11 Oct, 2020

Art?

This sits on a small table in my living room.  What is it, and why am I displaying it here?

It’s a bowl of course, and made of wood.  It has no artistic merit.  It’s just a rough, common, utility thing.  I’m guessing it probably held food in some way.  It must have cracked or split or suffered cooking burns because as you can see it’s been strongly patched and riveted with different metals.  It’s solid, it’s quite large, 50cm in diameter, and it weighs 4 kilos.  I have no use for it.

Who said it has no artistic merit?!  The moment I saw it, over 25 years ago, I wanted it.  Why?

A blog is really no place to get into serious discussion about definitions or cultural values or considerations of what is and is not ‘Art’, so I’ll hide behind our simple saying: ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’.  And this beholder does find it beautiful.  For me it’s a rare beauty.

The bowl had suffered.  Here’s the base.  Click on it to see it in more detail.  Again guesswork: the owners must have found it so useful that they took the trouble to keep it working, possibly paying someone to do a repair job.  Then another repair job. Then another.  So the bowl continued its life in the household, serving its needs in various ways.

They were probably poor, hence the repairs.  Whether they ever considered it attractive, who knows?  I live with the conviction that it was just a functional, workaday, domestic thing, preserved and put to good use in various practical ways over a long period.  I’d love to know the story.

Well I consider it exquisite, and I don’t exaggerate my feelings.  It’s a simple, family, hand-made and oft-repaired item, almost certainly similar to thousands of others in the culture of its homeland.  But here it’s unique – you can’t get one in a department store or from Amazon – and the ensemble of wood and metals in the configuration that you see, to me is extremely attractive.

If it had been ‘designed’ by an artist or craftsman I would not have bought it.  This bowl is a basic humble artefact owned and used by probably humble people.  To handle it is to feel, in every sense, that it’s a treasure.  I touch the private lives of a poor family far away who treasured it as a useful bowl, much as I now treasure it as a piece of unintended, accidental but manifest beauty.

So who said I have no use for it?  It’s there to look at, to handle, to admire, and to conjure up stories.  I wish I knew more.  Does anyone have any idea of its likely provenance?  Unlikely – many many cultures around the world would make similar things.

So you’re probably wondering why there’s no mention of where and how it came my way.  When I was in Africa?  Or the Gulf?  Or the Far East?   Er … no.  It was in an antique shop in the Cotswold market town of Cirencester.

I know Cirencester quite well but for curiosity I’ve just googled the place.  Had forgotten it was the second largest town in Britain during Roman times.  The bowl … surely not …  or could it be?  The Romans did use rivets.  No, that’s stretching it much too far!

2 Comments

  1. Years ago I got Ann a Christmas present. We didn’t know what it was until we paid a lingering visit to the Pitt Rivers Museum (www.prm.ox.ac.uk). It turned out to be a ceremonial parade spear from Sri Lanka.

    Reply
  2. I totally understand why you are so attached to this piece. On our travels David and I struggle, even in the remotest of places, to find anything like your bowl. Even in areas renown for their craftsmanship it is sometimes difficult to find items that are not mass produced. We have a few pieces though and they are special to us too. It makes us feel in some strange way linked to the people who used them in spite of the fact that on another plane, time and circumstance mean we are worlds apart.

    Reply

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