Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Mug's Mug

Writing in the January issue of Icon magazine, editor Justin McGuirk describes going into a shop in Tokyo that sold Japanese handicrafts. Inside one particular cabinet he saw a handmade mug made of black clay with a white glaze. It was, he says modestly, ‘rather beautiful’. The crunch, however, was the price tag – nearly £30 – and he hastily put it down thinking it was way over the top. Several minutes and two streets later the mug remained in his memory as he recalled the pleasing way that the dark clay resonated behind the milky glaze, the uneven surface, a base that was not quite circular and the handle not perpendicular. ‘Eloquently imperfect, the mug lingered with me’. McGuirk contrasted the quiet beauty of the mug with the ‘factory-smooth and mute’ mugs he used daily, adding how much he would rather have the black and white one than all of his own.

It is a paean of praise for the discretely handmade, for the quality of individual expression, for an awareness of character and the pleasure of intimate contact with an object that performs a simple but important task. McGuirk’s reluctance to buy was down to perceived worth or value when contrasted with functional mugs produced by industry that could be purchased for a fraction of the price. Yet, in terms of satisfaction value, he makes it clear that the handmade product far outweighed any material cost, its intrinsic worth more than justifying the higher price. He concludes by saying that, in his opinion, ‘the only way forward for us as a consumer society is to buy fewer things that we value more’, a statement with which it is hard to disagree. When Icon magazine features the best/liveliest/inventive/pleasing/beautiful handmade mugs from the UK then this will, indeed, be a sign of change.

Should you want to support Justin McGuirk in his appreciation of the handmade his email is

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