12/01/2010

12-01-10 - Pratt

Pratt Arts Center in Seattle provides classes and equipment in various "fabrication" or "industrial" arts. They do ceramic, letterpress, glass blowing, cold glass working, forging, casting, stone carving, etc.

We did a weekend glass blowing class a while ago. It was a very powerful experience. You walk in and there's a whoosing sound like a jet engine from the air rushing through the furnaces. The heat and glow is immense. I'm normally just dieing of boredom when teachers go over safety rules and shit like that, but the obvious seriousness of the hot glass made me rapt.

The really cool moment is when you've got a blob of molten glass on your rod and you're trying to blow it and work it and stretch it, I found myself going into this like trance. It's a beautiful kind of trance that I used to get from writing code, where you are concentrating to fully on one little thing, that the rest of the world completely disappears, you get tunnel vision, and you don't know how much time is passing. We just made some goofy little hollow spheres, but after five minutes I was exhausted from the concentration.

It's a pretty unique place to be able to go and play with that stuff. There's at least an annual open house where anyone can stop by and see demos of all the stuff going on, it's worth doing.

Anyway, while I was there I was thinking about the weirdness of economies.

Many of the arts/crafts done at Pratt are fabrication skills that 50 years ago were done in factories in America to make commercial goods. Now that is all gone. You can still get most of those things, like hand-forged wrought iron or hand-blown glass, but it's now done by "artisans" instead of laborers, and it's some frufru thing that's only for the rich. Essentially it's now become much *more* expensive than it used to be, because we no longer have cheap skilled labor to do these things.

There's another weird thing. I can go to Cost Plus and buy a hand blown wine glass for $5-$10. Wine glasses are considered extremely difficult by glass "artists" ; it would cost $100-200 or something to get one made here; of course they don't even make them, because it's too difficult and you can't charge enough to make up for it (except for the morons who custom order wine glasses flecked with color or with unicorn bases or something). I imagine that the third world country laborers that are making the cheap blown shit that we buy are actually much more skilled at the craft of blowing glass - I mean, they must be able to just crank out perfect orbs over and over. For some reason in America we can't have support local skilled craftsmen just making good stuff, but we can support people doing the crafts for "art" which basically involves intentionally doing it badly. Like you're trying to blow a nice big clear sphere, and you fuck up and get some random bits of color in it, and then you let it sag and deflate so it gets wrinkly and droops to one side, blammo now we can sell it. I dunno I guess it makes sense, but the whole phenomenon of resurrecting dead trade skills as art is weird to me.

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