James Krenov and art furniture

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I happen to agree with you, But do understand that "Beauty is in the eye of the Beholder" I have seen a lot of people make a name for themselves doing this kind of work and we will never know whether the designs are any good because that wont happen for at least 100 years. I doubt anyone of us will be here to admire or critisize. A lot of what is called great art today was not in its day, it has to stand the test of time to realy be called art. Right now to me its Oh well that surely is differant,

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| | I happen to agree with you, But do understand that "Beauty is | in the eye of the Beholder"
I agree, and thank heaven that it is. I'm glad there are people who appreciate what I create, and I'm glad that there are people who create things I can appreciate.
| A lot of what is called great art today was not in its day, it | has to stand the test of time to realy be called art.
In a certain sense I agree with this, but I can't fully. I suppose it matters whether one's personal definition of art requires a critical mass of appreciation substantial enough to ensure survival. True, in art collection circles one generally holds on to an obscure piece in the hope it will eventually become widely appreciated. But for my purposes, as both a producer and consumer of art, there is a much more personal aspect to art.
To qualify as art for me, something merely has to have an aesthetic component. Something has to appeal to the senses in a way that provokes an emotional response. Now there are certainly many things -- a Gaugin, for example -- that have nothing but an aesthetic intention. And there are things at the other end of the spectrum, such as architecture, in which we typically allow the functional aspect to dominate.
I'm in a "small clock" phase right now. The project plans for those are easy: Get a hunk of interesting wood, render it into an interesting shape, create an interesting and complimentary finish, gouge out an appropriately-sized hole with a Forstner, and tap in the pre-manufactured clock insert. The function of the clock is provided almost exclusively by the assembly provided by someone else; all I've done is arrange for that to be held at an appropriate height and angle.
Now there's an ulterior motive to that phase. As I posted some weeks ago, I'm trying to get finishing experience using techniques I've not previously tried. This lets me do that for a minimum of expense and effort, with the off chance that someone might actually be interested in the final product. My most eye-grabbing effort to date is simply what happened when I attacked a chunk of highly figured maple with a band saw, without even attempting to think of a design first. It looks like something from Dr. Seuss, and honestly it's not something I'd be proud to put on my own mantle, but a couple of people have complimented me on it.
Let's see, I had a point here. Where was it?
Oh, yes. Art can certainly be appreciated in its own time, as art. The reason I want to emphasize this is because I don't particularly like the implications of defining art in terms of widespread popular appeal. If you follow that, you get art that is unoffensive, bland, and ultimately unappealing. I believe -- and maybe it's just me -- that the only art that truly has the ability to soar is art that also has the ability to really make you retch.
I grew up in a family of architects. A couple of years ago I was performing a musical work in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles and so had the opportunity to see the celebrated Frank Gehry design for Disney's theater going up across the street. Architects are polarized about Gehry. They either really like him or really hate him. His stuff is bold -- it *makes* you either like it or hate it. I think most artists would rather hear that their stuff is unappealing than to hear that it's "interesting".
Where was that point again?
I'm looking at Krenov's stuff now. Some of it I like. Some of it I really hate. And if I saw him to his face, I'd tell him what I like and what I don't like. I'm sure there are people who love ever splinter that has come out of his shop, just as sure as I am that there are people who don't care about anything he's built. That's exactly as it should be.
You can build "safe" furniture or objets d'art according to an aesthetic which ensures popularity -- either in the here and now or according to a hundred-year-old tradition -- and you can be reasonably sure that your work will be well received. And if there is a business aspect to what you do, that may be very important. But *if* you're going to pursue woodworking as an art, then what you create has to be what you feel passionate about. Even if only one other person in the universe appreciates you for it.
--Jay
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snipped-for-privacy@tfn.net (Dick Durbin) wrote in message

Well, he does refer to himself as the "Impractical Cabinetmaker", so I've always interpreted it as him saying, "works for me!"

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I don't think anyone here could take anything away from him as far as skill, simply meaning that the man most definitely knows exactly what he's doing. However, I personally think some of those things he builds has got to be some of the ugliest stuff I've ever seen. Don't know about you but I wouldn't want one in my house. I was just typing this trying to imagine one of those alien looking cabinets over in the corner and it just doesn't come to me at all. I do admire his attention to detail and the perfection in which each piece is crafted. A++ for that.
Jim

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I posted to the original message defending Krenov, but You know what? I admire his skill, but as time goes by, I kind of agree with you. Maybe if he designed a bedroom suite...but art is art and furniture is furniture at some pont. Furniture is in art museums partly because it represents a point in history, but some- times when I see a Krenov piece I think of Jimmy Carter!
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Does this mean that all model cars that I built when I was a kid should be thrown away because they can not be driven??
I feel that if an artist, who in this case happens to be a wood worker, creates a piece of art, which happens to look like a piece of furniture, should not be devalued because its does have any functional usefulness for you or is not your style.
For cryin' out loud, you cant sleep with the Venus de Milo.
Grandpa Simpson

is
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| | ...but art is art and furniture is furniture at some point.
Sure. Objects created to be simultaneously artistic and useful can cease to be either under the right circumstances. There is nothing dictating that those aims must be contradictory, but a contradiction is not difficult to achieve. A Laz-E-Boy is a butt-ugly piece of furniture, but it seems to have satisfied its utilitarian specification.
To me, the questions, "Does that look nice?" and "Would I put that in my home?" are not equivalent. Our homes are our most intimate artificial spaces. As such they often reflect great attention and discrimination on the part of their inhabitants.
Even so, homes are not the only built environments we encounter and by which we are affected. What works in a living room may not work in an office. In a mountain cabin you might appreciate a bed made of minimally worked pine logs. That same bed may seem comically out of place in a Manhattan apartment.
Frank Lloyd Wright recognized that furniture was an appendage to the immovable structure of a building. And so for each of his houses or buildings, he designed the furniture that would go into it, so that it would be one single expression of his artistic intent. But have you ever sat on some of his high-backed chairs? They're gawdawfully uncomfortable. Do they look nice? Without question. Would I put that in my home? Not if I respected my guests, I wouldn't.
I haven't yet seen any Krenov pieces that I would appreciate in my home. That doesn't mean I can't think of a setting elsewhere in which even the weird bell-bottomed cabinets would be at home.
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Jay Windley writes:

Some of the living room benches and other furniture, including built-in bedroom furniture, at Wright's Kentuck Knob is downright uncomfortable to even look at, at least for me. The house makes me feel like crouching because of low door lintels and narrow passageways...Wright was said to be height challanged and slender. I used to be short, but then I turned 12. I used to slender, but then I quit smoking.
Anyway, the concept is brilliant, but like the construction at Falling Water, the implementation leaves a bit to be desired (at FW, they've spent OVER $4 million bucks to restore a house that cost about $100,000 to build, IIRC).
I love the way the two houses look and they way they are set into their respective landscapes, but I'd prefer not to even think seriously of living in them.
Charlie Self
"Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things." Sir Winston Churchill
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Ain't that the damn truth. 12 years at a steady 5lbs a year ain't pretty.
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www.e-woodshop.net
Last update: 9/21/03
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Swingman writes:

Figure about 14 years. Yuk.
Charlie Self
"Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things." Sir Winston Churchill
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On Wed, 12 Nov 2003 02:23:34 +0000, Charlie Self wrote:

My packin 'em on started with the "quit smoking" routine also. The OverLord put us on an unofficial weight watchers program in mid September after I packed on 5 pounds in 3 weeks while on vacation. Down 18 lbs in 2 months with 14 to go for the target. Portions, man - portions :-) You wouldn't believe the tasty stuff we've been eating. Cutting down to one little relaxing toddy in the evening seems to be a big help also :-(
-Doug
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| | Wright was said to be height challanged and slender.
He was, and so am I. I don't have any problem navigating Wright interiors. :-)
But seriously he also has some designs that soar. Wright did lots of innovative things with space. Remember that he rebelled against a design tradition that envisioned houses as a collection of isolated square boxes joined by doorways. That rebellion produced an entirely different concept of space in a dwelling by creating a flow from one functional area to another and using things like ceiling height to visually demarcate them.
Innovation isn't always and universally good. By trading the strict compartmentalization of Victorian architecture for his new concept, he just traded one set of known problems for another set of problems that he (and we subsequently) came to characterize and criticize.
| Anyway, the concept is brilliant, but like the construction | at Falling Water, the implementation leaves a bit to be desired
The whole concept of built-in furniture is fraught with peril. And I'm not talking about Murphy beds or bookshelves. The notion of setting in stone (or nailed-down wood) just what the furniture should be and where it should go denies some of the freedom normally enjoyed by the inhabitant. We enjoy our homes partly because we can adapt them to our tastes in ways the original designer perhaps did not envision or intend, and because we can change those adaptations at will.
Mutability appeals to some people. Look at how many people post here saying, "I've got this table that I really like, but I need to change it. How should I go about it?" Maybe Wright built in a seat or a table somewhere with a very good reason in mind, but who is to say the inhabitant recognizes and appreciates that reason? Who's to say the inhabitant hasn't found a better reason for locating that piece across the room?
Now we here tend to congregate at the nascent end of a piece's life cycle. There is a certain sense of "ownership" of a piece, even if we pass physical possession of it to someone else and cash his check. We invest our creative efforts into choosing the wood, executing our design, and carefully finishing the piece. And so part of us wants to scream when the recipient glops on six coats of Minwax High-Gloss Kindergartner Snot. But the other part of us has to admit that if that's what makes the piece visually appealing or functional to its new owner, it's better that way. It means the end user is "correcting" a "deficiency" that we should have seen.
Wright took great care to create an integrated expression of his ideas to a great level of detail. If some fault exists in the design, or in the execution of the design, we would like to have the ability to correct it. Wright didn't leave much flexibility for that. And in so doing requires you either to take him or to leave him. If a designer is going to do that, then he must accept being left.
| (at FW, they've spent OVER $4 million bucks to restore a house | that cost about $100,000 to build, IIRC).
Well, sure. But how much do you think the Mona Lisa costs in terms of the materials and initial labor? Compare that with the efforts now expended to preserve and extend its life. We spend $4 million on Fallingwater because it's the architectural equivalent of a Mona Lisa. Other houses get the wrecking ball when their cantilevers sag.
I can go buy a bookshelf from Sauder made of compressed oatmeal with a picture of wood pasted on it. It may look good in a context where a Krenov would not. It may provide a sturdy, serviceable container where a Krenov might not. Under those circumstances, the only advantage a Krenov has is that Krenov made it. The value of art is exactly what we assign to it.
I remember having spent a lot of time in the 1980s with wildlife artist Hayden Lambson, who is a friend of my grandfather. At the time he was just an amateur painter. He had a typical desk job. He would show his works at local art shows where people spread out their paintings on the lawn or makeshift easels with prices marked in little colored stickers. The turning point in his life came when a renowned artist visiting an art show paused at one of his works, picked it up, and wrote Hayden a check for three times his asking price. As Hayden's eyes widened, the artist said, "Don't you ever sell a painting for anything less than that amount." Now, of course, Hayden paints full time, has a full plate of commissions, and commands four and five figures for originals. He doesn't paint any better or worse now than when he was hawking his canvases in parks. The difference in the prices and respect he commands was in finally realizing what impact his work was having on others.
In a sense, the appreciation of art -- whether it's a coffee table, a house, or a painting of a white-tailed deer -- is arbitrary. Why did we pick Wright, out of all his contemporaries who were following the same design principles, to be the exemplar of a particular style in a particular art form? Why are we spending millions of dollars preserving his offerings (including some of the most uncomfortable furniture ever built) at letting others be destroyed? I don't know why. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and therefore preservation comes from the wallet of that same beholder.
| I love the way the two houses look and they way they are set | into their respective landscapes, but I'd prefer not to even | think seriously of living in them.
And that's a widely-shared opinion.
But, see, now we have to go back and revisit that "take-it-or-leave-it" philosophy. Wright, in addition to his visual motivation, was also practical. He wanted his work to be visually appealing, but also useful and practical. He used lots of windows in order to provide natural light, but that wasn't expected to come at the cost of freezing your kiester off during a harsh Chicago winter. If you got cold sitting next to a window, Wright would have advocated replacing his window with a better one.
Wright spent a lot of time working on designs that he intended to be easy to live in and easy to build. He was big into the notion of pre-fab housing. We associated him with unique and visually stunning commissions for the very wealthy, but that isn't necessary the role he wrote for himself. He wanted houses that looked nice, but that anyone could afford to own.
"Mr. Wright, I like your chairs, but they're so terribly uncomfortable." Wright listened, and so version 2 had a sloped back. Still not as comfortable as a Laz-E-Boy, but Wright did pay attention to that kind of feedback. I'm not sure he would be pleased with the "preserve the original design at all costs" mentality with which some have addressed his work.
And so in that respect, perhaps both his houses and his furniture designs have passed into pure art, forsaking all semblance of function. But it's because we made it that way, not necessarily because Wright made it that way.
--Jay
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Excellent point. There's a great and uncomplicated challenge in designing furniture, and that's precicely it. If I can make something that not only looks great but also works anywhere, I'll have achieved something even FLW couldn't acheive. Good assignment in a class on architecture - Take a Wright environment, scrub the furniture, and replace it with something that satisfies both criteria.
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On 11 Nov 2003 21:52:00 GMT, snipped-for-privacy@aol.com (BUB 209) wrote:

What do you think of if you see a piece by Jimmy Carter ? He's a pretty good cabinetmaker.
-- Die Gotterspammerung - Junkmail of the Gods
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James Krenov.
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Oddly, they seem well proportioned to me. It's all to do with how you look at them. That's one of the things with JK's stuff: it changes as you change your point of view.

But curio cabinets have a function. Not for you and most definitely not for me as I don't own "curios". Others do. Besides, if you get some of his books, you'll find that he goes through phases. He made a lot of other stuff in past periods.
The thing with his creations is that the execution is nothing short of perfection, always almost invisible. But effective. That is hard to do. Very hard. I particularly like his cabinet with the oddly cooppered doors that cannot possibly close or open, yet they do and to perfection.

His current phase is cabinets. Once he's happy that he's explored all his mind tells him to do in that area, he'll move on. If he's still alive. Personally, I don't mind one bit. I've found all his creations a source of ideas and interesting techniques which I try to emulate. Without success, but I learn. That's the whole idea of his, I guess.
Nakashima for example does not do as much for me. His chair is mostly impractical unless you have a huge room. And I suspect it won't "wobble" properly. Although obviously stunning. All his other creations remind me of someone grabbing a lump of wood, polishing one side and calling it finished. Nevertheless, it's still very well executed stuff and I wish I could "polish one side" as well as he does!
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Ah, yes, to be able to "polish one side well". I think we all aspire to this in one form or another but then someone comes along and asks, "when will it be finished?". Alas, my audience would not appreciate the work to do one side only, they only want to know, "How many beers can ya putin there?". :-)
BRuce
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BRuce


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Have you seen and touched any of his work? I saw several of his pieces as well as Maloof's work at a museum in San Diego this summer. I was awe struck. I didn't touch, but I could have if I had wanted to. The point is. it was accessible to the point of being able to examine it closely. One piece that I had never seen photo's of was a case that was hung on the wall. The doors and joinery was perfection. His dovetails are perfect in this piece. He did things other than tables and chairs.
I've only seen photo's of Krenov's work. I would like to see them for real.
I also saw some Townsend - Goddard pieces this fall, and also the wood workers at Williamsburg . . . . . . . We were invited to touch and examine their work. One had an inlayed harpsichord under construction, all by hand tools.

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: Nakashima for example does not do as much for me. His chair is mostly : impractical unless you have a huge room. And I suspect it won't : "wobble" properly. Although obviously stunning. All his other creations : remind me of someone grabbing a lump of wood, polishing one side and calling : it finished.
I agree with the impresion Nakashima's larger pieces make in photographs. But I saw a show of his work, including large stuff, and it was stunning. You really have to see it in person, and from different angles.
As to the earlier comments about Krenov:
It's fine and expected if someone doesn't like his work. But I think it's unfair to dismiss his cabinets as non-functional eye candy. There is a loooonnggg tradition in both European and Asian woodworking in the building of cabinets whose function is to serve as a display cabinet for small carvings, ceramics, etc. He isn't building cabinets to stuff old copies of National Geographic or computer games into.
If you really want to see "art furniture", look at Gary Knox Bennett's or Michael Hosaluk's stuff. Or, if you value your time, don't!
    -- Andy Barss
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According to the September issue of Antiques Roadshow Insider (publication). at a recent auction Nakashima's furniture sold for as much as $95,600 and $130,500. A set of six "New Chair" style sold for $10,925. I agree that his "chair" is not real practical, but the "New Chair" style, evocative of the Windsor style is in deed another matter. :-) There is a nice biographical article in the publication. I was fascinated to learn that he had a masters degree in architecture from MIT and that he was introduced to Japanese style of tools and wood working at an internment camp in the 40's.
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