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Monday, March 25, 2013

Content and Intent; an explanation

The original
Last week I posted pictures of some copies of my lovespoons carved by a gentleman in the United States.  Almost immediately, I received an email from one of my repeat clients who was pretty miffed that she had spotted 'her lovespoon', a design she and I had spent a lot of time creating in amongst the collection of 'knock-offs'.
While I was pretty upset that my design had been used without my permission (and without any type of acknowledgement of me as the designer and rightful owner of the copyright) to win a carving competition, my client was upset for a different and more important reason.
She pointed out that the spoon we had created with much thought, attention and love was, in the copy version, nothing but an empty vessel...meaningless as a lovespoon.

Over the next few days I have stumbled around trying to find a good way to explain what she meant in a way that is not too airy- fairy and philosophical.  Fortunately, a conversation with my father (who is a marvellous painter and was for many years an art teacher) gave me the straightforward answer.

He pointed out that the two key words to keep in mind when examining art are 'content' and 'intent'.

With the two spoons shown here, we can see that both share a very similar content.   Both are carved from a similar wood species, both share the same design (bar the small modification at the top of the copy spoon-which was tacked on from another one of my designs) and both have similar features within the design.  In both you can see the sweeping stem of the heart-shaped bowl, an identical layout of leaves, grapes, hearts and a star.   Both have a raven with a globe in its beak on the spoon bowl, both share a hummingbird on the stem etc., etc..  They even share a similar 'swirl' pattern.   THIS is the content of the spoon.

The copy
But it is with the INTENT of the spoon that we move into a completely different territory and the two spoons become immediately separated.   We are now exploring the WHY of the spoon; the reason the spoon was created and exists.   The original spoon is one of a trio (shown together below)  commissioned by a father for his three children as a way for him to celebrate their lives and memorialize their recently departed mother.  The spoons were designed as a unified 'piece', but one which was meant to be displayed in three different households.   Like siblings, the spoons are similar but different.   While each spoon is unique, within each appear a number of identical and carefully considered symbols.
Every leaf, grape and heart has a purpose...each symbolize a person or idea significant to the family and to each individual sibling.     Each of the three siblings is represented by a distinct animal which appears at the crown of their spoon in large form.   The animals also appear on each of the other two spoons in smaller form to indicate the family tie and the unity of the 3 children.   If an animal was missing from a spoon, the design would be ruined.  There is no area of any of the spoon which hasn't been very thoroughly thought out.

My version of the spoon is full of artistic and personal intentions and even though the spoon still makes an attractive piece without an understanding of these intentions;  knowing the reason for its existence and the meaning of its design message makes it into both a lovespoon and a work of art.

The copier, however, knows none of the reasons for these elements and why they are there and he experiences none of the emotion generated by that knowledge.  There is no art involved in the copy piece...it is simply a technical exercise...a beautiful stick.

For me as an artist and carver, the intent and content of my spoons are equally critical.  When one is missing the spoon is no longer a lovespoon.  This is one of the main reasons I always urge my students and fellow carvers to design their own spoons once they have become comfortable with the technical aspects of woodcarving.   The MEANING is what truly makes the spoon!!!

Trio celebrates 3 siblings and memorializes their mother

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