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Musings on the Approaches to Origami

It had already become apparent to me that the differences between myself and David Mitchell are not just a difference of opinion. The real cause of our differences is a mutual misunderstanding of we are respectively talking about. Indeed, we were talking about entirely different aspects of folding and paper crafts. David Mitchell's present posting confirms my view. As I have previously indicated, I still intend to return to this discussion at a later time.. Meanwhile, however, I would like to take up the new points that David has raised and to which Gary Vanderbur has also replied.

David Mitchell divides paper folders into first, those who are essentially craft folders (whose important aim is to achieve good final result) and secondly, exploratory paper folders (who are more interested in the exploration of the possibilities of the paper). David holds that the exploratory folders are the ones "where it's at". In other words they are the folders who make new progress. Although he does not say it, I infer that David considers it is the exploratory folders who are the more creative, both by discovering new techniques and by creating new models.

 The distinction between folders who fold for the "journey" and those who fold for the result is one that has been made for many years. Eric Kenneway insisted that paperfolding was a "Performing" art. In saying this he did not mean that he set no store by the result, but he insisted that the pleasure to be obtained from paperfolding was in the actual process of _Folding_. For him, the journey was just as important if not more important than the result. He considered that the true merit of a folded model does not lie in what stands before you on the exhibition table; it does not even lie in the geometry concealed within the model. For Eric, the enjoyment of a model lies in the processes of folding that go into the making of the model. My own view, however, is that while what Eric said may throw light on the nature of paperfolding, it does not give the full picture.

The term "Performing Arts" includes several distinct and different aspects. It is useful to consider the analogy of the art of music. Musicians may broadly be divided between composers and performers. (Of course, many are both). The composers create new pieces of music. This is clearly an artistic process and is the result of imagination, exploration and innovation. It should be borne in mind, however, that some musicians are more explorers than artists. They will seek out new ways of playing music using new harmonies, new textures and new techniques. Their own achievements may not be considered to be great music, but they may yet pave the way for more gifted composers to take up their ideas and to turn them into something artistic..

 Contrasted with the composers, the performers play music which has been written by composers. It is important to realise, however, that there are different kinds of performers. Some play an instrument for the sheer pleasure of playing and without any expectation of producing a finished performance for the entertainment of others. Their performances will often be mediocre and have not pretensions t great art. Other performers are of a different kind: they seek to interpret the pieces written by composers with a view to giving finished and compelling performance which brings out the greatness of the music. Such performers are themselves artistic and they play for an audience.

It is the same with paperfolding. Most of us are performers in the sense that we like following instructions and we enjoy the process of folding, but do not expect to achieve an artistic result. But a few performers do seek to follow instructions and to fold the model exquisitely, so that it has life, conviction and expression or beauty. Countless little girls (and a few boys) go to dancing classes and greatly enjoy dancing, but only a tiny number of them ever join a major dance company. Even fewer become ballerinas.

Some folders explore new techniques. They study the geometry of folding; they experiment with techniques such as wet folding; they try different papers and gradually extend the scope of paper folding. They experiment with materials other than paper and they will even experiment with cutting, gluing, stapling and other methods which may considered to be outside the province of paperfolding altogether. It is they who push out the boundaries of the paper crafts. They may not achieve anything in the way of artistic

models, but the are pathfinders and they pave the way for others. Yet other exploratory folders have the ability to use the new techniques with which have been pointed out to them. With those techniques they go on to create new models which may come to be admired as works of art or of ingenuity. Folders of this kind are the composers of paperfolding and it is they whose work is generally admired.

 Some paper folders are excellent innovators, creators and folders of the paper who create their own designs and fold them in just the same way as some musicians both write their own music and also perform it. Among paper folders, Akira Yoshizawa stands supreme. He was self-taught and was able to develop his art without the restraints on his predecessors. He experimented with new techniques of folding geometry. He developed new materials, such as tissue-backed paper and new folding techniques such as wet folding. He developed techniques for moulding or sculpting the paper and above all, he folded models which re alive and which attract universal admiration. This does not mean that he has done everything to be done in paperfolding. He has not, for instance been attracted to things like super-complex folding and there are other giants of creative paperfolding who venture into fields that are closed for Yoshizawa.

It is often wrong to draw lines. But that is not to say that there are not differences between folders. But those differences are far from simple and there are many cross-patterns.

Is creation greater than performance? The truth is that performance may also be creative. The strands which make up paperfolding and its related arts and crafts are both complex and interactive. In this lies the fascination.

 David Lister

 6th March, 2002


   
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