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American Craft Magazine April/May 2011

One of a Kind

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Jillian Moore began to form her aesthetic while she underwent a lonely X-ray procedure as a child ("Creeping Beauty"). Michael Morgan was influenced by the crumbling brick buildings he walked among as a college student and budding ceramist ("Brick, Exposed").

Frankly, I'm not sure where my aesthetic came from. I grew up in awe of my father, a driven World War II veteran who valued efficiency and discipline above all. When I was maybe 10, he happily moved his office from an ornate Art Nouveau building - complete with uniformed elevator operators and intricate tilework - to a cookie-cutter high-rise. The straight lines and plastic consistency of the new place felt like progress to my dad.

He'd be stumped by my affection for a mug that I drink from every day at work, bought online a few months ago from the potter Hodaka Hasebe. I love how Hasebe's piece feels, heavy and earthy, in my hand. I love its surface - dreamy, pajama blues drifting into mauve and olive. I love the cup's vertical dimples and mix of matte and glossy. When I bought the cup, I learned that Hasebe works in Rochester, New York, where I bought my first house 18 years ago and still have dear friends. I love that there's a little story behind this piece, in that classic craft sense.

My dad? He'd say, for what you paid, I coulda bought six cups at the local five-and-dime. And they wouldn't have had those weird discolorations. And why do you need a story? (There's a story behind his factory cups, of course, but I'm not sure it's very comforting.)

My dad was a get-it-done business guy. You know business: minimizing irregularity to maximize output. Developing formulas and algorithms to make products and processes "scalable." Do it well, and you get compound interest, passive income, and the virtuous cycle. 

From the standpoint of modern business, my blue cup, lovely as it is, is a one-off. There's no guarantee Hasebe could replicate it. Patterns and colors, pleasing as they are, will vary. Moore, Morgan, Hasebe - their products are all one-offs, their processes probably full of inefficient wrinkles.

But let's face it: Human beings are one-offs. No matter how well we conform, most of us are square pegs in round holes, random souls wedging ourselves into roles designed by an anonymous somebody else. Even my dad was an incorrigible one-off, prone to the occasional stray impulse, despite how good he was - and he was the best - at self-denial. Every once in a while he'd put on Scheherazade and let the music wash over him. He didn't dare speak while he listened; the lump in his throat was too great.

Even today's masters of the algorithm can't live by efficiency alone. It's an old story: After the magnate makes his fortune and takes a breath, what does he do? Buys art. Starts a foundation. Seeks meaning.

What I admire about artists such as Hasebe, Moore, and Morgan is that they seem to know, earlier and better than the rest of us, that meaning lies in originality. They willfully express their individuality in a world that seems to prefer conformity and formula. Maybe they can't live any other way. Lucky for us, the results are beautiful.

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