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Fractals and Woodturning

What is my woodturning about? Fractals and attention.

This will take some background… I take as a given that all things are connected, making a complex pattern out of simple elements that are linked on many levels, most of which are not perceptible, and some which call for a higher level of development of the perceiver. I am not there, by the way!

But I do look for shapes that reflect another level; think of the Neo-platonic idea that all that is relative in this world exists also in a perfect, Absolute form.

Fractals are natural patterns that repeat on different levels: the jagged edges of grains of sand, and a mountain range. When I make a good curve on a bowl and it breaks, each part still has a nice curve. The graph expression of a fractal equation is a beautiful curve, and I think of the curves as expressing a fractal equation, or An Underlying Truth.

Hogarth talked of the Line of Beauty, though what he drew was awful, but he was thinking about something along these lines, I think.

When I’m turning, it’s not about me; it’s about the piece, and the attention and time it needs. And I set aside the fear of breaking it or getting hurt.

There is a Sufi tradition that objects made with attention retain a certain virtue, baraka, as a result. Wood, wool, brass, and clay are thought (or perceived!) to be especially suitable for this.

I try and keep ego out of it, and competitiveness. I get more pleasure out of selling a piece to a first-time craft buyer than to a collector. I just turn shapes that feel right and look for harmony. Originality for its own sake doesn’t interest me.
 One example of finding a good shape through harmony is how one makes the cuts. I shift my weight and rotate my body, with little arm movement, and it feels indistinguishable from Tai Chi.

Some turners that I admire are Bob Stocksdale, Del Stubbs, John Jordan and Bert Marsh, among others… but especially Bob, with his Quaker simplicity.

A number of books have influenced me, including the Sufi author Idries Shah, The Gift by Lewis Hyde, Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland, The Unknown Craftsman: Japanese Insight into Beauty by Soetsu Yanagi, and Nature and Art of Workmanship by David Pye.

Is all that clear? If it is, it ain’t Artspeak!

– Barry Biesanz, 2012