So which is your favorite museum?

Not a museum though plenty of opportunity for museum related jokes. Just a picture from a recent visit to London.

It has not been easy to keep up with my target of a post a week over the holidays so I am going to have to get back into the habit now that the new year is starting.  It is also not easy to get images of pupil work so forgive me for this slightly random picture of the Palace of Westminster but it was too good to miss.  One of the ways that I use to recharge my batteries is to visit museums, design fairs and galleries.  Like most teachers I am always on the lookout for new ideas and I really think it is important to keep abreast of what is happening in the world of art, design and craft.  I know that there are truly great museums around the world, some large and some small.  I have visited a few and have many more on my list so what follows is just for now abut my favorite museum.

One of my my favourite places is the Victoria and Albert Museum so as I had the chance for a day or two in London it was firmly on my list of places to visit.  (Another top tip is the Wallace Collection which by chance had a stunning exhibition of modern goldsmithing by Kevin Coates.  If you are in range this is certainly worth a visit.  It is on until  September 25th http://www.wallacecollection.org/  )  The V & A as it will henceforth be known, is an amazing collection of decorative art covering a huge range of materials, disciplines, techniques and geography.  It was a response to the Great Exhibition of 1851 which brought together the very finest craft and manufacturing from the spread of the then British Empire in a celebration of achievement housed in the famous iron and glass structure designed by Joseph Paxton.  The exhibition posed a problem in that  no thought had been given to what to do with the assembled objects at it’s close and so the idea of the V & A was born.  The guiding thesis was, ” to make works of art available to all, to educate working people and to inspire British designers and manufacturers.”   (http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/a-brief-history-of-the-museum/)    At a time when industrialisation was setting hold and the ubiquity of mass produced goods was becoming established, and also when stirrings of disquiet at the impact of this process on both the standard of quality in production and the people who worked with or against the developing system were becoming widespread the educative goal was appropriate.  Those who established the museum recognised a need to develop skills in design for those who would be responsible for the wealth generation of the country.

If you are a regular reader of this blog then you will be able to see where this argument is going.  T he reforms, though that is too grand a word for the shallow and seemingly random policy changes of the present government, are directed towards an erosion of the creative and productive nature of our education system, both in terms of subject content and the intellectual skills that future generations need to operate effectively in a future world that we can only imagine.  I am delighted to say that here the V & A holds to it’s course, a policy of buying  and exhibiting the  best contemporary design and craft continues.  An excellent example is the exhibition that has just opened in the museum, a joint undertaking with the Crafts Council, “The Power of Making Things.”   If you want an insight check out the review by Barbara Chandler in the Evening Standard, 31st August.  As is most often the case there is no clear distinction between art, design and craft and why should there be?  Perhaps a discussion for another time.  However the unifying theme is the business of making and what comes across strongly is that traditional hand techniques are allied with state of the art technology in an increasingly fruitful way.    Contemporary makers can chose to limit the range of techniques and materials that they work in, sometimes because it feels right and sometimes for a more philosophical reason though the two are often intimately associated,  or they can elect to explore ways of using new technologies and materials in a manner that corresponds to their making philosophy.

In this exhibition the most fundamental hand working is displayed alongside digital creations, sometimes in the same piece.  All this suggest that we are at the start of a significant change in the way we make, use and reuse.  It is early days and we are only starting to see where this might go.  As a woodworker, (or log botherer as my wife calls me)  I can remember early plastic chisel handles; they were a step forward but the manufacturers made them as mimics of wooden handles and still secured them to the blades using a rough forged tapering tang and bolster.  Of course the plastic split easily and it wasn’t until a redesign of the blade and the handles, most significantly the way they were joined that the material became successful.  I am sure that the same sort of thing will go on with digital manufacturing, just because you can it doesn’t mean that you should and some of the creations that are exciting now will not stand the test of time.  None the less the excitement of the moment is upon us and as many of us know the person who never made a mistake never made anything.

What is also explicit in this exhibition is that making is thinking in some circumstances.  Certainly there is a power in the experience of making and immense satisfaction to be had both by the maker and the alert observer or user.  I say alert because I am acutely aware that for many people objects are of little conscious significance, they are part of the material background to their lives and little more.   It is this uneducated existence that so concerns me about present design education policy in the UK.  All makers know that the most demanding, challenging yet rewarding audience for their work are fellow makers, those who understand what has gone into a piece and perhaps the intention of the maker.   If you have never experienced the physical emotion of discovering a remarkable piece, the reality of a gut feeling,  then you are hardly qualified to set policy that impacts on the education of our children.

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