I recently had a very enjoyable holiday with my brother who was visiting New Zealand for the first time. At a cafe filled with follies and other quirky craft pieces I asked by brother – who is an accomplished photographer and teacher – what the difference was between an artist and someone’s who’s good with crafts. His answer has stuck with me ever since.
“Artists”, he said “deal with problems.”
The example he used was of Grayson Perry, a ceramicist who makes replica Greek urns. Amongst the ceramics community, Perry’s pots divide opinions. Some with a stronger interest in the technical craft of ceramics deride his work as sloppy and poorly constructed. But what makes Perry an artist is not the technical skill, but what he uses the pots to say.
Look at the images on this site for instance, and you will see that Perry’s ceramics are a vehicle for saying some powerful things about the world today. The art work presented here was made on 11 September 2001 – the day of the attack on the Twin Towers – and was a direct response to that. As Steve Dougherty states in this piece, “Using photo-transfer techniques, scraffito drawings, and handwritten or stenciled texts, Perry subverts the extraordinary beauty of his vessels into bait for the cartoon-strip personal and societal commentary that titivates their surfaces.”
This has stuck with me for weeks because it represents, to me at least, a tension at the heart of physiotherapy. Is it a technical craft or an art practice?
I don’t think there’s any doubt that in the past it’s been firmly in the former camp, with its emphasis on practice skills and reproduction, but will it be in the future?
With technical craft skill being one of the central locations for innovations in new technology, it is likely that many of the old skills of the physiotherapists will be picked up either by people who are much less expensive to train than us, or machines.
Which will leave us with that which is impossible to mass reproduce – the ‘art’ of the profession.
If the art of the profession is shallow, however, and doesn’t turn itself to broader social, environmental, political and economic problems (think poverty, pollution, discrimination, equal access to services, education, etc.), then it will likely fall into a liminal space in which it is too expensive to fund for technical skill, and too shallow to serve the social good.
The time is coming when we’ll have to decide whether we want to make great pots, or really great art.