Intersections are interesting to me. By “intersections” I mean seemingly unrelated topics that upon closer consideration are in some way related, connected or share similarities. My favorite blogs written by others are always ones where the writer has made connections I never would have thought of before. And I’ve often tried to do that here in this blog by connecting timber framing, OCH’s core business, with other areas I know about or am interested in including history, design and homeschooling. This isn’t hard to do. In my experience, when you know a topic well or are working to deepen your understanding of it, you start to “see” it everywhere, or at least to see things that remind you of it. Art is another of these areas for me. I see intersections between art and timber framing, and have written about them before, such as in the often overlooked artistic choices made by the timber framer, and the question of whether, like artists, timber framers should “sign” their work.
I’ve always been fascinated by art, as in “Art-with-a-capital-A” done by “Real Artists” and worthy of inclusion in art museums. First of all, what the heck is it, and what makes something “Art” that might seem like anything but? I’m thinking in particular of a work of art we saw some time ago at the Akron Art Museum that consisted of a stack of Brillo pad boxes piled up in the middle of a room. At first we thought they were left there by mistake by the cleaning crew. But it turned out to be an actual work of art by Andy Warhol. I didn’t go to art school, or really even to design school despite calling myself a designer for years. For a long time I’ve been unequipped to really “see” art, understand it, and be able to recognize what makes it special. But I’m starting to learn.
I recently finished reading Old in Art School, a memoir by Nell Painter, a person who really sees intersections. She left a decades-long successful career as a historian and writer to become a “Real Artist.” Her goal … to communicate intersections using visual language. She wrestled extensively throughout her artist training with the definition of Art-with-a-capital-A. She describes in her book how art encourages us to stretch beyond our usual thought patterns. Something that doesn’t cause us to do this isn’t art.
Timber frames are art-like in this way. Rooted deeply in the building traditions of several different cultures though relatively rare today, and executed only through highly-skilled craftsmanship, timber frames depart from the usual pattern of our times. Much of society today values quantity over quality, square footage over soul. Thus we see so many two-story mini-mansions constructed of 2” x 3” pine framing lumber. And this becomes the aspirational vision for so many “forever homes.”
Forever, as in, for the next 20 years or so. Our pattern of thinking about time has also changed to become so constricted compared to that of our ancestors. Short-sighted. Focused on immediacy. Meanwhile, timber frames still stand that were constructed hundreds of years ago by people who dreamed more in terms of generations, centuries.
Time as a construct of the mind is the subject of a work of art our family recently borrowed from the Akron Art Library. along with by artist Kristina Paabus initially looks to us like a log full of metal, poised beside the sawmill. But that’s using our habitual patterns of thinking. Seeing it up close, having the time and proximity to notice the thousands of delicate hash marks, the carefully layered colors, the gradations of shadow... these evidence the skill of the artist. We are able to keep this artwork in our home for a month, getting to know it thoroughly. And that’s when we begin to understand why art is “Art.” Why this handcrafted image is fundamentally different from everything else in our home.
As timber frame owners understand, after living within one, up close, why their frame is fundamentally different from every other constructed space they come in contact with. Especially its ability to get us to think differently... about time, about space, and about what really matters, what is truly special, what is art.