Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Stone Container Distraction

This is a welcome distraction from my usual artistic explorations. I was invited along with other ceramic artists to make work in response to an industrial complex called the "Stone Container" that closed down in Missoula, Montana. My knowledge of the industry is limited except for the name and some online images.

The show title is "Stone Container", curated by Danny Crump for the Clay Studio of Missoula. The images and title were the only parameters given. At first I tried to adapt my animals into the concept and realized quickly that I needed to make something entirely new. After looking at photos of the place, I zeroed in on the piping, specifically the flanges and elbow fittings. Originally, I was going to squeeze a hare through the fittings and decided that this idea was too contrived for my sensibilities. Instead, I chose to make bags or sacks while exploring the idea of hard and soft, contained weight and the tug of gravity on material.

Recently I was having a conversation with a friend about a patron who wanted to buy his art. This "patron" was more interested in art that matched her sofa, curtains and the overall  decor of her home. This is not an unfamiliar complaint. Artists want their work to be valued on its own merits and I agree. But it occurred to me in the context of this "Stone Container" work that artists have a responsibility to help drive the conversation, to make work that's more than decoration and move into some other arena. Maybe the idea in their work isn't strong enough to override this need to match the color of a lampshade.

As artists, we often dismiss the public as not smart enough to "get it", but what is our responsibility? If you're making work that generates one kind of conversation, or it attracts a certain audience that you don't like or respect, then maybe you should explore some new ideas.

My tiles are an example of decorative work. I work within an aesthetic framework yet I am often asked to tweak the color and I don't mind. They are beautiful and decorative . My sculpture is another matter. As far as I know it has never been purchased to match a sofa. At least my patrons have never asked me to change the glaze color to suit their needs.  With this "Stone Container" work, I bet it will be purchased for a reason beyond decor.

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