Seeing is ...
I received a wonderful present the other day from an acquaintance in France. I have never met this person, but he has an interest in the techniques of traditional Japanese printmaking, so has corresponded with me on occasion, usually to ask a question, or to clarify some point or other. I have no idea whether or not he is actually making prints, as he has never offered to show me any work, but he seems to know quite a bit about the topic, as some of his questions touch on fairly esoteric sub-topics of the genre.
His present was simply a link in an email, directing me to something he had found online - a digitization of a French documentary film about Japanese printmaking. This would be interesting in itself, but when I saw the date - 1961 - I perked up considerably, and began to watch intently.
And what a treasure he has found! It was taken in the old Mejiro workshop of the Adachi company, and shows the basic step-by-step process of making a print based on an Utamaro design. Now this process is not new to me, of course, but I would certainly appreciate the chance to take a time travel journey back to workshops in the 'old days', and although 1961 isn't all that far back (I was then ten), I'll take whatever I can get!
I was in our Ome workroom when I first accessed the page with the video, and one of our other printers was here working. When the video came onto the screen, she heard my excited voice and came over to watch it together with me. This is a lady with about three years of experience, and a person who is quite interested in learning whatever she can about this field. In other words, she was just as intently interested in this video as I was.
But after we had watched it and were discussing what we had seen, I realized that the two of us had apparently seen two completely different videos. She had seen 'just another' demonstration of the basic woodblock process, something she was well familiar with, and was then ready to turn back to her desk and resume work. I on the other hand, felt that we had just received a 'master class' in advanced carving and printing techniques!
Watch that printer! See the way that his left hand creeps close to the edge of the paper while the baren in the right hand is still busy with the final rubbing stage, and then ... flick! The paper is whisked off the block, even before the right hand has returned the baren to its rest pad. Each and every movement is fluid, practiced, and smooth beyond belief.
Look at that carver's blade! The back side is hollow ground to a very deep shape, to allow all the sharpening pressure to be focussed on the very tip of the blade. The point must be incredibly sharp!
There were far too many such details for me to recount here: the angle that the printer held his baren, with most of it projecting out past the 'meat' of his palm, the incredibly close distance that the carver brought his large chisels to the carved lines ... almost literally every single shot of this video brought something else for me to drink in and marvel at.
Now please don't misunderstand. Not much of this was really new to me. I may not be able to work at the same level as those men, but I'm no slouch, and am doing pretty well at this craft, even without the benefit of their long experience.
But the fact that my printer trainee - who is coming along very well actually - saw none of the things that I saw, makes me wonder about the inherent value of such material. I think of my own videos, dozens of which I have carefully prepared and uploaded to YouTube. Is there actually any point to taking all the time to do that? If the only people who can understand what they are seeing ... are the people who already understand what they are seeing, then what is the point of making them?
It's a bigger question actually. I'm coming to believe that we really can't 'teach' anything; all we can do is provide a model as an example, and a framework within which practice - and thus learning - can take place. Just how much knowledge will be taken in is completely under the control of the person who is doing the learning.
Nothing can actually be 'pushed' into somebody's head. There are no such things as teachers ... there are only students ...
Story #457, September 28, 2014