Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Anecdote of the Craft

Harry Duncan was fond of quoting the adage: “It’s a poor workman blames his tools.” Corollary to this is the concept of “the work-around,” whereby you sidestep the limitations of a computer program, and by application of Yankee-ingenuity, get done what needs to be done. Thereby demonstrating that limitation is not necessarily a constraint. I’m sure Robert Frost could weigh in on this.

In a similar vein is the notion that the skill of a workman may be judged not so much by the number of his tools, but by the condition of his tools. Barton Sutter, addresses this in his poem, “Tools”:

“Let’s have a look at your tools,”
The foreman said. He had to choose.
Grandpa’s were filed, slick with oil,
Obviously used.

The implication clear: Grandpa gets the job, based on an impeccable resume, the well-cared-for condition of his tools.

A printer friend of mine had a sign on his shop door—and I do mean shop, not studio—that read: Fine Craft Printing. As adroit a way as any for suggesting “fine press,” without coming right out and saying it. And this during the heyday of the journal, Fine Print.

Seeing as I have opened the door to equivocation, I may as well hang myself out to dry. I have several poems which attempt to mediate the vagaries of craft. Here is one of them.

The Arrivistes

To say that we have no standards or that our standards vary is to evade the issue. Everything we do is our best. More to the point is that some occasions allow a better best. Anyone who understands contingency understands this.

Furthermore some things need only be good enough and on which perfection is wasted. Corollary to this is that in terms of the job although good enough may not be perfect it may be acceptable.

The secret to this is procedure: it allows us to mediate and be fairly arbitrary about it. We call this rapprochement which is French for “getting close.”

For example this example.

©2009 — Philip Gallo

Want more? Go to Cloud Cuckoo Land for “Imagine You Are A Craftsman.”

Monday, August 10, 2009

Apollinaire Redux

Were a literary critic writing copy for Advertising Age, you might find the following headline: Celebrex® TV Spot Reclaims Ground Expropriated By Visual Poetry.

Pictured above is a montage of three screen shots taken from the 2009 tv commercial for the controversial arthritis drug, Celebrex. I have pieced them together to show the movement toward the viewer of the snowflake copy. The commercial itself can be found on YouTube.

The entire voice-over of the commercial is handled graphically as pictograms. A dog. Two bicyclists. A leaf. A kite. Snowflakes.

They call to mind the calligrammes of Apollinaire. But the commercial goes further: the pictograms support a narrative. Rather than subvert the commercial as some have done on YouTube, I suggest take advantage of this narrative technique and put it to another use.

One need only look at the advertisements for Absolut® Vodka, where famous writers were employed to write “stories” around (both literally and figuratively) the Absolut bottle, to see the insidious, if not pernicious, effect of advertising.

To my mind one of the best instances of expropriation of a product is the coca cola field, done by the Brazilian concretist, Décio Pignatari. By a series of substitutions he transposes
beba coca cola (drink coca cola)
to cloaca (cesspool)

all on a field of red, very near the PMS red of Coca-Cola®.

If I may be self-referential, the intent of my post entitled, “Seizing the Tools of Art,” was exactly that: expropriation. Art is not the exclusive province of “artists.”