Preserving art

Published on 27 June 2023 at 00:12

Something I really wanted to pursue in high school was document restoration. I learned how to bind books from a friend who had bought a whole kit and never used it. My bookbinding skills are incredibly mediocre, but I've made two or three leather covers and I like them enough that I still have them. Learning this skill made me realize how much there was that could be done to make a book look like new again, which led to the rabbit hole of restoring and preserving ancient documents. It's a really neat subject, but unfortunately, there is just not a lot of call for it right now. I didn't feel very confident in getting a job in this area, so I moved on to where I am now: finance. But this topic still fascinates me. Of course, while most of us are not deciphering 6,000 year old sheets of papyrus, I think we each play a part in preserving art and art forms.

This thought goes back to the question, "if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, did it really make a sound?" If we are reading and writing and experiencing art, aren't we keeping it alive? If no one was doing that, wouldn't it just deteriorate and be lost to memory? I would like to think that by writing haikus, we are keeping that form of writing alive. By writing poetry at all, we are keeping that style of writing alive.

I came across a video by Morning Brew which interviewed a natural rubber stamp maker in New York named John Casey. He has recently had a difficult time getting the supplies to keep his shop running because of the lack of demand. Many larger retailers from previous years have gone out of business, and he collects the materials they have left over. In this case, I don’t believe it’s the use of stamps that is becoming obsolete, given the popularity of producers such as Simon Says Stamp, I think it’s the specific type of stamp he creates which is being replaced by ones made of plastic and synthetic rubber. Similarly, certain types of rugs are no longer made. According to a Quora comment from 9 years ago by Neel Kumar (a highly creditable source of information), silk rugs in Kashmir, India with a density of 50/linear inch are now considered antique because the style was not kept alive. It’s not that rugs aren’t made, but this form of rug is not made anymore.
While there may be entire art forms that are not very popular anymore (needlework comes to mind), it's interesting to consider that perhaps the general type of art may be alive, but specific techniques are no longer used. They are considered to be "dying" because they aren't being used, and there are some thoughts to be had on this.

Part of the reason that techniques fade out is that newer techniques are cheaper and/or faster to work with. Many types of needlework, for example, are more often accomplished on a machine now. Sculpting can be done to a point with a 3D printer. Woodwork is either done with large machinery or forgone due to a preference for other, cheaper materials like plastics. There are a lot of economic and ecological conclusions to be drawn from this more efficient way of producing items that once were spent heartfelt hours on (fast fashion is a WHOLE rant, thank you Bernadette Banner), but in the light of preserving art let's consider what our job is here.

The neat part about all of this is the fact that we can (and often do) actively participate in it. We each have the ability to explore new skills and develop new hobbies. We can turn on the music we appreciate and scour the internet for "how to knit an axolotl". I really appreciate the development of subscription platforms like Patreon where you can directly support artists who do these crafts without bringing fifteen 4'x6' canvases into your home so they can pay rent. 

By directly supporting the people who work on these arts, you are also supporting the art itself. You are helping to grow a community that participates in keeping that alive in the memory of our culture in a way that can be passed down. Do some exploring and see if there is anything that piques your interest. If you find it, learn about it, listen to it, make it, and support the people that are making it. Go to concerts and art fairs and author signings. Subscribe to channels and browse Etsy shops. Especially the ones that are taking on higher quality and more thoughtful versions of something that's been consumed by the larger market.

It's so easy to think "I'm one person, I'm not going to affect anything" in terms of how we sort our trash or if we buy one unhealthy item at the supermarket. I'm not here to say that individuals are solely responsible for changing the world, but I am saying we do have the chance to help someone out, to learn, and to make beautiful things. And that's just a really neat thing. 

***Note: I am not affiliated with any of the external links in this blog post.

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Liberty Jensen • Writer

Liberty is a donations manager, finance student, and full-time drinker of coffee. She enjoys poetry, her cats, and spending time with her husband.

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