Putting on the Style Part 2

Remember ‘glasshopper'” said the venerable Sensi, “it is a poor and sad man who has no style, but a poorer and sadder man who has nothing but style.”

…….Yet how do we get at this body and indeed is it necessary for up and down the country, students of Art and Design are being encouraged to look for nothing less than the Holy Grail of originality. To seek and pursue that which is innovative and new and, by its very nature fashionable. For newness and stylish appearance is surely the hallmark of a creative presence. For creative individuals don’t copy and regurgitate old forms, they innovate, think laterally, they draw new images and tease out new forms from old functions. So it seems so obvious for new students to also seek to emulate that newness and originality. Sadly I feel that although it is true that stylistic innovation is one of the by-products of a creative mind at work we will rather sadly always see many many students works that are the froth off the top of the Guinness with little or no evidence of the creamy brown drink under the surface. This is partly to do with the sloppy standard of teaching Design and Making in Furnituremaking and Furniture Design Colleges throughout the United Kingdom and partly to do with the simple fact that to design things properly requires talent and talent is something that is not doled out to every individual no matter how much they would like to have it.

So it seems so obvious for new students to also seek to emulate that newness and originality.

We see them year after year, at students shows, and also at exhibitions where contemporary furniture makers gather, there are these pieces that cry to you like a child seeking attention. – Look at me – look at me – look at me – look at me – look at my wheels, they are new and different, they’re square. Haven’t you seen my square wheels aren’t they wonderful they’re red and square. Well I know they go bumpty round a little bit but you’ve never seen square wheels before have you. It is rather sad reflectionon our society that people do buy things because they have square red painted wheels and there are rather novel but that is no excuse for making it in the first place. It’s all rather like a child craving attention because of basic insecurity, the fear that mum may love someone, usually a brother or sister, a little bit more than them, and sadly I see this occurring not only in student work but with professionals and would-be professionals in our own craft. It’s the “look at me I’m clever syndrome.”

Rather than pursuing the avenue of constant and remorseless stylistic invention, I would counsel a student to back up a bit and give yourself the time to learn and study the business. Try to accept that you may not quite have got your act together after three short years and a quick trot to the final year Degree Show. It may be difficult to accept in this age of fast food and instant gratification but like a decent claret it may take your unique talent some time to mature. It may take you 10 or 15 years to gain your own voice and your own vocabulary and in that time you may well need to learn from someone more advanced down this road than yourself. Allow yourself to do this , if you like work by great masters like James Krenov or John Makepeace then allow yourself to make honest “homage” pieces to your teacher. In this way you are learning what it is about their vocabulary that appeals to you. Do this openly and honestly don’t try to integrate them too quickly into your way of looking

Look at each masters work in turn as they grab your interest and take what you want from each of them. Build up your language letter by letter, word by word not only from this eclectic processs but from greater experience of the design process. For you are yourself a unique individual – nobody has lived your life in exactly the way that you have lived. Nobody has loved or felt or cared in exactly the same way that you have felt, or loved, or cared. You have seen things, enjoyed shapes, felt textures in a totally unique manner .Trust yourself, allow yourself the true growing time to reach a maturity of language and in the period between now and then admit that you don’t know everything, admit that you are still learning and growing and be open to new suggestions, new experiences, and new ways of seeing and doing. The elephant traps that lie in your path will be put there by your own actions. The problems that will confront you may well be more to do with insecurity, with the arrogance, of talent and youth than with sheer lack of experience, You may counter these with youth and enthusiasm and a healthy dose of the fresh ideas that are essential to blow the Tired Old Gits like me way off the face of this planet. But please I counsel you remember there is something that lurks underneath the froth of style. My analogy is carefully constructed for the good dark liquid is not always apparent and there are times when it is not always present for given the best intentions the most talented designer doesn’t achieve it every time. Never the less it remains at the creative heart of a good design. I keep returning to my quote from Gombrich that search, that endless and unremitting search for new solutions, new answers, simple solutions to difficult and complex problems, solutions that are efficient of time and materials. Solutions that look great, are visually complex and yet simple, are fast to make yet why had we never made it that way before. These are the paradyne shifts in design consciousness methodology and we make them only by struggling and looking and struggling. Remember ‘glasshopper’ said the ancient ? it is a poor and sad designer who has no style but a poorer and sadder man who has nothing but style.


David established Rowden Atelier in 1995, a now world renowned fine woodworking school. Discover Rowden, the woodworking courses, and the work that students go on to do.

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