What is it For?

Randy Fein  Fish Wall Hanging  

On Thursday afternoon I was hanging out in a ceramics class taught by my friend Chris Bonner.  The class was an introductory course designed for non-majors.  Naturally, the students gravitated toward the fabrication of functional objects like coffee mugs, vases, and teapots.  The running joke in our conversations about the class was that all ceramic work should be evaluated on the basis of whether or not it’s smooth and shiny. (At least this is how the students felt the work should be judged.)

In this class, a student presented Chris with a ceramic fish on a homasote board.  The fish was cut from a rolled, flat piece of clay with the exception of some mushed balls of clay applied to the surface to mimic scales.  The fish was not unlike the one shown above.  Because Chris was so accustomed to students having a specific application in mind for their projects, he asked, “What is it for?”  The student simply held the fish out in front of her and said, “To look at.”

I’m often surprised by how we find complex avenues of meaning in both art and non-art objects.  In this case, the statement made by the student seemed both obvious and profound.  There wasn’t a hint of sarcasm. Chris and I both felt as if we’d been put in our place.

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