Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Some personal thoughts on traditional Japanese metalwork

With regard to my work as a metalworker I am often described as
being a traditionalist. While in most respects this is probably very accurate I feel that the term tradition or traditionalist ought to be defined a little more precisely. It often seems to me that the modern conception of a tradition is of something static and unchanging. The question must then be asked, if the tradition is unchanging how then did it evolve to its present form?

Even a very brief overview of the history of Japanese decorative metalwork will show very striking developments in all periods. This is not to say that the natural evolution of any artistic tradition occurs without resistance. There will always be, in all societies and at all times, those individuals who regard the new as being a threat to the established order. Thankfully for us, most truly creative individuals seem possessed of a tenacity which sustains them in the face of opposition or disregard.

When I'm described as a traditionalist I imagine what is meant is that I follow apparently old-fashioned methods and my techniques and tools are the same as those of my predecessors.
While superficially this may appear to be the case it does miss the point to my particular approach, which is my desire to achieve the kind of mastery exhibited in the works left to us by the great artists of this tradition. I've tried to study and understand the working methods and expressions
in metal that are in many cases the only evidence we have of the practicalities of the work of the past.

Naturally, this approach I've adopted does not mean that I reject
the very many helpful modern conveniences.
You'll be relieved to know that I don't work by candlelight and I'm
happy to use modern, jewellers magnifying glasses. I have been forced however,
to grow my own diakon, this is traditionally used in preparing metal for
colouring.

As a result of my own experience I have concluded that the methods employed in the past, while initially requiring effort and time to develop adequate skill and sensitivity, will always ultimately yield the finest results. I am well aware that my philosophy is very much at odds with contemporary attitudes towards skill in fields of arts and crafts. The predominant attitude seems to be that technique, or skill, can simply be acquired when it is needed. I think this misses the point. That being, that in acquiring a skill one develops a better understanding of the potential of various techniques and one is better able to express oneself using those techniques.

I think it fair to say that the general tendency among modern man is to continually strive for quicker and more efficient ways of doing things, however we would all generally agree, I'm sure, that some things simply take time. I believe very firmly that any attempt to learn from the past which ignores the ways of the past will result in a superficial, if not entirely inaccurate, conception. I have seen many attempts to replicate the effects and techniques of Japanese metalwork and I'm always struck by the tendency to look for shortcuts. If I'm honest I will confess that I find this approach to be both arrogant and ignorant.

From my very first encounter with fine Japanese metalwork I have experienced a genuine sense of reverence and awe. As I have progressed in my own investigations and studies of metalwork my respect and regard has grown. I feel a genuine sense of responsibility to those who have gone before me in this path. I am striving to produce work of my own which, I hope, will in some small way help to maintain the standards of the past from which I have learned so much.

Ford Hallam

Katsuyama, Japan

Autumn, 2006

1 comment:

Megatron said...

We need to manage to meet each other in katsuyama this or next year. Let's have some lesson in metalworking togheter.. you introduce to me your teacher and i take you to my urushi teacher ;)