As a working craftsman people often tell me I am an artist, or at least that I make works of art. Here is my latest artwork, more about it later.
I have mixed feelings about being called an artist. To me there is a big difference, the main purpose of craft is function, it could and should be beautiful as well and so I would argue that making good functional craft objects is far harder than making good sculpture which only has to look good. The main purpose of art however is the message it carries, as Duschamp showed it doesn’t have to be hard to make. The message can be an attempt to capture the essence of the subject in figurative work or it can be an attempt to create an emotional response or pose questions or generate thought in the viewer, whatever, art has a different purpose to craft.
Now the difficulty is that for the last 40 years or so craft in most of the developed West has been categorised, and promoted within the arts. This means that it is judged by art standards and the “best” that makes it through to the magazines, shows, galleries and museums will satisfy the art standards of the day. That means it will be innovative, new, cutting edge and absolutely definitely not functional. I am a fan of Turner prize winner Grayson Perry’s writing on the subject of art and craft, if you want more Grayson this hour long interview is good.
Now there are subjects that I feel passionate about and I feel I can best address these subjects through making functional work that people enjoy using every day, that is perhaps more meaningful to me and them than a passing experience in an art gallery. I do also enjoy art galleries though and being a bit of a media tart I will basically put my message out anywhere that I feel it will get a fair viewing.
In 2007 the turning centre in Philadelphia, probably the most important centre for wood art, called for entries for the next show “dysFUNctional” items that commented on or lampooned function but also with a fun element. I had shown in their previous 3 major international shows since 1998 so wanted to put something in, my “piece” was a video installation involving 1000 of my waste cores
The jurors liked it
“Two works frame this exhibit. British artist Robin Wood is a master of functional turning if ever there was one. However, his video installation reveals the mounds of dysfunctionality inherent to his production. Wood states that for years archaeologists uncovered such piles in forests before they realized that these were discards from pole turners who worked close to their sources of wood, leaving their shavings and waste materials behind. Wood’s work creates the piles in a domestic location, and repeats the historic rhythm, mass, and recycling questions that linger through the ages.”
So this year the centre has a fundraiser running in which my waste cores have been sent out to around 50 of the worlds best woodworkers and transformed. The results are remarkable and you can see the online exhibition here
Which brings me back to my artwork at the top. I am not happy calling my bowls art because their prime purpose is function, this core however is art. It’s prime function is to contain a message, that message is a personal one to the art collector that buys it, I rather hope that it goes to someone that enjoys the ethos of my work.