Sunday, 8 May 2011

Thoughts on tools, the eyes and the hands

I have recently come across two pieces that relate to a subject that has been there for ages in my working life, but not documented or defined. I was given a Financial Times article from 12 March written by Edmund de Waal entitled With These Hands (if you'd care to look it up online). I had just finished hearing the Radio 4 adaptation of his book The Hare With Amber Eyes.

He rightly describes preparing, centring, raising, opening, adjusting a lump of clay into the form that it contains as 'different from classroom learning....a sort of learning that I could not articulate'. Hand, wrist, tautening in the shoulders- things the body learns to do by doing over time. It realates to a different and parallel intelligence to that derived from books and academia. Not less but different. He quotes from The Wrench by Primo Levi about types of work that are done on one's own, 'with his own head, and even better, with his own hands'. This is why one develops a contempt for shoddiness and 'lack of attention to the specificity of one moment in one place with a material'. In other words every time you do something it requires a new correct response and method for proceeding. You win some and lose some, but develop an increasingly refined knowledge of  your field. It is why when making a run of, say 200 mugs, each one is it's own self and needs love and care, as well as the accumulated knoweldge gleaned from the thousands of pots made previously...all for that one moment in the present. De Waal also says that whilst this is happening, he is planning the next batch of work a s a direct result of the current experience- something that I recognise completely.

To the second piece of writing by Roger Deakin in Notes From Walnut Tree Farm. He does a bit about how writers connect with the land- poets like John Clare worked on the land to understand it. Walking and cycling in the countryside rather than driving through everything at speed. Ted Hughes farming and living with animals. "And when we look at the land, what is our connection with it? Tools, and especially hand tools. Much can be learned about the land from the seat of a tractor, the older and more exposed the better, but to observe the detail, you must work with hand tools."

It is all about felt knowledge, the hand and the eye. Edmund de Waal talks about the old chestnut of the classical scholar who can therefore turn his/her hand to anything else instantly. What rubbish- get your hands dirty and learn and practice and learn some more.