Glass: metaphor and medium


'From the Corner of My Eye', Victoria Scholes 2006
I've been thinking about the state of critical writing about glass. Or lack of it.  It's easy to be mesmerised by this medium, and the abundance of metaphors inspired by glass in everyday language and everyday literature has blunted our ability to think through clearly and creatively what it means when we see and experience art made of glass. 

A S Byatt has a natural affinity for glass and its possibilities and captures something of how entwined we are with it as a metaphor. In The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye. Five Fairy Stories (vintage, London), Byatt explores glass is a medium for magic, a vehicle for the imagination, and a metaphor for things that are hard to express.   

Djinn bottles, paperweights, snowdomes, domes with castles, glass coffins, are all scattered through the collection of stories. Dr Gillian Perholt, the hero in the eponymous tale, The Djinn in the Nightingale's eye, says: "She liked glass, in general, for its paradoxical nature, translucent as water, heavy as stone, invisible as air, solid as earth".  And: "oh glass, said Dr. Perholt to the two gentlemen, it is not possible, it is only a solid metaphor, it is a medium for seeing and a thing seen at the same time. It is what art is, said Dr. Perholt to the two men.."

This collection of stories takes me back to what it is that I love about the material I work with. But it also goes part of the way to explaining why reviewers of exhibitions of glass tend to churn out a host of glass related metaphors that don't really add anything to our experience.  And also why personally, it can be hard to see what it is I'm trying to do with a particular piece of work. I'm not immune to being entranced by the medium myself.

In thinking about this, I've been digging out some work I did last year for Craftfinder exploring craft in literature. I've decided to publish each individual article that was the result of this work here in my blog.
See the edited version of this, along with other articles on Craftfinder here. Over the next few weeks I'll be publishing more here on my blog too.

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