October 1, 2009
By Julia Reimer
I have always been drawn to Japanese craft and design. This interest deepened when I was doing a research project and discovered the influence of Japanese design on architects and designers who were key to the development of modern craft design. The clean spare lines of modern design owe much to traditional Japanese craft and architecture. Through further research I became aware that Japanese design was also influenced by modern craft theories; in particular, the arts and crafts movement inspired the Mingei movement in Japan. This craft movement, like the arts and crafts movement, was a reaction to industrialization and recognized the value of simple functional craft. During my time in Japan this past spring, as part of my research proposal for the RBC award, I decided to learn more about Mingei and to try to understand its roots and its influence on modern craft. As a craftsperson living in North American there seems to be a decline in interest in designed, handcrafted functional objects. In Japan, it was refreshing to meet students who still felt that designing and crafting functional objects was worthwhile. These students were inspired by Mingei glass master Shinzo Kodani whose pieces reflected the tenets of Mingei, anonymous and accessible functional objects.
We were fortunate to learn more about Mingei from Kodani. One night over a dinner of sashimi and sake he expounded its philosophy:
-Respect your work
-Do this with all your heart
As he spoke, we could feel his sincerity and we knew that these were not just words or theories but that these beliefs were his passion, and we could understand why his younger colleagues revered him. It was inspiring to meet an 80-year-old glass blower, so passionate about his work, crafting well-formed objects in a simple studio of his own making.
During my time in Japan I gained a broader understanding about Mingei and its influence. Yet since our trip what has what has stayed with me is Mingei’s focus on the role of the maker. There is the notion that the intimacy a maker has with material conveys vital information about the object as well as our connection to the material world. As well, that this intimacy of material seems bound to the natural world, formed from an understanding of the pure form of the material itself.
I have become aware that as a craftperson my relationship with the material I work with has allowed me to more effectively evoke nature. As Heidegger proposed, artworks have a unique relationship with nature because they have a double essence. “They cannot exist without matter, and they always have physical properties—painting is formed color. But they also do not exist simply in matter, the way utilitarian objects do. Rather, they simultaneously transcend their material and allow their material to be itself for the first time.”
For me this notion resonates as much now as it may have in the Mingei movement when it was formed in the 1920’s.
Our trip blog can be found at www.firebrandglass.ca/blog