Rid yourself of the standards of creating an objet d’art. Instead, make an “object day-art.”
I would like to persuade you to make stuff. Persuading you to make stuff begins with thinking about object day-art in the context of stuff in general. We love stuff. We seek it, we cherish it, we love it (Carlin, 1986). But how much stuff are you going to keep your whole life? If you are in the normal range of individuals, you’re probably only going to keep a few items of stuff your whole life, and that’s the way it should be. Stuff should come and go.
Most of your stuff will be discarded at some point, even valuable things will be sold, gotten rid of, worn out, traded, broken, upgraded etc. All the stuff will end up in the trash or recycled at some point. So let’s accept here that some stuff will be great and we will love having it around; most stuff will be okay, but all of it will go away at some point.
The intent of this is to devalue your stuff. The result of which will be to dis-inhibit you from making more stuff, which you know you will probably throw away. If it’s really good, you can keep it for longer, but even then you will need to get rid of it at some point. So there is no need to hesitate to make stuff, thinking that the only reason to make something is to make something nice, because it doesn’t matter how nice it is, you’ll still have to get rid of it. Make stuff with reckless abandon; make all the crappy things you want! You don’t have to show anybody. It’s not for anybody else; it’s for you to get your brain’s dorsal striatum all up and in a dopamine tizzy.
About a year ago, an Artists and Craftsmen’s store opened up about a block from my house. I would regularly drive by it on my way to waste time watching TV. One Saturday, bored with TV, my wife and I decided to go check out the store. The inside of this store is packed with every type of artistic creative tool you could want. It dawned on me, between the rows of tiny plastic model trees, acrylic paint, and blank canvases, that I could spend a tiny amount of money and have an entire day of fun. If I didn’t like what I made, I could throw it away.
The reward of making stuff comes from the entertainment of making stuff, not from the benefit or utility of having more objects.
Unfettered by stuff-valuing inhibition, I wandered around the store, looking around and imagining all the things I could make. I stumbled upon the sculpting clay and I suddenly felt the rush of potential. The clay was a raw block of creative impact. Once unbridled by the plastic packaging, I knew the 3×5 inch piece of grey doughy mush would soon be transformed into an object day-art (oh my god I love this joke so much).
Once home, I set up shop on my patio. The table surface was protected by the Saturday section of the LA Times, and I began my work.
I decided to create a rendition of an object that I once loved, but no longer have: The 5-speed gear shift lever from my 4runner, which was adorned with a Hurst T-handle. These are the best shift handles, as they require forming a fist to operate. Changing gears becomes a matter of self-affirmation and volition. You just don’t get this feeling from an automatic (well, maybe in a reverse valvebody full manual shifting th-400 with gear vendors overdrive, but I digress).
I began by cutting slabs off the clay to form the rubber boot, which would serve as the base. I layered each successive layer a little smaller than than the one below it. I meticulously shaped the curve in the shift lever which would go between the base and the t-handle. The t-handle itself, which was the most critical part, required a lot of work and shaping, which I did from memory and feel alone. Could I have opened a picture of the handle? Well yes, but I was embracing the challenge of trying to shape it using the memory of how it felt in my hand all those years ago (aka too lazy to go inside and open my computer).
Over the next few hours, I cut, shaped and formed the pieces, with mortise and tenon structure so I could glue them together later. I shaped until the early evening when it was ready to go together. The clay was drying rapidly, so this would be something of a last shot to make any changes. Turns out, the handle I made, once mounted on the L-shape of the shift lever, moved the center of gravity too far back over the base. I put it all together and it fell over backwards with a thunk.
I fixed the balance issue by removing some material and adjusting the mortise a little bit. Now more or less finished, I thought, ‘what the heck, why not finish it.’ I painted it up, and put it on our hutch in the dining room. And there it sat: an object day art created from my mind. It was a terrible sculpture.
I placed it next to our patina’d Buddha sculpture (which was my wife’s project for the day, which did not turn out crappy we don’t need to talk about it). I liked the juxtaposition; it looked a little bit like Buddha was rowing the gears. “This guy gets it,” he seems to be saying.
My wife put the object-day-art in the container-desk-drawer about five minutes later. I pulled it back out and put it back next to the Buddha. “People are going to love this,” I said. “Okay,”–her. That night a friend came over and saw the sculpture on the hutch and approached it. The vibrations from his steps on the wood floor caused it to fall over backwards. “I made that,” I said; “It’s a shifter handle,” I added, making sure that he didn’t need to spend too much time in discomfort trying to figure out what it was. “Oh. Oooooooooooh, yeah, okay, yeah I see,” he replied. In my life as a scientist, I am familiar with watching people make discoveries like the one he just made.
I put it back in the drawer next to a torn out magazine page and some pez dispensers.