I rather enjoy creating these compact little designs. This one being fairly intricate for its size, is assembled completely using mechanical fasteners, which is sometimes quite difficult when working on a tiny scale. the actual base of the sculpture is used as a wrench to tighten the oddly shaped top and bottom caps on the body.
After having completed this piece, a friend of mine commented that he felt that this new work was a bit of a revisiting of older design concepts, rather than a push into new territory. His observation left me wondering whether I should view this as a negative criticism or a compliment. (I tend to take most criticism as a compliment) It also left me thinking about the competing elements of developing ones work, about the relationship between the need for experimentation and mastery. Both of these are necessary, but often at odds with one another and striking the correct balance between them to successfully pursue your muse can be tricky. So I thought I would build on my last post and continue writing in a little more detail about some of the things I think about when I work.
So, for starters, I can't deny that this is sort of a consolidation of ideas as well as a refinement of earlier work, albeit with a few new design twists that may not be apparent to everyone. But below are some thoughts on how this plays out in my work.
On experimentation: When we are younger, everything we do is trial and error, it is how we initially learn anything. But as we get older, our relationship with experimentation changes and so must our approach to it. While the rewards of radical experimentation, doing something brand new, can certainly be big, especially from the perspective of the viewer, there are many hazards involved in this for the artist. Everyone wants to have his or her socks knocked off by groundbreaking work. I enjoy it myself. But the risk of rapid change from the artist perspective can be quite real. From simply lacking the technical knowledge and ability to proficiently execute an unfamiliar idea, to finding ones self with a body of work so diverse and disjointed, you run the risk having an incoherent voice. So we must temper our experimentation with a base of knowledge that will allow us the greatest possibility for success. We must be thoughtful and deliberate when we experiment, if one is too hasty when working in new territory, failure is all but assured, and while failure can generally lead to valuable experience, it can only properly do so if we know what to look for when it happens. If one does not have the domain knowledge to operate effectively when exploring new ideas, small-unforeseen problems can undo the best of concepts, and we may not know enough about what we are doing to understand why, and properly grow from it.
On Mastery: It has been my experience that refinement, by its very nature, has the potential to be much more rewarding for the artist than the viewer, at least immediately. Teasing out the little details that may be invisible to others can be immensely gratifying and often lead to interesting discoveries that grow into future works. To an outside viewer however, these exercises can sometimes feel less inspired or even tedious. For a careful and considered observer though, there is still much to appreciate. The connoisseur can appreciate the nuance, and can see the subtleties for what they are, mastery. I find that the long term implications of refinement are rarely considered in the context of a singular work of art, but can easily be connected to long term benefit for the entire body of art as a whole, in the form of greater proficiency with ones craft. Mastery gives rise to innovation far more consistently than random experimentation ever could. The point of refinement isn't to give the artist a safe comfortable place to tinker that is free of risk, it is an incubation space for new ideas. It is a place where old concepts are re-evaluated for additional value, and previous experience reinforced. Like all forms of learning, repetition has an important place. It is this foundation that most successful experimentation builds from.
The desire to see an artist consistently pushing forward is ever present, I get constant pressure from those around me who are invested in my work to grow quicker, and to change faster and explore new ideas more frequently, and on some level I understand why. I assume it can seem strange to see an artist obsessing on the same thing over and over again. No one likes to see an artist's work become stagnant, but I would argue this is all for good reason. I have already revealed myself as a fairly careful incremental-ist when it comes to my work, but even if that wasn't my nature by default, my process being a meticulous one, demands it regardless. So despite the pressure, I have little choice but to proceed at a steady but deliberate pace and try and use the time it affords me for careful preparation and contemplation. I often attempt to split the difference by tucking new ideas into the smaller details of a piece, while working to master older overall concepts. That way I can develop something new, while fully developing each idea. Taking the time to Master the old, making sure every facet of an idea is explored, is key in building a full vocabulary with which to express ones self confidently. Knowing how to proceed once you do venture onto new ground comes from experience. Refinement is the groundwork for experimentation, it is how you build the creative momentum to actually break into new territory, and it is also what leads to the greatest likelihood of success when you do.
So again, while I think this work is maybe a bit of a reflection, I consider it to be one of the more well implemented little sketches under my belt, and it was a joy to make. Here is a shot for scale, the Stainless discs that makes up the body are two inches in Diameter, so it is quite small, but as with many of my little pieces, it still has very good weight.
(Thanks Adam and Hans)