Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Unknown Craftsman

Why do I like those simple, classic shapes of teapots so much? (Above, a Li Xin, on the left a Shui Ping or the zisha Shi Piao right below.) I don't consider myself a teapot collector, just a tea drinker who needs accessories to make tea. So, I choose them primarily for their function. Made by hand, the material must be right, the firing high enough... They are not destined to be exhibited on a shelf, but to be daily manipulated.

This book, The Unknown Craftsman, a Japanese insight into Beauty, gives a compelling and complete explanation why traditional crafts have a natural beauty that machine made and even artistic objects often lack.

Industrial products are often poorly designed (this book was written around 1955) and lack the human touch of handmade objects.

Artistic objects, on the other hand, are too individualistic and/or conceptualized. There are only few artistic geniuses who will create everlasting shapes for humanity. Most make either objects that can not be used, just looked at, or they make objects so special that they only fit the taste of a minority of people.

The author (Yanagi) shows that this may be a difference between East and West. In The West, we think in terms of duality: life/death, matter/mind, Creator or God/created and humans... Oriental Zen, on the other hand, tries to transcend those concepts to reach harmony. So, in Zen, there is no separation between art or beauty and life. Real beauty must be found in the midst of our life. "To live beauty in our daily lives is the genuine Way of Tea", says Yanagi. So, real beauty is linked to function. Objects that can't be used are not whole.

Yanagi points out that no Sung ware is signed. All was done by anonymous, often uneducated potters. And yet, Sung bowls have a natural beauty and spontaneity that even modern artists fail to grasp. They copy the shape, but not the spirit. They try to create masterpieces, while Sung potters just made useful bowls...
It's really a fascinating book. (Thanks so much Michel!). Even if there are a few points here and there where I disagree, I can only recommend it to all tea fans. (ISBN 978-4-7700-1448-1). And yet, the author warns not to look at objects with learned concepts (who, when, from where...). Look at them with your heart (and imagine them in your hands).


Matt said...

This book truly influenced and shaped ones tea philosophy. Believe you can read it free as an internet book. Highly, highly recommended.


Tea and Coffee said...

This blog is really nice!

Shortfellow said...

Hi Leo

Your blog is really cool. It's nice to see things--a different perspective--from a continent away!

I love the photos!

Specializing in affordable loose leaf tea.

ginkgo said...

le sujet est intéressant et évidemment me touche beaucoup !il y a matière à débattre sur de multiples aspects en effet (différences culturelles entre orient/occident entre autres...). difficile de mettre par écrit ici tout cela mais en effet l'authenticité de la démarche de certains artisans-artistes qui étaient au service d'un idéal allaient produire des objets remarquables par leur "beauté". c'est lié à l'authenticité je pense et là peu importe le milieu social ou la culture.... si on ne cherche que la surface et l'apparence l'objet va s'en ressentir et va séduire un temps puis va lasser....
(avis personnel !)
ps. je va noter la référence de ce livre: merci de partager l'information.