Is It Really Real?

Notice finger and tool marks on the back of this terracotta sculpture, "A Knight of Santiago" by Francesco Segala, C.1570/1580

Notice finger and tool marks on the back of this terracotta sculpture,
“A Knight of Santiago” by Francesco Segala, C.1570/1580

Have you ever noticed that handmade artifacts look and feel different than mass-produced objects? Can you identify exactly what it is that looks or feels different? Is it the tiny imperfections or fingerprints on it, or is it the signature or “chop mark” on the back or side that identifies the artisans studio? Often, it’s just intuition that tells you about its origin.

Artists and craftsmen who are passionate about what they create imbue their work with great skill and a discerning eye. They know that they will imprint their personal mark upon their product and the investment of their time and energy will travel far and wide, and may even be passed from generation to generation.

An interesting challenge for all art lovers, whether experienced or just beginning to collect handmade artworks and objects, is to look around during your daily routine, and try to identify which objects are made by hand. Are the coffee mugs at the cafe “real”?… the art on the walls of offices and public areas….are they really “real”?

I feel a special kind of energy from handmade objects and graphics, even graffiti on walls. It may not always be beautiful, but it does contain vibrations that I sense are intuitive and different. My favorite handmade pieces harmonize with my sensibilities. Both my functional and non-functional artworks are a kind of family that keeps me company, creating warmth in my environment, and sometimes become the object of a conversation!

As an artisan selling artworks, I take great pride in joining other families around the world. It is truly, very real.

Caroly Van Duyn                                                                                                                                          

Posted in Artrekker's Notes
7 comments on “Is It Really Real?
  1. Angela Smith says:

    Caroly, the “aura” of the “real” work of art is described by Walter Benjamin in his book: The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility and other Writings on Media.

    “In even the most perfect reproduction, “one” thing is lacking: the here and now of the work of art – its unique existence in a particular place. It is this unique existence – and nothing else – that bears the mark of the history to which the work has been subject.”


    • Caroly Van Duyn says:

      So True, the energy is evident…and the history of it’s impact upon us, however tiny, becomes a part of it’s legacy….

  2. Kitty Sherwin says:

    Caroly, Just got up and decided to read your blog. A great way to start my day. I always learn something from you. Recently, at the Holiday Show, a friend of mine said that after seeing the Chinese horse sculpture he didn’t think anything better could be done, and so didn’t so much appreciate work being done now. I objected strongly, saying that with such an attitude nobody would want to do anything. He has since come around. I told him that just the act of creation gives one such pleasure and is so important, even if one isn’t up to that “Chinese Horse”.


    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks Kitty, I absolutely agree…. I see it like a large family of art, with many distant cousins. Some of them we bond with, others we become aquatinted with. but they all form part of our human heritage. It’s important to keep the dialogue going!

  3. Charlie Evegreen says:

    Thanks for the blog, Caroly.

    I guess I think of a piece as “real” when it seems that it was given personal attention. A dish may be handmade, but if it is one of a batch of 300, it may seem to be made by rote, without much individual care. Of course, this is often unreasonable to quantify just by looking at the piece, though sometimes “fast” craftsmanship shows this sort of feeling. It’s when “quick-and-fluid” becomes “careless-and-sloppy”… sometimes you can spot it. Obviously, anything mass-manufactured doesn’t even compete as “real” in this context.

    For the historical question, though, I think if an item simply survives long enough, it can acquire some gravitas that it never had when new. If we find a peasants’ drinking bowl in an archaelogical dig, it seems “real” though it was sort of junk in it’s youth… We’d like to literally touch the distant past if we could, and we honor the objects that give us that connection, humble or not.

  4. Terish says:

    I was given a headsup that my photo was iuenldcd in this article, it would have been nice of you to ask to include my photo rather than post it without permission or giving credit to me, that’s just rude.

  5. David Freeman says:

    Handmade vs mass-produced still comes down to the individual object for me. If it speaks to me, I’ll love it. However, even if the object speaks, there is a difference. For me, a handmade one of a kind object is like improvisational theatre. At their best, nothing competes. A batch of handmade objects is like live performance of written work. As Charlie says, “a (handmade) batch of 300, may seem to be made by rote” as can a poor performance of a play. Yet done well with love, care and skill, the performance instance of a pot or play can inspire. Mass produced objects are more like film. If well designed, they can be appreciated endlessly by many many people despite the further removal from the individual touch.

    I love improvisation, live theatre and film but each touches me differently. I believe this difference is related to the tension between life and death. An improvisation happens once. It starts and ends and becomes a memory.The existence of the individual handmade object is fragile and one accident from memory (also fragile). In both cases the art is a moment which will end. A live performance of a play is repeatable and may be better or worse each time experienced but eventually loses it’s vitality (until revitalized with new actors, directors, sets and interpretations). A batch of plates may follow the same trajectory of vital to stale to reinterpretation. I’ve watched both ‘Kill Bill’ and ‘Fat Feet’ many times and will always be able to go back to them just like my favorite Le Creuset.