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I've created a line of wooden peg looms to make potholders and projects of other sizes. Read the story behind the looms and check out my etsy shop.

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Form vs. Function: What does your art do?

This lovely blue piece was made by Heather Robinson, a Holland, Michigan artist who often fields questions like this at art shows:

“But what is for?”

People get her ceramic buttons and paper bead jewelry, but passersby often want to know what pieces like the blue one above “do.” And they look to Heather to provide them with a satisfying answer, a reason to buy. If it doesn’t hold flowers or serve some other kind of obvious purpose, why should they buy it?

Heather is a polite woman, and not one to criticize her public for lacking imagination. (My assertion, not hers.) Instead she explains her art and the influence nature has on the things she shapes from clay with her bare hands inside a studio that occupies the second floor of a small yellow barn behind the house where she dreams up these whimsical forms.

Since interviewing Heather, I’ve thought a lot about the things people say when they look at art, the way many of us seem to fight to justify our responses to intoxicating pieces that appear to lack function. The economy tanked out a long time ago. Money is tight. Why should we buy something that doesn’t do anything?

Because sometimes art does everything.

If a piece of art stops you in your tracks and triggers some kind of response in you, it  just did something. You might not be able to plop a dozen roses in it, but maybe there’s something about its shape or color that brightens your life or lightens your mental load for a bit. What better function can there be, really? I already have too many vases anyway.

What do you think?

You can read more about Heather and her art on my newspaper blog and check out her online shop.

Comments

Comment from Zom
Time: September 14, 2009, 2:29 am

Art heals, art can open the heart. You can have a relationship with a piece of art. Kind of like a vase of flowers. tee hee

Comment from Catherine
Time: September 14, 2009, 3:53 am

I love Heather’s work and was so excited to see her in the paper this weekend!

I think the beauty of art is that it doesn’t have to do anything other than evoke a feeling. I have some of Heather’s pieces in my workspace and they just make me feel content and inspired. Everyone can have a crystal vase, but there’s something genuinely special about finding that handmade piece that you feel a connection too rather than plunking down $40 on something “useful”.

Comment from Bev
Time: September 14, 2009, 5:21 am

‘Evoke’ is such a great word. Catherine put it well, for me — it’s about the feeling or the memories or other intangible things that an object brings up in you as a response. Sculpture, art, fabrics, they al do that for me, sometimes.

Comment from Heather
Time: September 14, 2009, 6:46 am

There has been such a wonderful response to the article, I saw people at the ARTisans’ Market that I haven’t seen in years and they came because they read your column. And I really love your comments here. Thanks Jennifer (and everyone)!

Comment from Rane
Time: September 14, 2009, 2:51 pm

Dr. Suess would completely understand!
I love it…almost fairy~ish! beautiful~
(*Ü*)
♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Comment from Turtle
Time: September 14, 2009, 3:15 pm

i agree. If something makes you think or even smile and you find you enjoy it, who cares if it serves a purpose … it’s art! :)

Comment from Lesley
Time: September 15, 2009, 4:20 am

I totally agree, I recently had a similiar experience when I posted a fabric sculpture piece I did on facebook and one of my friends said it was nice but what the H do you do with it? LOL-she is not so artsy and totally did not get it. But I understood because that is just her. LOL

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