Studio efficiency and knolling

My last post discussed whether we artists and craftspersons had incentive to run our studios as if we were preparing for war, an idea that was played up in the video by Tom Sachs on the “10 bullets” of the code for his studio practice. The connection between organizing for business and organizing for war had too many parallels for Sachs not to run with them and analogize merrily away.

One of the ideas that stuck out was “knolling”:

Ten_Bullets_II

Here’s what wikipedia has to say:

The term was first used in 1987 by Andrew Kromelow, a janitor at Frank Gehry‘s furniture fabrication shop. At the time, Gehry was designing chairs for Knoll, a company famously known for Florence Knoll’s angular furniture. Andrew Kromelow would arrange any displaced tools at right angles on all surfaces, and called this routine knolling, in that the tools were arranged in right angles—similar to Knoll furniture.[1] The result was an organized surface that allowed the user to see all objects at once.

The American sculptor Tom Sachs spent two years in Gehry’s shop as a fabricator and adopted use of the term from Kromelow. Nowadays, knolling is integral to his process.[2] Sachs adopted the phrase “Always be Knolling” (abbreviated as ABK) as a mantra for his studio (in direct reference to Blake’s infamous “Always be Closing” in Glengarry Glen Ross), which he expands on in his 2009 studio manual, 10 Bullets:

BULLET II: ALWAYS BE KNOLLING (ABK)

  1. Scan your environment for materials, tools, books, music, etc. which are not in use.
  2. Put away everything not in use. If you aren’t sure, leave it out.
  3. Group all ‘like’ objects.
  4. Align or square all objects to either the surface they rest on, or the studio itself.

To a highly organized sort of mind this may make perfect sense. I know people who push their peas (for example) around on a plate before they can begin to eat them. The peas have to be in just the right order before they can even be considered food. Its the organization that brings them into the class of ‘food object’. Knolling makes an environment ‘a work space’ rather than a jumble of tools and miscellany.

But I’m not so sure I would benefit from all that systemization and the geometric arrangement of objects. What I do in the studio depends on other agendas, and sometimes even the weight of tradition, the sheer momentum of doing things a certain way. The ease of habit and ingrained studio practice. There are also efficiency issues that have nothing to do with a knolled pattern. Fitting pots into a kiln, for instance, is more a puzzle to maximize the advantages for the greatest number of pots possible. Or specific pots whose value prioritizes them beyond any coordination with the other pots made to fit the kiln. Pretty geometric patterns of pots all in groups of similar shape aligned at right angles to one another would defeat any margins of efficiency or object valuation at a stroke.

Knolling your kiln makes almost no sense at all. Its a distraction at best, the work of an obsessive mind intent on organizing rather than producing, or even exploring. Its fitting the world to a specific pattern rather than finding the right pattern in the world itself. Its anti-pragmatic. The odor of square pegs and round holes is almost inevitable. The advantages and limitations start and end with geometric felicity and typology. Knolling has trouble answering the question, “Why?” Its debatable whether its actually good for anything…..

Could you knoll the tools around your potters’ wheel as part of an efficient studio practice? Knoll paint and brushes for a painter? Doesn’t knolling begin to sound vaguely preposterous when jammed into the messy practice of actually being creative? When we start on an art project is it even a priority to keep things ordered? Or do we simply aim at making something new and let the chips fall where they may? Is trying to do both at once almost (if not in fact) working on competing objectives? Counterproductive? Maybe there is a minimum sense of order necessary, but isn’t there wiggle-room? Isn’t it whatever order necessary to serve the creative cause rather than a specific order that all creative acts must conform to? Even in congenial situations is knolling always the right trick conducive to making art? Is it a necessary precondition, an essential starting place?

Maybe not always. Sometimes at least, surely. I don’t want to suggest that some people don’t do this effectively. But why “Always Be Knolling“? Why make it sound as if this were the right way of doing things regardless? Don’t some artists simply work best, more efficiently, with their own non-geometrical systems of organization and disorder? And isn’t that organization/disorder perfectly suited to the making of their art?

This is what real studios look like. You decide:

Is it just possible that Stephen de Staebler is knolling those sculptures on the ground?

Is it just possible that Stephen de Staebler is knolling those sculptures on the ground?

Francis Bacon in his studio

Francis Bacon in his studio, perhaps in need of a thorough knolling. Or not…… This chaos seems to work quite well for him….

Michael Cardew. His pants and shirt are in another room being meticulously knolled with his socks and shoes, demonstrating that the organization of tools is sometimes only important to the extent that it helps cover your junk. In this case the studio 'blanket-wrap' is the most important organizing accessory in the working potter's studio.

Michael Cardew testing the limits of knolling. His pants and shirt are in another room being meticulously knolled with his socks and shoes, demonstrating that the organization of tools and accouterments is sometimes only important to the extent that it helps cover your junk. In this case the studio ‘blanket-wrap’ is the most valuable organizing accessory in the working potter’s studio. And maybe a sponge and a bucket of water.

Bridget Bardot resisting the urge to be knolled into Pablo Picasso's studio

Bridget Bardot resisting the urge to be knolled into Pablo Picasso’s studio

Grayson Perry gets just about everything right except the knolling part.

Grayson Perry gets just about everything right except the knolling part.

Claude Monet's rather spartan and streamlined studio, as yet unknolled

Claude Monet’s rather spartan and streamlined studio, as yet unknolled

Warren Mackenzie has an almost knolled table beside him as he throws pots.

Warren Mackenzie has an almost knolled table beside him as he throws pots.

Willem de Kooning tramples his art to make more art, What would the knollers say?!

Willem de Kooning tramples his art to make more art. What would the knollers say?!

Alberto Giacometti practices unknolling in a variety of media

Alberto Giacometti practices unknolling in a variety of media

Roy Lichtenstein shows that things can be unknolled in color too.

Roy Lichtenstein shows that things can be unknolled in bright color too.

.

“Don’t fix what ain’t broken”

An unknolled surface is not necessarily broken….. Sometimes a knolled surface is better for contemplation than for actual use. Which is why Sachs’ suggestion to “Always Be Knolling” seems a bit odd. It is quite possible that ‘everything in its proper place’ is itself out of place here in the studio. How’s that for irony? Its not the place of things that is important but what we do with them, and are they there when you need them. (And here you can see the delicious confusion between doing things for the sake of a code and having a code for the sake of doing things. When we forget which one is supposed to be serving the other the cart sometimes goes in front of the horse. We get bogged down in the mistaken priority of ‘rules’. But knolling sure looks impressive from an antiseptic uninvolved distance!)

Here’s what Terry Gilliam and some of the other guys from Monty Python have to say about the knolling mind:

.

Make beauty real!

Or for you knollers out there:

aemrt
aeukl
aeyb!

And that about sums it up…….

.

About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
This entry was posted in Art, Ceramics, Clay, Creative industry, Creativity, Imagination, metacognition, Pottery. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Studio efficiency and knolling

  1. Tom H. Johnson, Jr. says:

    Karen is always fussin’ at me for stacking things – like fruit (apples, peaches, bananas, tangerines) or bottles or cans of stuff. A bit like rock sentinels on a hiking trail.

    Is there a special name for stacking as there is for right angling??????

    As always and somewhat disorderly, Tom

  2. Your posts are a joy to read. My work space when throwing always seems to end up looking quite disorganized, but my hands always seem to know where I put such and such tool. Pottery – beautiful disorganization!

  3. Scott Cooper says:

    “Fitting pots into a kiln, for instance, is more a puzzle to maximize the advantages for the greatest number of pots possible. Or specific pots whose value prioritizes them beyond any coordination with the other pots made to fit the kiln.”
    This is a great description of the challenge of loading a kiln. It’s a puzzle with an infinite number of good answers, and we almost never know if we found the best one, after the requisite chaos has been applied.

    Also, that Cardew caption is one of the funniest things you’ve ever written here.

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