The Art of the Craft

Originally written as a discussion of art history and learning in contemporary America, Beardy's piece, The Art of the Craft is more pertinent in our own modern world than ever before.  The connections between the turbulent world climate in which Michelangelo was imprisoned has many correlations to the world we live in today.  The connection between learning and perfecting a craft, such as visual art with learning and perfecting a craft such as kettlebell training are also very similar.  

By James "Beardy" Gasparick

 Beardy's "journey to the top" - Torre Grossa - San Gimignano, Italy.  Photo by Karen Gasparick, 1999.

Beardy's "journey to the top" - Torre Grossa - San Gimignano, Italy.  Photo by Karen Gasparick, 1999.

The Renaissance was a time when people were breaking from convention and starting to look inward to find out who they were. It was a tumultuous time of change. It’s sometimes called the Enlightenment or Humanist movement. Art and science were driving the change. Nature, and the natural world were explored and used to explain one's self and where that self fit in. In Europe between ca. 1300 – 1600, The Renaissance took hold and flourished.  

The name Renaissance means “rebirth,” and in 1999 I was a young artist beginning the transition from student to professional.  I was experiencing a “rebirth” as well; discovering my role in the world as an artist. I was hypercritical, scared, and feeling uncertainty in my art. I lacked confidence and trust in my actions.   

 Figure Drawing, Untitled.  Graphite on Paper.  By James "Beardy" Gasparick.

Figure Drawing, Untitled.  Graphite on Paper.  By James "Beardy" Gasparick.

In school, we were studying the major players of the Enlightenment:  DaVinci, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi… I questioned how and why I fit into their world; the one they created and created in.

 It was in this time that mathematics was first applied to perspective drawing.  Three dimensions were being represented accurately on a two dimensional surface.  The rules of how we see were written for the first time…or rather drawn.  I learned perspective in this metaphysically. I lived in a different time. I had less water to carry and that was all right with me. 

 View from Giotto's Campanile - Florence, Italy - 1999.  Upon the death in 1302 of Arnolfo di Cambio, Giotto di Bondone was named the "architect" in 1334.  Giotto died in 1337 and never got to see this view from the top.  Photo by Karen Gasparick.  

View from Giotto's Campanile - Florence, Italy - 1999.  Upon the death in 1302 of Arnolfo di Cambio, Giotto di Bondone was named the "architect" in 1334.  Giotto died in 1337 and never got to see this view from the top.  Photo by Karen Gasparick.  

When you look at the people that created these mind blowing objects, concepts, and ideas, they did it in a time that was unforgiving and just awakening from the Dark Ages.  The circumstances around their story propels them even further into super human, mythical status.

I stumbled across an article in an obscure art magazine prior leaving for Italy explaining Michelangelo had hid for safety, and the room he was in was found recently. Florence, the major hub of the Renaissance was tearing apart.  The Medici family was funding the movement.  They were also trying to get into heaven. 

 St. Paul Visiting St. Peter in Prison by Filippino Lippi - Brancacci Chapel - Florence, Italy.  Michelangelo studied these works as a student.  We are all beginners at some point.  Photo by Karen Gasparick 1999.  

St. Paul Visiting St. Peter in Prison by Filippino Lippi - Brancacci Chapel - Florence, Italy.  Michelangelo studied these works as a student.  We are all beginners at some point.  Photo by Karen Gasparick 1999.  

The Medici family supported artists, writers, and designers.  They were bankers.  They had money and they controlled the city. This was the time of the Bonfire of the Vanities, huge bonfires in city squares where earthly possessions were set ablaze in a public forum.  (Especially anything that had you looking in-wards, or outwards)  Artists including Michelangelo created the objects being burned.  He had a price on his head for being a protagonist.  In 1530, Michelangelo hid in a small cell in the Medici Chapel until he could escape the city.  During that time, there was some family drama in the Medici family, and some murders. Michelangelo said:

"I hid in a tiny cell," he wrote, "entombed like the dead Medici above, though hiding from a live one. To forget my fears, I fill the walls with drawings." [1]

[1](Squires, 2017)

In 1975 these drawings were found in the Medici chapel.  When I was at the Medici chapel, with hopes of going into see these drawings, our group found out that there were only 2 more slots left to see this room. A limited number of guests could view the room daily. The drawings were fragile and the space was small, a large group, logistically, would not all fit. After deliberation I was chosen to go in with one of the Professors, as I was the one who found the article explaining the location and contents of the secret room. 

As we moved passed a sculpture to a very small room I saw three guards standing around a small black and white CCTV on a desk staring at the screen. One guard not lifting his gaze just pointed to a hole that was about 2 feet by 4 feet in the floor. We walked down the stairs and into a room that was about 15 by 20 feet and it had a barrel-vaulted ceiling.  It was white plaster, and it had this weird glow from on single window that was below street level.  On those plaster walls were drawings – a lot of drawings. 

The drawings were different, not the regimental layouts from his sketch books, Michelangelo surely knew would be viewed in the future.  These were doodles.  Graffiti. He was exploring, learning, and testing.  I still remember one drawing; a side profile portrait. It’s drawn first with a subtle line starting at the forehead, dipping in, to form the brow, then out onto the nose, under to its base, then over the lips onto the chin and then trails off at the neck.  Michelangelo then repeats the steps but with more intention, and then again. He adds about 20 more, in one line that takes all that he’s learned from previous tries.  In one line he is able to tell the full story of this portrait and the life that this person lived. 

In one line….

I walked out of the hole past the artwork adorning the chapel and on to the Florentine streets.  The streets were crowded, but I didn’t hear words.  My friends asked me all the potent questions, but I was speechless.  I could not formulate words.  I could not think.  I just saw Michelangelo.  Not as a mythical super hero, but as a practicing artist finding his way in the world.  He found his answer in one line and I found my answer as well.

 Palestrina Pietà     c. 1555 - Galleria  dell'Accademia - Florence, Italy.  Originally attributed to Michelangelo, now thought to be crafted by one of his students, the piece is unfinished and shows the process in addition to the product.  Photo by Karen Gasparick, 1999.

Palestrina Pietà c. 1555 - Galleria  dell'Accademia - Florence, Italy.  Originally attributed to Michelangelo, now thought to be crafted by one of his students, the piece is unfinished and shows the process in addition to the product.  Photo by Karen Gasparick, 1999.

Artists craft with the “knowns.” They test, explore and learn and allow the art to develop and evolve to answer the unknowns to find and seek the truth in their exploration. When the truth is found they are free to begin exploring again. A master plays this game again and again never giving up the exploration.

 Self Portrait.  Graphite on Paper.  By James "Beardy" Gasparick.

Self Portrait.  Graphite on Paper.  By James "Beardy" Gasparick.

 Self Portrait.  Terra Cotta Clay.  By James "Beardy" Gasparick.

Self Portrait.  Terra Cotta Clay.  By James "Beardy" Gasparick.

 Like Renaissance Craftsmen, Beardy uses nature, science, art, and the practice of craft to learn about himself and the world around him.  Photo by Joe Cerniglia.

Like Renaissance Craftsmen, Beardy uses nature, science, art, and the practice of craft to learn about himself and the world around him.  Photo by Joe Cerniglia.

About the Author:

James “Beardy” Gasparick is a believer in the power of the multi-faceted human and in developing all of our diverse and powerful talents. Beardy studied Fine Art with an emphasis in Drawing and Interior Architecture + Design at The Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design and earned his BFA in 2000. Beardy is an artist, writer, VDC professional, and strength coach.  Beardy is also the Master of Craft and a Contributing Editor at The PurpleROBOT Network. Beardy can be contacted via email at: beardy@purplerobot.biz

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