This introduction was so lovely we thought we might post it.
Shifting Tradition: A Journey through Lineage
As I sat down to write an introduction to help set the tone for a weekend of shared experience…. I saw the words Shifting Tradition in a couple of differing lights…. and I checked back in with the symposium description which offers participants a lens on emerging talent, new techniques and the future of our field.
Tradition is a loaded phrase in and of itself, and I ask you to consider what comes up, both in this context and more broadly… For me what comes up is expectation… and I am allergic to expectations.
We work within a field where some of the same tools are used today as in Renaissance times…. I find this so romantic. Equally important is the unique history of skilled tradition in our field, which I deeply respect. What we make has always held a prominent place in cultures since antiquity – signifying human experience, either through wearing or using pieces. In our field – from the very beginning we are wrought with traditions… and beautiful ones at that.
What seems politely left out of the description, but is somewhat implied in the phrasing of Shifting Traditions is a “changing of the guard”… Generationally there is a heap of collective knowledge in this room alone, we will always have aesthetic and material differences…. and it should be stated that there is nothing that is passé’…. as our past greatly inform our future. We owe a great debt to those who have come before us, and to the institutions that have given space, validation, and the resources needed to grow the field…. We have been given huge intangible and selfless gifts by our mentors…
We are all a part of shifting tradition no matter where we are in our careers… established, mid career, emerging, fledgling graduate, or a very beginning student…. we are all part of the same fabric and wonderfully supportive community regardless of differences in our materials and methods. There may be distinct differences among us, we should form exhibition collectives, we may organize around this and that topic – what is most important is that we are all actively participating in this vibrant expanding communicative and skilled field of making…. whether we self identify as an artist, a metalsmith, a jeweler, or a materialsmith…. or any combination of the aforementioned categories.
Perhaps we are worrying about the outcomes of “shifting” all too much in the present?
Traditions shift over somewhat extended periods of time…. changes occur naturally and smoothly like the twists and turns in a riverbed, they flow from one place to another smoothly and are not abrupt. Of course we may encounter rapids, and waterfalls in our individual careers, and in times of great creative rainfall small streams crop up from our center as we chase a tangent, but this always settles out and returns to a calm and productive flow…. sitting at the bench everyday.
To move the field forward is to actively participate, as we are here in Greenville this weekend. In addition to this community participation we must be true to our own distinct individual voices, and stop the influence of the market, or trends into ones individual work. Instead simply make your work with a tenacious unquestioning self-belief that what you have to say, and how you choose to communicate with both materials and methods is uniquely IMPORTANT and VALID. I challenge you to look inside rather than looking out over the fence for answers in your work… Know when to put down the books, or the laptop, and when to pick up a hammer. It is crucial to realize that creating and analyzing are two distinctly separate activities, one should not influence the other too greatly, as both processes give their own unique gifts. You need to know when to turn on either one or the other, as well as turning them off, and know when the two can be in the same room and have a conversation. If you are worried about making a living – authentic work practically sells itself…. viewers feel the purity of the energy within it….
In an age of style surfing, perhaps our charge for shifting should be a call for individual independence, and freedom from self-imposed expectations in our work…. loosen it up, don’t worry so much, find and nurture your own distinct style and voice, and have the courage to surf back to the self and allow yourself to work from your core – know when to shout and whisper gently. This weekend lets focus on what we uniquely have to give to one another, how we can support one another, and also lets get down and dirty with one another in the studios with the exciting workshops that are planed….