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The pipe as art

Discussion in 'Pipes' started by Whalehead King, Sep 11, 2010.

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  1. Whalehead King

    Whalehead King Active Member

    Jan 23, 2010
    I’ve been thinking about this for awhile and I thought I would post it here for opinions. I love a good pipe. It may be a nice pipe but it’s no Van Gogh sunflower. Like pop songs, they all pretty much follow the same pattern. This is neither good nor bad, just an observation. I’ve written this essay for your consideration and tomato tossing. I apologize that the prose is a bit pedantic. No offense is intended one way or the other but I thought this would be an interesting topic of discussion...

    The definition of Art with a capital A is something that has no utilitarian purpose. This is a common denominator from the caves of Lascaux to the Sistine Chapel to whatever cow pie you find hanging in a gallery downtown today. Art provokes thinking but aside from that, it isn’t useful. It has a cultural significance but beyond being a subject of conversation or debate, or exciting the sensations, you can’t boil water with a work of art except at a bonfire. It exists in its own realm without any other reason for being.

    Art, like laughter, is an human evolutionary enigma.

    Art museums are full of artifacts such as pots, pitchers, boxes, clocks, and furniture that are exhibited as Art but their primary function was to be a useful article. They are in museums because they have been preserved and their decoration illustrates the aesthetic tastes of the time in which they were produced. No one admires a Grecian urn for how much olive oil it holds but for the scene painted on its sides. An artifact does not automatically qualify something as Art. The clay may be beautifully handled and fired, but these are secondary considerations compared to the ink work a painter used on an available surface. A potter is not a sculptor.

    A collection of musical instruments may display the finesse and refinements of those who crafted them, but the Art of Music lies in the playing not in the materials.

    I read a lot about how the shapes and finishes of tobacco pipes are Art and I have to disagree. Pipe smiths are not usually referred to as “pipe artists” and, perhaps unconsciously, rightly so. They are smiths, craftsmen, artisans. There is nothing wrong with this and, while there is an art to fashioning a beautiful pipe, and a beautiful pipe is a beautiful thing indeed, it is erroneous to include a the fanciest custom calla lily pipe bowl in the same category of work as Picasso’s “Guernica.” You may not think much of Cubism so feel free to substitute Picasso for any painter, sculptor, composer, musician, or choreographer of your choice.

    The Belgian Surrealist painter Rene Magritte put it best in his painting “The Treachery of Images.” Against a plain background, he painted an image of a tobacco pipe over the legend “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” -This is not a pipe. It is a picture of a pipe. No one will ever enjoy any smoking pleasure from a painting on the wall. It is completely non-functional, useless in any sense unless you are hiding a hole in the plaster over your sofa.

    This is not meant to denigrate the skills of the pipe makers of the world. Quite the reverse. The world’s unheralded and unknown pipe makers have added more practical pleasure to any tobacco smoker’s day than the least avant garde artiste. The pipe makers add an extra, often indescribable dimension to enjoying one of the most delicious pleasures available in this weary world. A well made pipe is a cherished friend forever, as any pipe smoker will tell you. Their creations are not Art though. They are well made pipes.

    Working with and accenting the grain; knowing the limitations of the materials at hand; carving, polishing, dressing, detailing, fashioning everything so that every detail of the pipe smoking experience is enhanced to the ultimate degree of focussed contemplation and reverie, a pipe smith knows his or her job and practices it well, raising the carving of briar or meerschaum or corn cobs, or the casting of clay, to peak perfection, They are akin to angels. Despite all this, I cannot say they are artists. Their goals are limited to those who enjoy tobacco. A pipe maker may take risks but if, after all the work is done, the pipe doesn’t smoke well, it is scrap no matter how attractive it looks. A pipe, no matter how well made, is limited to the function of holding lit tobacco. A pipe makes no claim to universal appeal. That is the job of Art.

    On first encounter, a pipe smoker may think he sees divinity in a pipe but what he really sees is the sublime experience of smoking that pipe in his mind’s eye. The pleasure of a pipe ultimately comes from the smoking, not from the vessel that delivers those precious moments when one feels at one with the cosmos. Like a violin, a pipe does not give up its purpose until put to use. This is different from Art. Art indicates the divine or universal human essence to anyone who views it. A pipe, after all, is just a pipe. Collectors may think otherwise, but when all is said and done and their heirs have to auction off the estate, they are selling pipes, not Art, whatever the pedigree.

  2. ruffinogold

    ruffinogold Ruffinogold-Mayor, I.R.G.E.--At Large. Mayor

    Sep 25, 2009
    I hear ya and agree . But these days everybodys an artist . I mean the people cooking on some reality tv show talk like they're artists , A carpenter etc... Every daily function can be bent to art it seems . Not that " regular " jobs arent cool but C'mon ... it aint art . If regular stuff were art then the Roman Aqueducts would be the king of art . Every thing wants to be a rock star etc ... Art is in the eye of the beholder ... ya know that one is comming . I'm with ya .. Art and Design are two diff things .
  3. Sasquatch

    Sasquatch Sales Account

    Jul 15, 2009
    I came into pipe making from a woodworking background. I appreciate art, and I think I apply "artistic flair" to certain parts of my trade. But perhaps that's just being a good craftsman after all.

    Primarily, I was concerned with learning to make "good" pipes - pipes that were comfortable and smoked well. Making them good looking was secondary, and in some ways much more difficult. That combination of engineering and aesthetics is very fun and very challenging.

    I don't consider my pipes as art or "artsy" by and large. It's more a craft, a honing of a skill into which a guy is able to put some creative juices in the mix.

    There are "art" pipes - pipes whose primary purpose is display, to display the grain, to display the craftsmanship and perfection of the carver - it's "smokeable art" but maybe "smokeable in principle art" is more apt. Some of these designs are never gonna get lit and can't be enjoyed in the same way that a more "ordinary" pipe could.

    Like many things in life, there's probably a spectrum, with "ugly functional pipe" on one end and "beautiful non-functional (art)" pipe on the other. And most are somewhere in between. Why does it take me 2 hours to shape a pipe? Because I want the shape to be "right" or "appealing" or "nice". What else is this then "art"? Beauty for the sake of beauty. The difference between a "nice" pipe and a "good" pipe?
  4. Snake

    Snake permanent ankle biter

    Jun 13, 2010
    The term "art" tends to be a relative word,
    and is viewed as such in the eye of the
    beholder. Granted, there are objects that
    only exist as art, but therein lies their
    function. Can an object be both? Maybe.
    In this instance, I would rather use the
    term craftsman, when it comes to the
    creator of the object.

  5. erickghint

    erickghint Member

    Sep 3, 2009
    I agree with you, DP. Craftsman seems to lend itself to more accurately describing the pipe maker. While pipes can be artsy in looks, I don't think they are art by definition. Like Whale said, they're pipes. They serve a purpose; a vessel for our favorite smoking mixture. You can look at a painting or sculpture, but you can't really do anything with them aside from look. Well, that's not really true. Given the impending zombie apocalypse, a small enough sculpture could be very useful in fending off a zombie attacker... but that's another post. At any rate, that's art. Not useful, but can be beautiful and make us think. A pipe can be both beautiful, useful, and given the right tobacco and setting, it can provoke thought. So the pipe has one up on art.
  6. Thrawn

    Thrawn Member

    Sep 9, 2010
    I think that anything that brings some empathetic connection between artist and observer is art. So a story that has some deeper meaning to someone due to empathy of circumstance or emotion (romance films to people who have felt love, war stories to veteran soldiers, etc). Likewise if a great pipe can have some empathic link from craftsman to smoker, a subtlety, the aroma, the temperature, the flavor, the feel of the wood in the hand, or the experience of a good smoke etc then in being smoked the pipe can be a part of the artful "craft" of pipesmoking. The art isn't the pipe on its own, but the entire process.
  7. Gondar

    Gondar Member

    Jan 14, 2010
    Interesting topic and a great OP.
    My view is that it is craft - which is a form of art which includes function. It is only the market that separates pipe art from the painters IMHO.
    Once I was in the workshop of a potter and she had a sign on the wall that sums it up for me. It ruffly translates into this:

    The difference between art and craft is that anyone can have an equally valid opinion on art but to evaluate craft you need knowledge.
  8. Jay

    Jay Active Member

    Apr 29, 2010
    The difference between art and craft is that anyone can have an equally valid opinion on art but to evaluate craft you need knowledge.

    I do believe Gondar settled that one quite well.
  9. tsgourley

    tsgourley Member

    May 2, 2010
    Well said. This is my own opinion on art: I believe you can have the knowledge of your craft and do wonderful things with it, but to truly make it art, you have to add a certain ingredient. Now pardon me for being cheesy, but that ingredient is love.

    Seriously, to make anything--especially a crafted work--into art, you have to add very caring touches, creative flair, and display a mastery of what you're dealing with. That's love. And that's what makes it art.

    I can splatter paint on a canvas and call it art, but it really isn't. It's just a mess. I have to understand colors, textures, and have the knowledge of the "craft" of painting. Then I have to add love. That's what makes it truly interesting art.

    I'm a computer programmer by trade. You would think that code is very logical, engineered, complex, dry, boring, and definitely not artistic. But I've seen some masterful programmers write code and add creative touches to it to get the computer to do amazing things. I would definitely call pieces of code like that art.

    A lot of the pictures of pipes I've seen forum members make here I'd consider art as well. Face it, those of us who are into making pipes are "pipe geeks" who strive to learn and be the best as possible. We learn every aspect of the craft and apply it in artistic ways. 99% of the time you end up with something better than some factory pipe that is coldly made by a machine without the love of the craft thrown in artistically.

    I hope my rambling makes sense. I've been up most of the night with my kid so take my post with a grain of briar. :P
  10. ruffinogold

    ruffinogold Ruffinogold-Mayor, I.R.G.E.--At Large. Mayor

    Sep 25, 2009
    The diif between the two [ art & craft ] is that many can learn a craft and few are artists . I used to make some nice pipes in the 90's but they arent art . I can french polish period furniture to where the grain appears to elevate off the furniture in the glow ...it's a learned skill anyone can do if the time is taken to learn and practise . Making a pipe isnt that hard . Depending on your tools [ self centered chuck etc .. ] it can be fairly easy if you have basic wood skills . Carving the la pieta .. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pietà ... is art .
  11. Grammaton

    Grammaton Member

    Aug 12, 2010
    I think Art and Craft are on the same scale. A well crafted item can be Art if someone's eye finds it appealing.
    A poorly crafted item is less likely to be seen as Art, but an item will never approach Art unless it is made well - in some respect.

    Amongst some woodturners (speaking about bowls), if it holds soup, it's Craft. If it won't, then it's Art. I guess the standard for pipes might be "if it smokes poorly, it's Art. If it smokes well, it's Craft."

    When I make something I want it to be beautiful and functional. If it's ugly it won't get used at all.
  12. jhe888

    jhe888 Member

    Aug 26, 2010
    I think a utilitarian object can be art. And I don't just mean like the painting applied to a piece of Greek pottery. I think the pottery itself can be art. Not every pot is art and not every pipe is art, but they can be. They can be craft, too, but some objects transcend craft and become art. It is hard to define when this happens, but like Potter Stewart said, "I know it when I see it."
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