Conferences, connections and a different world

A gentle nudge is usually all it takes to get me rolling. Other times it takes a concerted kick in my posterior to force me to figure out where to go next. Especially when I feel lost.

The incredible Michael Zobel shares his work with an enthusiastic CoMA audience after his presentation.

I just got back from the 2011 Colorado Metalsmithing Association Conference in Salida, Co. It was totally incredible, and the lineup was just fantastic. I saw and held gorgeous works by Michael Zobel, Michael Good, and many other amazing metals artists. I am inspired to work — if I can ever get back to my bench. But, this year was different for me. Not only because I am different. Everything else is different too, and I am lost in a land of confusion. I went to the conference with a different set of objectives. Many of the same personalities and characters were there, and I caught up with them and made my usual contacts and connections, but because the world of print publishing is changing dramatically, this year I was there for a different reason. My assignment was to capture footage for a new digital product, so I interviewed 6 metals masters, tool designers and lapidary artists in typical “man on the street” TV journalist style. It was surreal to say the least.

I am new to this world of the digital video camera. At this moment, I have appeared in three 2-hour technique DVDs, but I still feel uneasy about talking on camera, because unlike teaching a class, there is no connection to anything real. There is no interaction or exchange.

Blacksmith Hoss Haley demonstrated how to raise a pear in steel

It is disconcerting. I love print. I love books. I love learning the old way — from information passed with hands — you know, master to apprentice and demonstration and practice. I am uneasy about having the knowledge and tradition of my craft held in an elusive and mysterious format like a digital file that lives in cyberspace. It feels nebulous and unreal, not solid — like the tools, metal and stone I can hold in my hands as I work, or observe my mentor using as I am shown something.

Lately, I am reminded of my art history class, where the Italian Renaissance clicked away, slide after slide after slide, in a scattershot of images with no sense of scale, form or context.  I try to imagine what the world will be like when all information is digital. Will life be reduced to an endless vicarious peep show as we watch other people “do” things in cyberspace without ever touching a tool or piece of metal ourselves? Will we consume information as a substitute for doing? How can we analyze the information of a visual art form, when we cannot observe it in 3D reality? And, what will we really experience if everything is a nugget of information to be observed on a computer monitor or slid sideways on a touch screen?

I often wonder about these things. Is digital information real? Is digital documentation, record keeping and history real — if it can be constantly edited, accessed, tweaked and altered? Or are we really all just bits of matter floating through time and space where the only real is at this very moment and no more?


About Helen Driggs

Metalsmith, Teaching Artist, Writer, Maker of things. Former Senior Editor of Lapidary Jewelry Artist Magazine View all posts by Helen Driggs

One response to “Conferences, connections and a different world

  • jen

    Helen, this entry really echoes my own thoughts, so I had to comment… I’m a graphic designer (who started lampworking so I could make something “real”), but I graduated just before the computer age really started. I learned to make presstype by hand – such a valuable skill set (not)! But as I’ve embraced the digital tools of my trade, I remember that they are just that — TOOLS — and the original acts of seeing and creating that make us artists do not change. When it comes right down to it, people can’t wear virtual jewelry, and Adobe Illlustrator will never be able to match the beauty and variety of a hand-drawn line on paper. Don’t despair — and don’t ever let your hands rest! 🙂

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