Project Brief 3 Reflection
Our interview with Karl Gordon the neon glass bender exceeded my expectations in a number of ways. We were given a very interesting insight into the craft of neon glass bending, and into Karl as a person. We got more footage than we could have hoped for, and captured a lot of Karl’s most interesting artworks. Also, we were given a firsthand look at some of the most important principles of craft including materiality, process and artistry. We collaborated effectively on the video we made, and we are all happy with the outcome. We’ve also gained some very valuable inspiration, that we will most likely take into Project Brief 4 and into our future practice.
Overall, I thought our approach to this project worked well, and it allowed us to create a final product we were all happy with. From the outset, we all agreed that we wanted to look at a craft that interested us, and that we could capture in a visually engaging way. Luckily, all three of us are keen film makers, so we decided that we would all like to contribute equally to making the final video. Our approach was to contribute equally to each aspect of the project including planning, shooting and editing. We organised a day to shoot that suited all three of us, so we could all participate. Then, during the editing process we organised sessions in the edit suites where we could all contribute equally. The only thing I would change if we could do it over again would be scheduling our shoot date earlier so we would have more time for editing. Apart from that, I thought we worked well as a team and I’m happy with the outcome.
One of the most prominent ideas that emerged during our interview with Karl was the relationship between craftsmanship and materiality. It was clear that the simple principle of handcrafting was very important to Karl’s process. He explained to us that he’s the type of guy who loves “tinkering” with things, and that neon glass bending is a “real tinkering kind of job”. Watching Karl as he expertly twirled the glass tubes above the flames, showed the extreme level of control and coordination that is required in glass bending. He told us that in glass bending “your tools are basically your hands and a bit of breath”. He heats the glass tube over a flame to bend it, then blows a small amount of air directly into the tube to widen the collapsed section. This showed us that not only was Karl’s process a very material, haptic experience, but also that there is a strong, almost intimate connection with the materials. Bragg puts forward the idea that satisfaction in craftsmanship is gained through the physical handling of materials, claiming “it is impossible to proceed to the satisfaction… without the handling of materials, and craftsmanship begins with the skill exercised in the handling” (Bragg, 1928). For Karl’s unique brand of craftsmanship, it was clear that he took pride in handcrafting his products, and gained immense satisfaction from it. For me, this highlighted the way that craft is enhanced by physical, material experiences, many of which are reduced in the modern world.
Another strong principle of Karl’s craft was the importance of process. Karl told us that neon glass bending turned 100 recently, and the process has changed very little in that time. He explained that all neon glass benders follow the same basic principles, but that each individual craftsman also has their own unique methods that they develop independently. Karl has been practicing neon glass bending for 29 years, and over that time he has developed and honed a process that is unique to him. It was interesting to hear Karl say that in his experience, people are happy to pay for craftsmanship when they know that the product is hand made. The quality that is achieved through this process is unique and timeless, so people keep coming back to neon signs despite innovations in areas such as LED lighting. The principle of process is present throughout creative industries as well, and I find it interesting comparing the process of neon glass bending to the process of filmmaking. Karl explained that every sign is different, and the process must adapt to the challenges posed by each new design. I find that this chimes with the process of filmmaking, in which the production process varies from film to film, and even from shot to shot. Also, each filmmaker has a unique process that they develop over time. Perhaps the biggest difference, however, is that since the conception of film, the process has changed constantly, whereas the process of neon glass bending has remained relatively unchanged. Despite this, I think the principle of process is just as vital in creative industries as it is in a trade such as glass bending.
During our interview, I was very interested in the artistic side of Karl’s work, and if he feels that he can express himself artistically through his craft. We discovered that Karl is a very artistic person, who works on art projects in his spare time. His artworks include paintings and sculptures that incorporate neon in their design. Karl’s passion was evident in this aspect of his craft, and it got me thinking about the idea of art in craftsmanship. I believe that craft is inherently linked to art, and in any skill based craft, there will inevitably be some form of self-expression. Beyond that, the products created through craft can often be seen as artworks themselves. Dominiczak points out that “in the distant past there was no difference between art and craft” (Dominiczak, 2015), suggesting that the way we discriminate between art and craft is largely caused by phenomena such as mass production. For example, Karl’s neon signs could easily be seen as artworks themselves, but Karl himself doesn’t see them that way because he views it as a product. Similarly, the craftsmanship that goes into creating furniture, or even something like web design, would not typically be considered art. However, I think that these crafts are artistic in nature because they are expressions of the craftsperson. I believe that skill and expertise are synonymous with artistry, and therefore craft is inherently artistic because of the skills involved.
There were a number of things about this project that stood out to me as ideas I might explore in my Project Brief 4. I think that profiling a craftsperson such as Karl was a very valuable experience, particularly for opening my eyes to some of the key principles of craft. After our interview, I was very drawn to the idea of process in craft, and how the process relates to and reflects the individual. I like the idea that the actual process of the craft is potentially as unique and expressive as the final product. This idea of process is definitely something I would consider looking at in PB4. Also, I liked the idea of seeing the artistry in a craft that may not necessarily be considered artistic. I found the link between art and craft very interesting, and I’d like to look into whether or not elements of artistic expression can be found in other, non-skill based activities. For example, looking at home movies this semester was very interesting, and I wonder if there are any other forms of amateur media making that could prove to contain some sort of unexpected beauty. At the moment, I’m confident my final project for PB4 will be a film, and I think that some of the principles of craft that I’ve learned from Karl, could be applied to my own film making process. For example, the idea of challenging yourself to learn new techniques, or the importance of materiality. My ideas for PB4 are still up in the air at the moment, but this project has definitely been inspiring.
I found this project to be a very rich source of learning, and also of inspiration. I really loved getting and inside look into a unique craft, and picking the brain of a highly skilled craftsperson. Despite the fact that neon glass bending is not a field I see myself ever gravitating towards, I felt that the principles of craft that we learned from Karl, are very relevant to me as a media maker. The idea of materiality in craftsmanship, and the importance of actually handling your materials is something that I feel could greatly improve my experience of craft. The idea of process, and developing your own, unique way of practicing your craft will become more and more relevant for me as I continue to hone my skills. Also, the role of art in craftsmanship and the way we express ourselves through our craft is very important to me. These are all ideas that will be invaluable for future projects.
Bragg, W. (1928). Craftsmanship and Science. Science, 68(1758), pp.213-223.
Dominiczak, M. (2015). Craftsmanship in Arts and Science. Clinical Chemistry, 61(11), pp.1424-1425.