Material as Metaphor
Statement on panel “The Art/Craft Connection: Grass Roots or Glass Houses” at the College Art Association’s 1982 annual meeting. New York, February 25, 1982. The panel was moderated by Rose Slivka, editor of Craft International and the panelists were Anni Albers, John Cage, Lee Hall, Robert Malloy, Phillip Pavia, Jacqueline Rice, and Peter Voulkos.
A short while ago I had a visit from 10 week old baby who looked at me wide eyed and I thought somewhat puzzled and was struggling as if trying to tell me something and did not know how.
And I thought how often did I feel like that, not knowing how to get out what wanted to be said.
Most of our lives we live closed up in ourselves, with a longing not to be alone, to include others in that life that is invisible and intangible.
To make it visible and tangible, we need light and material, any material. And any material can take on the burden of what had been brewing in our consciousness or sub-consciousness, in our awareness or in our dreams.
Now, material, any material obeys laws of its own, laws recognizably given to it by the reigning forces of nature or imposed by us on those materials that are created by our brain, such as sound, words, colors, illusions of space—laws of old or newly invented. We may follow them or oppose them, but they are guidelines, positive or negative.
The human brain is a computer. Total chaos is not human. In the cosmos we try to unravel the riddle of its order. Television, my great teacher, tells me that astronomers are finding ever more simplifications of order, unifying ever more everything.
How do we choose our specific material, our means of communication? “Accidentally.” Something speaks to us, a sound, a touch, hardness or softness, it catches us and asks us to be formed. We are finding our language, and as we go along we learn to obey their rules and their limits. We have to obey, and adjust to those demands. Ideas flow from it to us and though we feel to be the creator we are involved in a dialogue with our medium. The more subtly we are tuned to our medium, the more inventive our actions will become. Not listening to it ends in failure. (Years ago, I once asked John Cage how he had started to find his way. He will not remember it. "By chance" was the answer.) Students worry about choosing their way. I always tell them, “you can go anywhere from anywhere.”
In my case it was threads that caught me, really against my will. To work with threads seemed sissy to me. I wanted something to be conquered. But circumstances held me to threads and they won me over. I learned to listen to them and to speak their language. I learned the process of handling them.
And with the listening came gradually a longing for a freedom beyond their range and that led me to another medium, graphics. Threads were no longer as before three dimensional; only their resemblance appeared drawn or printed on paper.
What I had learned in handling threads, I now used in the printing process. Again I was led. My prints are not transfers from paintings to color on paper as is the usual way. I worked with the production process itself, mixing various media, turning the screens . . .
What I am trying to get across is that material is a means of communication.
That listening to it, not dominating it makes us truly active, that is: to be active, be passive.
The finer tuned we are to it, the closer we come to art.
Art is the final aim. In an interview recently Maximilian Schell, the actor, said, “art is for realizing dreams.”