Letter to author Karen Chambers – 1984
Here are some ideas l have about artists working with industry. My experience is with companies involved in making objects for decorative use or furniture.
I find it intriguing to work with industry partly because there is so much going on physically, when compared to the activity in the studios I generally use. Although the scale of the manufacture and related business is sometimes intimidating, there is still a sense of personal involvement with the individual objects.
The time frame from conception to completion for a piece, even a prototype, is much longer for industry than for an individual. In my own studio a piece can be made in a week or a month, out in the factory a piece started in November may not be completed and available to the world until the following December. This is an example of the complex and time consuming processes and levels of organization employed to get a design produced.
One prevalent characteristic of industry is that of conservative attitudes toward new ideas. It is easy to see why the maintenance of a steady income to the factory is necessary with such overhead costs, and they depend so much on market research or traditionally successful products for their mainstay, hence the conservatism. Of course it is important for the factory to sell what it makes, but more important beyond dollars is that the public knows that the company is making a product which is aesthetically unique and therefore valuable. Trends and traditions are easy to follow and difficult to begin, and they are rarely begun in search of stability and security.
The "search for excellence" that is a catchword for the '80s is an ideal worth pursuit. Excellence involves going beyond the usual, and therefore means making an effort to be new, to make a product the world has never seen. In order to do this, industry must search deeply into the imaginations of the artists and be willing to take a chance on ideas which have "excellence“ rather than commercial potential as their main focus.
An interesting potential that industry has is that of versatility by means of its facilities. An artist seeing such a vast array of machinery and skilled artisans often imagines things to be made which are far beyond the potential of his or her own studio. This takes some working knowledge of the material being used, and that is why the so called "crafts" have prepared many designers in a way that no drawing board training could, to be familiar with the materials and processes and therefore able lo imagine from a platform of knowledge.
It is a 50/50 relationship, where compromise is necessary in order for both parties to gain from the work. While the artist might have unusual and interesting projects in mind, the operations necessary to make these ideas in reality may be impractical or impossible. While the factory must be willing to try new things, the artist must be willing to accept the advice of those who will actually make what has been designed. The artist should let the artisans develop the definitive prototype. This way, when the artist has moved on to another project, the piece can be produced with close resemblance to the original.
One important thing for the artist to remember is to maintain the individual quality of his or her own work. By making a design which follows the same aesthetic motives as in personal work, a design for the factory can have real personality. This is an ideal, not to be dictated by the market. The factory is like a vast offering a multitude of possibilities. To plug in to such a system is a challenge, and when everything works, a very effective way of working.
My best regards,