Jun 11, 2008

The art of craftsmanship

There has always been an ongoing debate of craft vs. art. My husband is a woodworker and when he looks at art pieces he sometimes is disgusted with conceptual art pieces that show sloppy execution. When we went to the Smithsonian Renwick Gallery in Washington D.C, there were wood furniture and studio craft art pieces that were exquisite. Every single one of them so finely crafted. Truly these creators were masters of their medium, whether it was glass, wood, ceramics or metal. The care and precision in making the pieces were readily apparent.

We have a friend who has a couple of works purchased by the museum. He has been a wood worker for more than 30 years. He talks about no do overs with wood. Once it is cut, you can’t put it back together and cut it again, so it must be right the first time. He also talks about wood being a living medium, in that wood once was a living substance unlike clay, or metal or glass. Wood even after it is cut and worked continues as a living substance. It breathes, for instance. When there is humidity in the air it expands, and when it is dry it shrinks. So a woodworker who is also a craftsman will take this into account and design and build his pieces so that the movement of the wood will not break it apart or show gaps at the joints.

Craftsmanship like this takes more time and more attention to detail. It is a self discipline in that the artist determines how precise and how perfect the finished product has to be before it is acceptable. Tea has so many opportunities to make a decision of how precise and perfect our work is to be acceptable.

When I first began my tea studies, I really didn’t care if my fingers were open or closed. I didn’t pay attention to what hand I used to pick up and put down the tea bowl or if I was sitting precisely 16 tatami weaves back from the black border. What did any of these things matter when making or drinking tea? Close was good enough for me.

And yet, because Chado is a 400 year tradition, refined and modified to be efficient and beautiful, all of these things matter. Making and drinking tea is about tea, but it is also a great canvas to experiment and exercise your creativity. It is also an opportunity to explore your own personal standards and level of craftsmanship.

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