. Those Kodansha people don’t fool around!
Since offering me copy of your book suggests an invitation to respond, I will. Clearly, you are an advocate for studio furniture. That’s good. Trouble is, you are wholly uncritical, which is a problem that has plagued craft writing for the last 40 years. You will change nothing by preaching to the choir.
Your refusal to define terms like “soul” and “quality” does you a disservice. Any thoughtful person would want to know what you mean, but you evade the whole thing. Later, you assert that studio furniture is art. Bullshit, my friend. Most of it is not. Do you seriously propose that one of your chairs is the same order of thing as a 15-foot Jeff Koons stainless-steel bunny? It’s not. The two objects emerge from different fields, with different discourses, and entirely different ambitions. One is not necessarily better than the other, but they are absolutely not the same kind of thing. For you or anyone else to pretend otherwise is intellectually dishonest.
I hope, in the future, you will engage these issues critically, and not resort to repeating smug assertions. Screw that, you know?
Still, it’s a gorgeous book, and I hope it will be widely distributed.
This will be fun! I don’t know you Bruce and I don’t know your work so please forgive me if I make incorrect assumptions. I didn’t ask for a response but thank you for your few unkind words. Tom Loeser suggested that I send you a book and that you may have strong opinions. That’s OK, the world is full of opinionated people, it doesn’t make ’em right, but they are often fun to listen to.
Firstly, Furniture with Soul is not intended as a work of criticism. I made that clear in the first page. These guys do not need that, especially from me. We tend to leave the criticism to those like yourself who sit outside the shop and whine. You are right critics and criticism have been disappointing but the art has been worse. I took you seriously for a moment, then you suggested that Jeff Koons’ stainless steel Bunny was a work of art. Expressive, sensitive, rich in emotional content, evocative of what it is to be here and now…… . NAH! Its just damn good branding and you probably know that.
Definitions you seek, oh feeble wordsmith. OK I picked a metaphor and let it hang. So what? Can you get anywhere near defining Love or Beauty or explain to us what is the thing that we eternally find gut rattling in a real, great, work of art? If you have, and you may have, I haven’t heard you and I have been searching for 62 years now.
I understand that critics such as yourself need to maintain the sterile land around Art, it gives you a purpose, a reason for being there. You can be a commentator about who is nearest the centre. You can be a gatekeeper admitting some but not others. Its a sad job. It is also a spurious a division, that between art and everything else. As spurious a division as that between Art and Science.
The quote below is from Ernst Gombrich, from his first edition of his great book. As he achieved fame and grew to benefit from the art market and the marketing of art he rewrote this. Have a look at a current edition see what the shift of the centre of the art world from Paris in 1950 to New York in 2011 has done to art criticism during my lifetime.
Have a nice day
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ART…. THERE ARE ONLY ARTISTS WHO ARE FAVOURED WITH A GIFT OF BALANCING SHAPES AND COLOURS UNTIL THEY GET IT RIGHT. AND, RARER STILL, WHO POSSESS THE INTEGRITY OF CHARACTER WHICH NEVER RESTS CONTENT WITH HALF SOLUTIONS, BUT IS READY TO FORGO ALL EASY EFFECTS, ALL SUPERFICIAL SUCCESS FOR THE TOIL AND AGONY OF SINCERE WORK.”
ERNST H .GOMBRICH. 1950 THE STORY OF ART
Wow! Awfully sensitive about critics & criticism, aren’t you?
First off, I’m a maker before all else, so I’m very sympathetic the the whole craft project. But I also read and think, and I can’t stomach bad thinking. While you may find the business of defining “art” and “craft” superfluous, it is not. When you see some odd furniture/sculpture hybrid, don’t you ever ask yourself, “What is this, really?” Don’t you ever ask why one piece is better than another, and why one maker’s work is consistently better than others’? Doesn’t it ever bother you that an overblown piece of kitsch like Koon’s rabbit is valorized while modest pieces of furniture, like Art Carpenter’s chairs, are regarded as simply furniture? It bugs the shit out of me. The only way to work through these issues is to think and define. The only way.
Besides, it’s interesting. It’s true there’s something game-like about commentary, but I can live with that.
I don’t care much about art, for that field has plenty of very smart commentators. My concern is craft, which has very few. If there was more good commentary about craft – and by good, I mean occasionally critical – then people who normally dismiss the whole enterprise as mindless manual labor would have to reconsider their prejudices. That would be a good thing, wouldn’t it?
As for “soul,” it is in the title of your book, front and center. That imposes a responsibility on you, one you shirk completely. You’re a craftsman, and not defining your most important term is a failure of the craft of writing.
Re: craft of writing – there were a number of factual errors in your text. (“Fountain” was never shown in Paris!) I can tell you didn’t have an authoritative person read your MS before sending it to the publisher. If you write another book, please get 2 or 3 people to read the MS!
No you are wrong, I am old and my hide has more battle scars than clear skin, words dont hurt me. I am delighted that you are doing what gives you pleasure but please dont give this self justifying crap about caring for the status of crafts. Your words are a form of branding in the same way that bloody rabbit is branded. If criticsm makes you feel a little more self important and clever than someone else go ahead fella. Public displays of sadism are very entertaining, I remember a dance critic saying of a piece of not very memorable work at Sadlers Wells “I have seen more interesting movement in my fridge” Amusing, yes undoubtedly and she would have enjoyed a moment of pleasure, and enhanced her reputation. However only two people remember the critic the dealer who profited from his positioning, made his money, and the poor bastard dissed by the clever critic. He will be lining up with all the others to piss on his grave.
Please let this be an end to this entertaining waste of time and language
kind regards and great respect