Blown Away, the glass blowing documentary on Netflix, shows the emotions behind glass blowing, and explains tools and processes in a way that is digestible for people outside of the industry. It’s a nice step in making glass art more accessible to the mainstream. Watching from the perspective of a glass artist was a unique experience, something I want to share some of my thoughts on.
The show is niche and cliche, and some may say it’s pretentious, but I don’t think that’s how it should be received. The way a serious glass maker relates to glass may come off as pretentious, but it’s an attitude of perfection, a quality the dedicated artist is always striving for. There is a subtle difference.
Glass blowing is somewhat of an inaccessible medium to most people, primarily due to the extremely high overhead involved with the process. This show will hopefully spark an interest, and drive traffic to public studios where people can try their hand at the art.
Admittedly, glass collecting has slowed down in my generation from that of my parents and grandparents. Glass pipes are probably the most collected glass art in the current market, ranging in price from around $10 up to $100,000. I attribute this to the fact that my generation for the most part are not buying homes yet, making it difficult to collect and display glass art. Pipes, along with pendants and cups are pieces of art that the owner can also use. This often brings up a dialogue about form vs. function but I won't go too deep on that subject with this post.
This show did an incredible job of showing people who have never seen glass blowing what that process looks like. It captured the emotions or the process, along with so much technical information that I myself as a glass blower sometimes forget is not common knowledge to the general public. I even learned things I did not know about the hot shop. The cinematography was superb, and having worked with dozens of photographers and videographers around glass I know how challenging it can be to capture.
As for the competitive nature of the show, it certainly fits into a mold that we see with cooking and other entertainment shows. I found the challenges to be quite exciting and interesting, but I don’t like the idea of comparing artists work in the way the show does.
My favorite of the challenges was of course the Decanter and Cup challenge, with the winning retticello set being my obvious favorite of the submissions.
Fellow glass artist Ryan Irish Like Minded Glass referred to the show as being “like a hallmark card” and it’s certainly got the feeling of being another scripted television series. Despite that I think there is value in creating content that is both engaging and digestible for an audience completely unfamiliar with the process.
I enjoyed the guest judge’s perspectives and what each brought to the thought process that goes into product design and development. Katherine Gray, one of the judges from the show, created one of my favorite glass art installations, a series of single colored goblets with light reflecting their colors and shapes on the wall behind them. I saw this in Miami during Art Basel at the Heller Gallery of NYC. Other guest judges were Chris Taylor of Pilchuck Glass School and Eric Meek, Senior Manager of Hot Glass Programs at Corning Museum.
The two finalists were both extremely qualified. We binge watched the show at the studio over the course of the day it came out and I’ll admit, I really was on the edge of my seat by the end of the show. Ultimately, most of the submissions throughout the show were phenomenal. The final two installations were both absolute masterpieces, and showed the culmination of each artist’s body of work.
I really enjoyed Alexander Rosenberg’s body of work, with an almost scientific look and very complex concepts executed very well especially given the time constraints. Janusz Pozniak clearly had the most experience, and his skills were likely superior to all of the other contestants. It was so interesting to see Annette Sheppard reapproach the hot shop after years away needing most of her time allocated each round, and a young guy like Edgar Valentine finish before every other contestant in every round he competed. Deborah Czeresko brought some very important social issues to the table with her work, my favorite of which was the elegant taco holders she created or her robotic piece which will conceptually allow a man to bring an embryo to fertilization.
Blown Away left out the entire cold working process, used to clean up punty marks in soft glass along with sand blasting and other techniques. Many hours are spent coldworking glass once it’s cold, through slow and tedious processes. It’s not out of the ordinary for artists to lose pieces, that they’ve been working on for days, on the final steps of the cold working process. This is one of the harsh realities of working with this medium.
The show hardly addressed the glass market from a business perspective. What a lot of people outside the industry don’t understand is the process for selling work through galleries, promotion, networking and many other facets that go into glass art making. Some of the contestants had other jobs to support their art. It would have been nice to have some more insight into the world of glass art beyond the hot shop.
One thing I’m glad they mentioned in was the idea that glass might turn into a commodity, due to the limited resources required to create. This is already happening in cases like A Starship In Every Garage, the glass currency Marcel Braun is creating.
While I primarily work with borosilicate flame worked glass on a lathe, I have tried my hand in the hot shop (glass studio used for soft glass) twice. There are many similarities that translate across working each type of glass, but some distinct differences as well.
Soft glass allows creators to achieve large scale typically beyond the capacity of borosilicate flame working, while borosilicate can typically achieve much finer detail on a small scale. Where patterns are concerned, most borosilicate patterns are created hot, while soft glass allows artists to lay down patterns cold and pick them up with another hot piece of glass. Soft glass artists are only able to work on a piece for the duration of the time they can keep it hot, though it cools down much slower than borosilicate. With Borosilicate we can reheat sections in the kiln and attach them to other pieces, allowing us to repair our work much easier than soft glass workers.
Since the release of the show, many artists have had mixed reviews. Robert Mickelsen posted on Instagram, “Okay. Today’s guilty pleasure is @blownawayseries on Netflix. I binged the whole thing tonight, although I started out thinking “this is so silly”, I ended up really enjoying it. Take a few hours and entertain yourselves. It’s worth it. #blownawayseries #guiltypleasure ”
Take it for what it's worth to you, but I strongly encourage watching the show through the end of the competition. I'm so happy to see a presentation of glass blowing designed for the main stream, and I'm excited to see how people's relationship to glass art continues to evolve!
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