Coales' Notes: Being crafty about a sensitive area: Gordon Coales, still in thrall to Ars Longa, attempts to sweep the world of arts and crafts off its feet
Monday 12 April 1993
TUESDAY. I shouldn't have gone into the office today. Di asked me, unless I was doing something absolutely vital, if I could go and check someone out. Not an artist as such - she thought it was time to be making overtures into the craft world, though of course this was a very delicate matter. I said surely it wasn't such a problem, because a lot of these craft things pratically were art.
Di became suddenly very serious. 'Gordon, whatever you do, never say that. Never call it art. It implies that craft is some sort of poor relation. It's the most terrible insult. You have to be so careful with craft.'
Rory added: 'In fact, to be absolutely safe, I wouldn't call it craft either. Slightly dodgy connotations.'
I said, presumably decorative art was not acceptable. Di said: 'No way. I think a few years ago it was alright to say designer-maker, but I'm not sure if that's on either now. It's just an incredibly sensitive area.' Rory said: 'Best not to say anything at all. Basically, it's a minefield.'
So anyway, I'm going to see someone called Bingy Hall, believed to be 'on the cutting edge of broom-making'. I'm not too worried. Unqualified flattery always works.
WEDNESDAY. Found Bingy Hall's workshop in Battersea. She opened the door and said: 'Oh hi] And welcome to the broom-cupboard]'
She went to make tea. It was then I realised that the crafts are actually a completely foreign country to me. The studio was chock full of brooms - but all looking, to my eye, exactly as one would expect brooms to look.
She said: 'Well, here it all is.' I examined the brooms closely. I said it was interesting to find someone working apparently very closely within the traditional parameters of the broom. She said: 'I think you have to, really.'
I said, yes - and then, the use of traditional materials, that was another thing. She said: 'I've always preferred wood. Of course recently people have been making everything from re-cycled rubbish. But to me, a broom made out of rubbish would be kind of a contradiction, if you see what I mean.' I nodded vigorously.
I said, I supposed there must be a language for talking about these things. She said 'I think really I'm instinctive. I think what I like is something that sweeps.'
I nodded more vigorously. I asked if I could do some sweeping. She said fine. I swept for a bit. Finally she said: 'Of course, if you're interested in brooms-about-brooms, and 'what is a broom?' brooms, then you'd have to talk to other broom-makers.'
I said: that was the word was it - broom-maker? She replied: 'Or sometimes artist-broom-maker.' I said, well, thanks awfully, be in touch, and made off.
What a mess. Nice phrase though, artist-broom-maker.
THURSDAY. Well, I think I have it. I faxed this to Silver this evening. I emphasised that we would of course need to drum up some very authoritative judges, and also some very large sums of money, but given those two things, the consequences would be nothing short of revolutionary: a new form of artist at least.
'The First Ars Longa Prize for Combined Creativity.
'To oppose the trend towards specialisation and the invidious demarcations between art, craft, design, etc, and to encourage breadth of accomplishment in the creative individual, in its first year the Ars Longa Prize for Combined Creativity will be awarded in the following three categories:
1) A short story (of no more that 7,500 words length) AND a nest of tables.
2) A composition for voice and piano (of roughly 20 minutes duration) AND a working model for a self- righting traffic cone.
3) A painting on canvas (of any dimensions) AND a man's hat.
Collaborative submissions will not be accepted; the judges will give equal weight to both elements in any category; any attempt to integrate or otherwise link the two elements will lead to instant disqualification.'
I hope this appeals.
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