Monday, February 28, 2011

The "Unknown Craftsman."

Mesopotamian Potter's Wheel
I think the central problem with Yanagi's approach to Mingei begins with the artificial construct that he created: "The Unknown Craftsman." While I disagree with Kikuchi's labeling Mingei as "Ultra-nationalist", I do believe the Unknown Craftsman perspective is related to Yanagi and Leach's membership in colonial/imperial societies, and the artificial notion of looking at the peasant potters from the perspective of bon sauvage or noble savage. I really don't believe that the personhood of a peasant potter is different in kind, but only degree. I've always thought, if you want to know who the Unknown Craftman is, just talk to one of my relatives who is a farmer or an uncle who worked on the assembly line at Ford Motor Company. They are people like you and me. When Yanagi came up with the idea from Buddhism of tariki, or "other power" as found in Pureland Buddhism, he was looking for the counterpart (that already existed for over 800 years) of the Zen Buddhist influences upon the educated practicing the fine arts via Tea Ceremony. Yanagi was compensating for the uneducated craftman, but somehow, the "other power" of the uneducated craftsman was put on a pedestal above the educated person's "self power", ignoring the importance of the connoisseur to the tariki craftsman.  As a Tibetan teacher once told me, these different kinds of Buddhist teaching are "expedient means" and are giving to people according to their eduction, intelligence and abilities.  Each way has elements of the other in it.  And jiriki ways are more effective, but devotional ways are accessible to more people. This has not been adequately explained to people, especially in the West.
 I realized this about jiriki/tariki in reference to craft immediately, the first time I read about it because of my over thirty years as a practicing Soto Zen Buddhist. 
Making beautiful craft is not something more difficult from the perspective of Jiriki. Actually, where Tariki is concerned, the maker is dependent upon someone else, a connoisseur, to help them in the evaluative process. That is why Yanagi's eye is so important to the collection at the Mingeikan. He picked the best out of tens of thousands of craft objects, that would otherwise meet the criteria that others have shared the link to at the Mingeikan's posting of Yanagi's criteria.   In the modern individual studio craftman, because of the benefits of wealth and education brought to us by the modern middle class, both the maker and the connoisseur can exist in one person.

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