There’s a moral to this story for writers, but you’ll have to mull on it a bit to discover yours. Pluck a blade of grass to chew on and lay, staring at clouds, to consider how this applies to you and your art. Maybe you’re in love with dancing cabinets?
Years ago – decades – I built custom furniture for a living. I eschewed noisy and impersonal machines and did mostly handwork, allowing the wood and form to take center stage. After a day of breathing cherry dust and checking the fit of dovetails, I would come home to pour through books and magazines that showcased craftsmanship and art.
I saw it first in a woodworking magazine. Almost dancing, the still photo looked to be moving across the page. It flowed in swooping curves that asked you to dance. Good god, I wondered, however would you make that thing? Was it made from bent hardwood or plywood? Traditionally joined or screwed and epoxied? It was unique in that the furniture gave away nothing. The design of the piece overwhelmed any hint of construction.
Then, I saw it was in Seattle at the Northwest Woodworking Gallery, a normal weekend jaunt for me on the way to get my normal Starbucks coffee at the inaugural store while listening to normal Seattle scene music. My weekend was set
There it was. Lilting but a little heavier to the eye than the magazine photograph revealed. And that note on top. What does it say? Do not open? That’s weird. It’s in a furniture gallery. Part of the charm is that you are encouraged to play. To run your hand around an edge to feel the how the wood plane shimmied. To pull out a drawer and hear the air rush out along the sides of the drawer when you push it back.
I caught the eye and the attention of the gallery worker.
“The dancing cabinet? ” I said. “There’s a note on top not to open it. Is that the right cabinet?”
“It is.” He whispered as if talking about something holy.
I thought for a minute. “Why can’t I open it?” My incredulity matches his whisper.
“It doesn’t open,” he said, running a hand along the sinuous line of the top. “There’s not even any finish on the inside”
Now I was interested. A little irked. But interested.
“You’re kidding right? There’s a pull. Right there,”
“Not at all.”
“What good is it then?”
“What good is it?” He came awake. “It’s art. What good is the Mona Lisa”
A fair point. “You don’t stack sweaters in the Mona Lisa,” I said.
He dropped his chin and looked at me over the top of his glasses. “Nor do you stack sweaters in here.”
The whole thing bothered me to no end. Not that the piece was sold as art, heck, you could pee in a jar and call it art. More because it was sold as furniture.
Maybe I cut my own nose off. I can’t say. But I started to focus on what a loved: taking scrappy #3 knotty pine and making sturdy, useful things from it, using traditional joinery and lots of handwork. Somehow, and for some reason, using what is common and inexpensive, and elevating it until it can sit next to traditional beauties, deeply satisfies me.