Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dying Arts

I just came off a cruise of the Mediterranean. One thing that struck me was the sophistication of Roman art, architecture, science and technology- they had lavishly decorated homes with running water, sewage, self-cleaning latrines, indoor heating systems.... then wandering the medieval village of old Rhodes it seemed as though the dates had been reversed. The simple, almost crude, architecture and sanitation of a thousand years later seemed as though it should have come first, with the Roman villages coming a thousand years after. How much knowledge and craftsmanship was lost during the dark ages?

The Celcius Library, around 1 BC, I think. Ephesus, Turkey.

Celsius Library

Medieval Rhodes, over a thousand years later, when sewage in Europe was dumped into the streets from overhanging windows.


On the ship was a hot glass show put on by the Corning Museum of Glass; three girls with impressive pedigrees gave glass-blowing demonstrations and I have to say I was impressed. They each started by sweeping floors, and they explained that it takes a minimum of six years of hard study to be considered competent to hold a gaffe. Sounds familiar. One of the girls had trained with a Murano family, and explained how the secrets were once jealously guarded by the families in Murano, that to divulge the secrets would get your hand cut off, but now there are only 7 remaining masters in Murano, each over seventy, and that their families are not interested in the art, which is at risk of dying out.

Something very interesting to me was that one of the girls emphasized the importance of a production job to perfect their skills. She said that doing one-offs were good, but once you started repeating the object over and over in a production setting, you got much better (something I have repeated often), but also that when you placed many of the same object side by side, the little imperfections you may not otherwise have noticed become much more obvious and you start to really develop to a new level of finesse and perfection. I had not thought about that angle.

I also saw a presentations by Turkish carpet weavers, who explained that their art, which often requires as many as two years for the completion of one rug, was dying because young people today would rather sit in front of a computer than a loom.

At which point I wondered if, long term, we are not entering another sort of dark age in which a certain level of craftsmanship, in which the artist is able to create something from scratch, unaided by machines, is about to be lost. Will the world look dull and mass-produced 100 or 500 years from now? Or maybe I've just had too much sun and ouzo......


Lauren said...

I think there is definitely risk for some of the meticulous and beautiful arts to die out as they were. However, I hope that we're now a society that can understand the value in rescuing artisan skills so we avoid a boring and mass-produced world in centuries to come. I think there's potential for the appreciation for incredibly rare and beautiful handmade things to grow so more people are drawn to the art. I am an eternal optimist, so I can hope!

Anonymous said...

I agree with your thoughts on a return of the dark ages. The amount of knowledge we are losing daily, in languages, talents, skills, etc, is horrifying. I cannot understand a family not wanting to pass on its specialty.

Mary said...

I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this post....or how much I agree with it!

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