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Stradofear inspired epiphany and a question...


robedney
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...I came to the conclusion that what is most important to me is a sort of honesty or integrity in the maker's approach. Having looked at a lot of amateur violins over the last few years I found I really started to appreciate the ones where you could read an honest story behind the result... like the one made by a coal miner for his daughter at midnight before he headed back down the mines at 6am.

I'm quite happy to see a careful and painstaking approach in making if that is the maker's intention and what they have decided is important to them. And I don't mind things to get rough and ready if, say, the maker had to work on it while the landlord was banging on the door trying to evict him and his wife was in the next room giving birth. I'm less convinced by those people who take the former approach to try and imitate the latter.

That's where I've settled as well. There may be more power in what is natural to the maker, than in what is contrived.

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That sums up my feelings too David. I've actually been having an emailed debate with a friend of mine about this topic just recently. I came to the conclusion that what is most important to me is a sort of honesty or integrity in the maker's approach. Having looked at a lot of amateur violins over the last few years I found I really started to appreciate the ones where you could read an honest story behind the result... like the one made by a coal miner for his daughter at midnight before he headed back down the mines at 6am.

I'm quite happy to see a careful and painstaking approach in making if that is the maker's intention and what they have decided is important to them. And I don't mind things to get rough and ready if, say, the maker had to work on it while the landlord was banging on the door trying to evict him and his wife was in the next room giving birth. I'm less convinced by those people who take the former approach to try and imitate the latter.

Yes! Well said. I particularly like the "honesty or integrity in the maker's approach". I'd also agree with something GMM22 said: "I have regard for both schools of thought, depending on circumstances. I have seen things I appreciated because of the remarkable precision of execution, and then I have seen things I appreciated for their raw organic character." I myself am something of a gearhead and an artist, depending on the need and circumstances.

The oddity of this whole thing -- for me -- is that I'm working in carbon fiber. My sense is that buyers will be looking for a level of technical perfection in what I'm making, so I'm taking pains to achieve that. That too is satisfying in its own way. One is clearly technology (at least at this stage of development in alternative materials) while the other (wood) offers much greater opportunity and latitude for variation. I'm having to restrain myself these days, really wanting to turn out a wooden fiddle and explore these notions. I have, however, delayed the CF project because I decided I could not abide the scoop shaped peghead (which is by far the easiest to replicate in a mold).

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I have, however, delayed the CF project because I decided I could not abide the scoop shaped peghead (which is by far the easiest to replicate in a mold).

Shoot, that could be appreciated as an artifact of production technique, much as we we appreciate and analyze such artifacts of Cremonese production today.

Not recommended in an antique biased market, but appreciated none-the-less.

One could draw analogies with a cheap phone, or consider it something in good compliance with historic Cremona, translated in to our modern world.

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Two important points. In the medium of carbon fiber, your execution must be perfect, because that is the nature of the medium. The same goes for innovation or extreme unorthodoxy in traditional materials. If you are going to step out on a ledge with something new and orginal, the workmanship better be extremely good, because if it's not, it will be rejected out of hand (and rightly so). If the work is flawless, then even the most staunch traditionalist has to look and say something like, the style does not appeal to me, but wow, the workmanship is just stellar. This is enough of a concession from traditionalists for those wanting to appeal to a small but fiercely loyal niche market. It also leaves open the door for a new style to grow on someone, which would otherwise be closed if the workmanship is not at the highest level.

I suppose that is actually one important point that applies to two things.

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We had a violin in our shop yesterday that I was absolutely convinced was a fake. The difference between the real thing and this violin was that the fake had many of the superficial nuances of the original, but still missed the casual comfort of the original. I see many makers these days trying to be "casual" by putting in scroll gouge marks laid in like fish scales (that, or painfully, intentionally not orderly), but they aren't showing truly free making: they've just added another layer of fastidious complexity and surface production technology. This "copy" was one of those.

The opposite, being sloppy, intentionally or otherwise, is no assurance of art, either. Where many of the old guys hit the target was how their work could be messy or neat, but beautiful in spite of that.

One of my favorite examples of this type of thing, where art transcends craft:

http://www.life.com/image/first/in-gallery...wing-with-light

One doesn't do something like this by setting out to do it flawlessly: perfection is irrelevant. My piano teacher gave me a copy of an article on stage performance that reflects the same idea: that the best artists give up control to trust and what's inside of them to come out. It comes out perfectly because they know what they're doing, but just hitting the right notes at the right time would be completely inadequate. We had a recent cello in our shop last fall from someone who's won a number of medals (and just another recently in Cremona, according to the last STRINGS mag). The instrument was perfectly constructed. . . and perfectly boring. . . it was all technology of the type that you could check off on a list and assign points to, and very little art. Maybe it was even asymmetrical, but that wasn't enough to make up for the life it didn't have. Tonally, it was the same: flawless; boring.

You have no idea how happy this makes me to read this. I've been struggling with this idea for sometime. Since I've started making I've been struck by the dichotomy of modern violinmaking(as I see it)...my cookie-cutter-ultra-clean-Cremona-awarding-winning violin...vs...my antiqued del Gesu model.

A friend of mine recently sold his Dollenz(the son) and it was a great violin. Sound that pleased everyone and butt butt ugly. Especially the scroll, like a dog chewed it or something....but the whole instrument "fit" together. Soup to nuts it was what it was and I'd love to have that relaxed nature in my own work. I find it difficult to explain.

"Where many of the old guys hit the target was how their work could be messy or neat, but beautiful in spite of that. "

So very true...so how do we as makers achieve that? And still make a living :)

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And, by the way, the 'eye' can change. I don't like some of the stuff I made years ago.

That's why I said you should make violins until you find your style. Not make it up. As Cennino said; copy the greatest masters and you will naturally develop a good style.

That's BTW why I think that DG might mess things up in the future..... :)

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Twenty years ago, a friend gave me a copy of "The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese insight into beauty". I had studied, collected, and dealt in Asian art for years, but this book gave me a whole new perspective on art and creativity. One of the main things that struck me was the idea of getting past the point of ego involvement and to the point where the art arises directly from the person, without conscious involvement.

The book applies to pottery, but I think it applies to almost all great crafts, and to arts like calligraphy, which has to be done without the mind interfering with the flow of the brush. Music, too, as in "Master your instrument, master the music, then forget all that and just play."

It think that principle may be involved in the current discussion. At any rate, if you are interested in craftsmanship as art, it's a very worthwhile read. It's stuck with me for 20+ years, and still influences how I see things.

http://books.google.com/books?id=486Ye_1hd...;q=&f=false

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I really enjoyed reading several of these more conceptual comments on the appearance of the violin and the association with art.

I don’t think the subject is as simple as symmetric versus asymmetric though. I suspect that just like with faces there is much deeper connection that muddies the waters. With violins I speculate that the subconscious awareness of handmade versus machine made has an impact on the perception of beauty and value.

With regards to relating this to facial symmetry, I also remember studies that went in both directions. I also just peeked at a study that found that symmetry was more strongly associated with the feminine and asymmetry with the masculine. The problem with these evaluations are multilevel though. The human brain tends to recognize beauty or attractiveness with the right brain and with this the visualized left side (right side of a person facing the subject) has a greater impact. We also know that the human eye wants to see reasonable proportions in the triangle of the eyes and nose. This is followed then by the spacing of the forehead to eyes, eyes to nose tip, nose to mouth then mouth to chin but not necessarily in that order. Even the nature of the chin has a huge impact on perceived attractiveness, strength etc…

I think these same factors exist in the perception of beauty in a violin complicated by the notion (real or not) of handmade versus machine made.

I addition, photographs as compared to seeing a violin in front of you should have a different triggered response. This should be different for most people. A testament to this last statement is evident in the choices people make for marriage based partly on their discernment of beauty. For me, the thing that jumps out at me when seeing many violins in a competition is the fit of the scroll and corpus. In my eyes this is not usually done well as I see the head as blocky and oversized in proportion to the rest of the violin. Others will likely see something different. I don’t notice this as much in photos.

To compound these issues even more is the value system we each have that varies in weight. One concrete example would be artistic merit versus utilitarian value (where symmetry may play a greater role).

This is an interesting thought provoking thread. Thanks for reading this…I’m not sure I know what I wrote though. :)

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There is an interesting book called the Geometry of Art and Life, by Matila Gyka (Dover books) that discusses many things found here, especially in relation to the golden ratio and facial/body features.

It is also worth noting that symmetry and clean work are two distinct things. One can produce remarkably clean work that exhibits a high degree of asymmetry, and vise versa.

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Twenty years ago, a friend gave me a copy of "The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese insight into beauty". I had studied, collected, and dealt in Asian art for years, but this book gave me a whole new perspective on art and creativity. One of the main things that struck me was the idea of getting past the point of ego involvement and to the point where the art arises directly from the person, without conscious involvement.

The book applies to pottery, but I think it applies to almost all great crafts, and to arts like calligraphy, which has to be done without the mind interfering with the flow of the brush. Music, too, as in "Master your instrument, master the music, then forget all that and just play."

It think that principle may be involved in the current discussion. At any rate, if you are interested in craftsmanship as art, it's a very worthwhile read. It's stuck with me for 20+ years, and still influences how I see things.

http://books.google.com/books?id=486Ye_1hd...;q=&f=false

Great book, which I read in my ceramic artist days. The concept of art arising directly from the person (albeit a well-trained and practiced person) can be applied to the flow of a single line -- and in fact sometimes is in Japanese brush painting. That same single line can be found in the profile of one side of a good pot. Back in my throwing days (making pots on a wheel) I discovered that the best pots were those that just seemed to spring from the wheelhead. This began to happen only after I became quite a good thrower (which anyone can do with enough practice, I think). All that accumulated understanding of the nature of the clay, truly centering it on the wheel, the effects of centrifugal force, how much slurry to use, etc. came to fruition in a freedom of working. Only after this became genuinely second nature did pots begin to spring. The same might be applied to the work of a chisel.

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"Master your instrument, master the music, then forget all that and just play."

I also see very close parallels between the art of music and the art of the violin, as well as other art forms. The enviornment and authenticity play a major part in what is accepted as "good" art.

My favorite example is fiddler

. In his environment, he is recognized as a great, authentic artist. The cheap fiddle with geared tuners, ratlesnake rattle, years of rosin buildup, and scratchy sound add to the perfection of the art (oh, yeah... his singing too). All these aspects of his art would be ridiculous if he were to be put on the classical stage to play his fiddle, or sing an opera. Likewise, it is doubtful that any classical violinist, regardless of how proficient, could play what Tommy played and make it sound right (at least, to those who are fans of this type of fiddling).

Classical music is constrained by fairly tight set of boundaries. Deviate from the written notes, and it's just wrong. However, there is some freedom to vary the pace slightly, or dynaimics, or tone... which is where the artistry comes in. Similarly, for violins intended for classical music, there are fairly tight boundaries in shape and color, as well as practical issues of playing geometry. Deviate from these, and it is just wrong... in this enviornment. But within these boundaries there is a little leeway for variations in shape or execution, where the art comes in.

For pure art, it seems like the reputation of the artist has a lot to do with how it is judged. Picasso making lines with a flashlight is interesting art. Some unknown on YouTube might make equally good art (as determined by a double-blind test :) ), but nobody would pay attention. An angular violin with a gold ball on top made by Guy Rabut is newsworthy art; if an unknown beginner had done it, nobody would pay much attention, no matter how flawless the execution.

One more parallel: competitions. For nearly all competitions in the art field (violin playing, fiddle playing, figure skating, etc.) flawless execution is a large factor. Other artistic elements may be more or less important, but error-free execution is always valued. For violin-making competitions, I am not surprised that flawless execution often wins. If it was violinmaking competition in the enviornment of modern art, one would see different value scales, I'd think.

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One more parallel: competitions. For nearly all competitions in the art field (violin playing, fiddle playing, figure skating, etc.) flawless execution is a large factor. Other artistic elements may be more or less important, but error-free execution is always valued. For violin-making competitions, I am not surprised that flawless execution often wins. If it was violinmaking competition in the enviornment of modern art, one would see different value scales, I'd think.

One thing to note about the major violin making competitions is that a definition of "flawless execution", if in fact the term is ever used, might not be the same as in other types of competitions. If I were given such a category to work with, I'd be looking for a style which "hangs together well", or has continuity of theme, and would not be looking at purfling corners with a microscope. Sure, I don't think judges want to give a workmanship award to an instrument which looks like it's about to fall apart. :)

Example from the most recent VSA Competition:

There was one instrument which was probably the cleanest and most meticulous I have ever seen. I think we all marveled over someone just being able to do work like that.

Did the instrument make it to the top?

Nope.

A quote from the thread on competition judging which I linked to earlier in this thread:

I remember getting some pretty nasty

comments from some makers (whose names I will not reveal) over our

choices in that particular competition; including late night anonymous

phonecalls. On the other hand, it could have been a simple protest on

the part of Cremonese makers in the competition who felt that their

instruments should be favored, no matter what. The criticisms mostly may

have come from those who outdid themselves trying to make the perfect

instrument; convinced of the fact that this is what was needed to win

and the only thing needed to win.

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For pure art, it seems like the reputation of the artist has a lot to do with how it is judged. Picasso making lines with a flashlight is interesting art. Some unknown on YouTube might make equally good art (as determined by a double-blind test :) ), but nobody would pay attention. An angular violin with a gold ball on top made by Guy Rabut is newsworthy art; if an unknown beginner had done it, nobody would pay much attention, no matter how flawless the execution.

Hmmm... I have to strongly disagree on two counts. The first is that the field of violin aficionados is much smaller than that of the art appreciating public at large, perhaps by an order of magnitude or more. While a flashlight wielding unknown would never garner the same exposure as a "Picasso", the analogy fails in the much smaller field(s) of musical instrument making. The second point is, the number of examples of highly original and interesting work that is also flawlessly executed is exceedingly rare, and thus the idea that it would be ignored if the maker is unknown has no foundation whatsoever, unless you can cite some stellar unorthodox unknown craftsmen that are virtually ignored, to back up your claim. :)

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I see there might be some misunderstanding of the term flawless execution, at least in the way I intended. I think something can be flawlessly executed without necessarily being free of any flaw. Perhaps my understanding of the term is work that hangs together so well (in Burgess parlance) not even the occasional flaw can detract from the intention.

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