What is a manifesto?
For me it a set of principles, attitudes or goals to work towards. A way of defining and refining what I do.
Here’s the skeleton of my current thinking which I intend to embellish and expand over the next short while. Stay tuned.
I rarely refer to what I do as art, craft or design; these terms feel pretentious and overly defined. I often use the term work, with its open definition and connotation of labor and humility. Increasingly, I prefer the term practice.
Every meaning of the word seems appropriate to my understanding of what I do.
- Practice = Learning through repetitive action; as in archery practice or piano practice. Confidence, capability and fluency only come from hours spent in the studio, working at the bench. The body and the mind need to practice in tandem consistently and repetitively for creative action to flow smoothly.
- Practice = Spiritual or aesthetic devotion. As a student of Zen I’ve always found a strong link between meditation practice and the practice of making. Both require diligence, consistent devotion, acceptance of failure and an understanding that practice itself is the goal.
- Practice = Professional activity; as in legal, architectural or medical practice. I consider myself to be a highly trained and uniquely experienced and talented person. Similarly, my colleagues each have unique perspectives and hard-won skills which they bring to bear in their creative endeavors. Making often has been portrayed as anti-intellectual or ‘blue collar’. Naming our activity a ‘practice’ redirects this viewpoint.
I always try to make each project I undertake a vehicle for learning.
- A chance to meet new people, to
- Travel to and work in the most diverse and engaging places on the planet,
- Explore other ways of making and new (to me) technologies (“to play in someone else’s sand pit”), and to
- Explore new ways of thinking through research.
Creative practice must be sustainable. Despite the fact that this term is becoming a meaningless buzzword, the notion it embodies is increasingly (desperately) essential.
Our work needs to be –
- Economically sustainable. None of us can continue working unless we can survive (even thrive) financially. Pricing of work and the amount paid to assistants and subcontractors must be realistic and allow all concerned to continue working happily.
- Environmentally sustainable. The materials and processes used must have minimal negative environmental impacts at all stages of the life of the object. In fact, they should pay an ‘environmental dividend’; returning positive benefits to the environment outweighing their costs.
- Culturally sustainable. Creative work must be supported culturally. It must reach an appreciative audience who responds to and supports the work, otherwise we are indulging in a self-absorbed hobby.
“Think globally, act locally”
This is clearly connected to the notion of Sustainable Practice, but is worthy of a whole section of its own.
Strive to –
- Use locally available resources – both human and material.
- Distribute and locate work locally. Moving objects around the planet is a pain at all levels – freight is expensive (environmentally and financially), work gets damaged in transit so easily, taking my work across the country or the planet deprives a local artist or designer the opportunity to place their work where mine is going.
- Conceptualize around local histories, experiences and phenomenon. This connects to explore through practice through engagement with the local environment and culture.
- Honor and maintain the local ‘flavor’ in our world’s distinct cultures.
I am enamored of the romantic image of the village woodworker who is called on to make everything from carriages and cabinets to coffins. Works of high craftsmanship as well as basic utensils. Works that will be treasured and will last for generations as well as daily items which will wear away in a season or two. Anything that the community needs and which his skills can provide. Is this achievable in the 21st Century and what would it look like?
Always consider the full life span of everything we make – not just the initial impact.
Make everything so it is –
- Maintained by the user/owner. Maintenance includes easy cleaning, repair and user modification.
- Ages nobly. Patina is the signifier of an object that is imbedded in culture.
- Recycled. Not just a notional potential for recycling but something inherent in the object or its cultural context. e.g. if its made of gold it WILL be recycled.
All knowledge should be open access. I have learned from uncountable numbers of people through working with them, being taught directly by them, reading their writing and even just hearing of their activities.
It is the responsibility of everyone to share what they know freely with others and the new generation of creative people.
Proprietary knowledge may help fuel Capitalism but in the long run, I believe, it restricts the growth of knowledge and creates a greater divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’.