Monday, March 30, 2009

Everybody Must Get Stoned


In the hierarchy of scissors, paper, and stone, by all rights the paper should have been able to cover over the scissors, thereby making them less visible, and consequently, less powerful.

But scissors cut paper. That's the rules. It's the stone that smashes the scissors. But what good are they then? Sure, nobody is likely to use broken shears, but is prevention, in this case, worse than the ill?

And that brings up another obvious flaw in the scissors, paper, stone hierarchy. If paper covers stone...

...what do you use to keep the paper from blowing away?

Wouldn't the three of them (scissors, paper, and stone) be much happier if they worked together for their mutual benefit, rather than covering, cutting, and smashing?

And then, see, the whole thing of just three (scissors, paper, stone) is so exclusive. Why not crayon or pen? Why not stick?

You know, if scissors, paper, and stone continue to be so exclusive, so segregationist in their world view, it's bound to come back to haunt them. I mean, if they'd just include some other objects (like sticks) then the whole world might look more favorably on the threesome.

If they don't, at some point somebody's going to take real offense and take matters in their own hands. For instance, who do you think wins in a game of "scissors, paper, stone, dynamite"?

And what's with "a" scissors?

It's like that old question... Why are "panties" always plural, but "bra" is singular?

Obviously the charm of the game has to do with the objects being inanimate. For that reason you don't feel compassion for the losing object. You feel free to use the verbs (like bashing) and don't really feel sorry for the scissors that get bashed.

Conversely, if you made the game out of animals like, say, turtle, badger, wolf......hmmm...


1) wolf outruns badger but can't break through the turtle's shell

2) badger can rip the turtle out of it's shell but can't catch the wolf

3) turtle confounds the wolf but not the badger

..somebody's going to feel sorry for one or the other of the animals. Usually the sympathy edge goes to the furry ones. Thus, no kid is going to choose the turtle because it's not as cute.

Not to mention, it's a game of uneven consequences -- the turtle presumably gets eaten, while the badger and wolf merely get outrun and frustrated respectively.

Well, I suppose that's true of Scissors, Paper, Stone. The Scissors get smashed (rendering them useless), while the paper and stone merely get cut and covered respectively. And one might even argue that, while the paper is cut (maybe painful at the time), through that process its number is actually increased...

...So that creates a new problem. Whenever you have to do a "best two out of three" -- for each successive contest the paper is increasing in number (and thereby, presumably,
strength), while at the same time, though the stone stays the same, the scissors are in no shape to do battle again. They are smashed.

But wait! Stone sharpens scissors! That means that we now have an uneven game where scissors and stone are working together to shred paper!

So now, scissors and stone team up, shred the paper, but as the paper gets divided into more and more pieces it is capable of covering more and more stones -- thereby keeping them from
sharpening the scissors. Thus, the scissors get dull and can no longer cut the paper...

..then the paper, uncut, remains a constant number and thereby controllable, so it starts losing the game because, when the wind comes up, it hasn't shown the foresight to form alliances with stone to act as a paperweight!

So now, paper, severely undermanned has no hope.

...if only paper had thought ahead.

So, both paper and scissors have a vested interest in forming alliances with stone, but stone is a cold heartless bastard! ...and he sees little value in forming alliances.

I suppose that inequity goes a long way toward explaining one of the great mysteries of history….

….who’s ever heard of “Scissorshenge” or “Paperhenge”?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Weekend (so far)

Just got back from playing a friend's farewell.

One of my wife's closest friends and dog-training partners (Deb) is in stage four with Pancreatic cancer. She said she didn't want a fuss -- no memorial when she's gone and stuff. So, dog women being the alpha bitches they tend to be, they looked Deb in the eye and said, "Okay. We'll have a memorial while you're still here walking among us. Here's your invitation". And they did. Held it at the elementary school where Deb's taught for the past couple of decades.

Deb asked (upon realizing the inevitability that we were, indeed going to have the shindig) if I'd play guitar. "Just background stuff, okay?"

It went well and I played okay. I worked up a passable fingerstyle of David Mallett's "The Garden Song" (in addition to Deb being a kindergarden teacher, she's been an avid gardner, creating a little Eden in her few acres of Indiana prairie). I played "Secret O' Life". I played a buncha original stuff.

I did a quick run-through this morning -- plugged in (because I'm not used to playing that way). Found the groove -- lightened the touch and it felt comfortable.

The living wake ended up being a really nice affair with hundreds of people and dogs literally filling the gymnasium to say goodbye to friend, mentor, teacher, fellow dog-lover.

But my musical weekend began last night...
Dar dropped me off at Rachel's Bread in Goshen on her way up to dog training in southwestern Michigan. "Rachel's Bread" is Rachel Shenk -- Jim Shenk's wife's restaurant. Rachel was raised in Belgium and I'm not sure exactly why that makes any difference, but she's made a living as a baker for a couple of decades now. Whether due to her European background or not, she's got some really extrodinary bread and pastry recipes. Her restaurant takes up one end of the Goshen Farmer's Market. Every Saturday there's a line around and out the door to get bread from Rachel's.

About two years ago Rachel and Jim decided to combine their loves -- her cooking and his music -- to make a new cultural center for Goshen. So Jim read up and built them a brick oven that takes up one end of their bakery. And on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday they bake pizzas and have live local music.

The musical force of gravity has been strong around Jim's shop -- Wooden Music -- for years now. Most everyone in the surrounding counties of Indiana and Michigan know about Jim as a repair guy and builder. And if you happen to take in the sets of a few local bands, it's not unusual to see entire trios playing nothing but Jim Shenk's instruments (the locally famous "Goldmine Pickers" regularly have three of Jim's instruments on stage).

I got an email from my friend, Lukas, saying that the "Hard Time Traveling Band" was playing Rachel's Bread on Friday night (last night). "Hard Time Traveling Band" is whoever happens to be in town and playing with Lukas. Loosely, it's Lukas and Adam. Or Lukas and Adam and Jim. Or Lukas and Adam and Jim and Joe. Or Lukas and Joe. Or Lukas and Joe and Adam. Sometimes it includes me.

Since I knew Dar was headed north, I hitched a ride. I didn't pack a guitar. I didn't want to presume. Besides, there's always a guitar up there.

I sat at a table enjoying some of Rachel's new sausage soup and one of Jim's brick oven baked pizzas (The "Roma" -- Italian sausage and red peppers cut in a pinwheel garnish) and a couple of local beers as I enjoyed Lukas and Adam. Lukas is a metronome. The kid is SO much fun to play with. He knows his part and he NEVER leaves you cold -- never lets you down. You can play around with rhythm because you know Lukas will be there when you get back. And he's become as good on mandolin as he is on guitar.



Adam is one of the most gifted musicians I've ever played with. He just has music in his hands. And he listens. Really listens. I didn't recognize him last night. He started playing and I knew immediately who he was. But I didn't recognize him. He's the one on the right. But here's a picture of him and me playing in Jim's shop in October...


They were playing for tips. So, though I was invited up early, I didn't take them up on it. They had a full house, and I figured they'd do well. They sounded great. They're big fans of Welch/Rawlings and others of that generation of new old-timey. And they've learned the coolest fiddle tunes. And even some of the old standards (like Billy In The Lowground) they've put their distinctive stamp on. Lukas' rhythm allows Adam's sense for tasteful syncopation to really work well. They did a couple of a capella songs as well.

The patrons started to clear out and Jim got done baking pizzas. So later in the evening Jim and I joined in the fun.

Jim's always been a darn good guitar player. He's had a band since he was a teenager. Same two guys he's gigged with regularly since then. When they want to, they can get pretty solid booked. They play a nice mix of music that has been carefully picked to sound familiar, yet fresh. Only band around I know who plays Notting Hillbillies stuff. Jim told me last night that the mandolin player of the three of them cut off all four fingers of his right hand on a table saw. Said they're all sewn back on, but learning to play with 'em has been pretty depressing.

But Jim's gotten downright wicked good on that dobro. When he was younger he played a little lap steel in a country band. When he started building, he built himself the resonator and has been messing around on it for several years now. With his good ear for music and an overflowing pocketful of nice-sounding figures, he does a great job of filling behind a song.

We closed down the restaurant and then some -- still getting a few bits of applause from the kitchen workers who remained to enjoy the music.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Art Fairs/The Digital Virus (continued)



When a photographer opined that digital photography was to the art fair what the compact disc was to the music industry…

…and, as such, art fairs ought to accept digital photography (it being “art” just as the CD is “music”) into art fairs – and further, that standards of production should no longer matter to those art fairs. According to this photographer, only the end product should be juried in or out of an art fair, based only on the jury’s like or dislike of that product…

…I responded…


A music analogy! A man after my own heart! And some of what you say is, no doubt, a good characterization of at least one perspective on the issue. And in this changing world (or, as Sir Paul so daftly put it, “in this ever-changing world in which we live in”) maybe you are absolutely right.


Maybe the art fairs need to grow up and understand that it is childish romanticism that makes a buying public care HOW an artwork is made – or that hand-work would be the biggest part of that equation.


Maybe art fairs – as a marketing concept – are passé. Maybe it’s time we started admitting that this whole romantic notion that there is any meaningful difference between a pot conceived and made by, say, Ellen Shankin or Jane Hamlyn (who just happen to be my favorite potters in the world), holds any inherent difference – much less superiority to a pot conceived by Ellen Shankin or Jane Hamlyn but produced in a Chinese factory.


After all, as art fair “artists” defending art fairs, we gave up our very raison d'être when we thought that the question was “What is art?”, when the question that mattered was “What is craft?”.


See, in my own musical analogy I see it more like this:


About fifty years ago a group of musicians noted that, as much as people LOVE to listen to recordings of music, or concerts held-eld-eld in-in-in-in stadium-um-um-ums, this group of musicians figured out that there was still a market for LIVE, intimate, small venue music. So they started a concert series on their own. The thing that was to set this concert series apart from the rest of the music world (apart from the music world of BIG, FAMOUS performers and recording contracts with major labels) was that the music was to always be produced live and on the spot – real instruments, real voices. Nothing pre-recorded. And they discovered that:



1. People liked the close personal contact with the musicians


2. Though some might say that in the final analysis, music is music – whether live or recorded – these small venue musicians noticed that people made a visceral connection to watching hands play a violin, or watching as a singer emoted, or hearing – from five feet away -- the extraneous squeak of fingers across a guitar string. To these people – these music patrons -- their recordings were NOT the same as watching live music, though, when they took recordings OF these small-venue, live musicians home with them, they enjoyed BOTH the recordings AND the memories of the live encounter that the recordings brought to mind.


3. That the people who dedicated themselves to the live, small venue performance of music had become excellent in their own right. They didn’t fill out the 10,000 seat music halls like the famous – not because their music was inferior, but because their life choices made them less interested in the mainstream music, and that disinterest in the mainstream ended up translating into a greater and more flexible creativity. Besides, in many cases this music, though excellent, just might have been too esoteric for the general music-buying, record store haunting, pop-music-buying teen. It wasn’t the stuff of mass-market


In other words; the small venue concert series was a resounding hit! People appreciated the difference. They appreciated the difference so much that they supported the small venue, live musician pretty darn well.

But along came digital sampling.

Some guy figured out that he could make a machine that would make the exact same sound as a guitar – right down to the finger squeaks on the strings. What’s more, he could play any song with his sampler. Unlike the live guitar player who had to actually learn a piece before he could play it, the guy with the synthesizer could play ANYTHING – even the technically very difficult pieces -- because he could play as slowly as was required to get notes in the right order – and then go back later and edit out the bad notes and speed the remaining notes to tempo. He could even add a drum track and a whole violin section behind him.

So the synthesizer guy started coming to the small venue concert hall and sitting in with the other musicians with his magic box full of the songs he’s put together. He can jam with them flawlessly. His arrangements are marvelous. Inspired, even. If people in the crowd ask “what’s he playing?” he answers “Music.” Because that is, after all, one accurate description of what he is playing. Music.

And when the crowd starts to shout out requests from the assembled live small venue, this music box player can play almost ANYTHING from his playlist (which dwarfs any other musician’s playlist – after all, the box guy doesn’t have to recall anything. He just looks down his list of pre-recorded stuff and viola! The song pops out, full arrangement).

And the dancers dance. And the sing-alongers karaoke themselves hoarse.

But eventually, the crowd that used to come to the small venue became divided. Some liked the box-player. His arrangements became their standard for how a song should be played.

But others, though they couldn’t explain why it mattered to them (because they didn’t know in the first place) missed SEEING the music. They missed the inherent mistakes and irregularities that seemed to charm them into loving the live music in the first place.

And the live musicians, for their part, were equally divided. Some kinda left in a huff, or asked the box player if he wouldn’t maybe consider playing quieter, or playing in fewer of the songs…something that would make the live musicians feel some reason for being there.

But the majority of the musicians felt as though, as long as the guy was playing music they should just shut up. Even if they personally were never heard from again – music was, after all (they thought) what we were all gathering for. Wasn’t it?


And so, I find it a curious coincidence that this photographer (with whom I was having the original discussion I’m recounting here) chose the music analogy that he did – that of recording media.

Curious, because photographers are the only art fair artists who are coming to the art fair with “recordings” only. …oh, I suppose that both printmakers and cast sculptors bring recordings too.

But in both those cases, the artists still hand-manipulate (<<--redundancy if ever was!) the medium that is later printed or cast.

Further… If my “small venue musician” analogy does not ring more true than the photographer’s musical allusion, then why do a MAJORITY of art fairs still ask if you (as a participating artist) are willing to demonstrate at the show? A sculptor or printmaker can demonstrate at a show. I see it all the time. I think that every other medium can demonstrate at a show. Has an art fair photographer ever checked the “Yes, I will demonstrate” box for an art fair? If so, what did this photographer demonstrate?

Art fairs are a “marketing angle”. They are a marketing angle to sell decorative art, of course…

...but then so are galleries. So are publications. So are department stores. So are auction houses. So is ebay. Nothing stops an artist from pursuing his art and selling it at any of the above places. MOST decorative art is sold in any of those multiple ways.

But the singular “marketing angle” that art fairs have successfully employed for decades is that the decorative arts offered therein are hand-crafted. And with that hand-craftedness comes the inference of value – a time honored inference – that that which is rarer is of greater value. Craftsmen cannot produce endless inventory.

Art fair patrons know that and value that.

We are NEVER going to not have photography at art fairs. And I, for one don’t even think that’s a good idea. The issue of whether they fit into the art fair scene is not “Is it art?” As a medium, it has proven to often be “art”. Good art, too. Fine art.

And photography can reflect craftsmanship too. Often does. So it always seems to come down to what a few brave but outnumbered photographers have suggested all along – that art fairs charge their juries MORE SPECIFICALLY to single out the craft/craftsmanship.

If method of production is immaterial (and photographers, almost to a man at the art fairs, say that it is) then the craftsmanship is implied in the subject matter.

So, if that is the case, then any photography that is merely the appropriation of another’s craft – the architecture of Europe, window casings and doorways, winding Shaker Staircases – should be suspect, no?

And nature itself is a sticky wicket if nothing is brought to it, right? After all, we are balancing the “artness” and the “craftness” and to merely shooting wildlife could likely be neither art nor craft, but “journalism”. Right? So perhaps finding a set of standards with which to charge future juries might be a healthy direction?

Enough for one day!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Details, Details, Details

...my fascination with them (details) and my itch to add them drives me over the brink from "production" to...well, to something else.

I can endlessly interest myself with a palette of only primary colors, and I can similarly occupy myself with variations on a very simple theme. Like rims...









































Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Clay Re-Psychling


Bag of clay sitting on a psychiatrist's couch:

I dunno, Doc. I'm just so tired of feeling like I'm being manipulated.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Man vs Nature



My wife (bless her heart) was getting the lawnmower out of the old wooden shed that sat without suitable foundation, right on the dirt. That’s no way to build a shed. But in my defense, the shed was there when I bought the property. I would have done the proper thing and put the shed up on cinder blocks. Like my cars.

But I digress.

So, my wife came into the shop complaining about a big bumble bee that had nested under the shed and wouldn't let her get near the shed door. She could not retrieve the lawnmower.

After I did the exaggerated roll of the eyes that smugly indicated my male superiority and greater understanding of my dominion over the natural world (I may have sighed audibly as well so as to make sure that Dar knew – in the event that she had failed to notice the roll of the eyes -- that I was being put out to have to help her get ready to cut the grass)….

…I got up from the wheel and, as I dried my hands on a shop towel, I explained to her that, "Bees are not aggressive. If you simply ignore them, they will just leave you alone.” Then I grabbed the flyswatter that hung by the door, doubting that I’d need a weapon, but caution, preparedness, valor – something along those lines vaguely occurred to me. Thus armed, I walked out back to take care of a little bee business.

The sucker flew directly at me. I mean, he flew AT me. DIRECTLY at me. He meant business. And I was unprepared

I don’t know what it’s called when you do the opposite of ducking – wherein you jerk your head back REAL quickly -- but that’s what I did first. The backwards duck. Then I darted to the side, flailing at the air with the flyswatter, swinging it with all the macho flair of a young girl swinging a badminton racket. Really, not even that much macho. And no flair.

Now the bee was still coming at me -- at one time darting directly toward my bare legs, the next time buzzing upwards at my face again.

This up and down tack the “not-aggressive” bee had employed had me alternately ducking my head, then whipping it back away from the charging beast, all the while kicking my legs backward to avoid allowing it to land on my legs.

This little dance of mine began with me spinning in a circle, all the while trying desperately to keep my eyes on the bee so that I could continue to dodge it. Eventually I began to run …… backwards -- eyes still on the bee -- across the yard and hopefully away from the bee's home.

The bee did not stop its pursuit. It continued to go at face and leg. I continued to backpedal. And cuss. A lot.

Because I was backpedaling, the bee seemed to be easily able to keep up with me. I decided that I had to, at some point, finally take the risk and make the strategic move to turn around and actually run full speed away from the thing.

And so I summoned up the courage to finally turn around. That was just about exactly where the mailbox stands at the edge of our yard. Well…….not “just about”. It was exactly where the mailbox stands. Stood. That’s where the mailbox stood. At least until I hit it full speed and spinning ahead.

The mailbox and I went down HARD. I hurt. I won’t say exactly where the mailbox hit me. And please don’t point out to me that it was actually me who did the hitting. That kind of “pointing out” is called “insult to injury”. And the injury was bad enough. – I was left with two bruised “things” and not a shred of dignity.

After I recovered a bit, I went inside. There was still a yard to be cut, a lawnmower to be retrieved, and, God help me, a bumblebee to kill.

As I remember that day, it was a summer day and the temps were every bit of the upper eighties. I came out of the house with sweatpants OVER my jeans, a sweatshirt OVER a long-sleeved flannel shirt, a hat (balaclava that covers the face), gloves, a scarf, my old glasses (a fashion of the 70’s – HUGE lenses that covered a good portion of my face). There was not a square inch of skin showing anywhere on me. And I was carrying a can of wasp and hornet spray – the kind that shoots in a stream.

I killed it.

Just one more small victory for man in the ongoing, “Man vs. Nature” struggle.



Friday, March 20, 2009

I Knew I'd Seen It Before





I'm compulsive. I admit it. When I see something -- and I get the feeling that I've seen it before -- I want to file all the like items together. And so it was -- that sense of "deja vu" -- when I saw that now famous Nature Magazine cover (front and back) that I thought to myself......."hmmm......"

I was testing Turner porcelain. And to convince myself that it was, indeed, just as plastic as the stoneware I most often use, I did a series of identical pots -- from large to small -- in both clays.

I knew I'd seen that picture before.

Get me started on any theme and I can't let go of it until I've played it out. For instance, here's my list of proponents of "String Theory"

Mark Twine
Gene Sisal
Jerry Stringer
Line S Pauling
Thread Flintstone
Glark Cable
Steve Roper
Don Knotts
Jim Braidy
Liv Tie-ler
Cording Lightfoot
Knottilie Wood
Sheilds and Yarnell
Earnest Hempingway
Bob Rope and String Cosby and their famous "Road to Stringapore" movie
Shania Twine

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Right To The Edge

Like most potters of my tradition, I like glazes that don't just sit there. I want a glaze that actually does some of the decorating for me. That means glazes that don't look like paint. That means glazes that might "flash" or move a bit and give me an unexpected pleasure in opening a kiln to find a pot finished with more whimsy than I could have imagined.

Of course, the downside of those glazes is that the very irregularity that is so often charming is the irregularity that (for instance) puts an iron spot right smack dab in middle of the only place on a surface where it might disrupt a nice appearance. Or the bubbling/movement that's happening at temperature in the kiln, that one hopes will end up creating a more interesting surface when cooled, is the bubbling/movement that stays bubbled when cooled, and ruins the surface.

But it's the ones that make it through...pushed right to the edge...that make it all worthwhile.

Expectation


Tonight

I’ll sing you to sleep for the first time knowing
We’ll be sharing this space for a while.
I’ll sing and play and you’ll do the growing.
Hey, can you feel it when I smile?

And I’ll hold you against my rosewood guitar
While I sing from my newly blessed soul
And you’ll have the best seat in the house by far.
My heart, my life, this sound---so full.

So I’ll sing the high notes (a nice way to start)
This guitar will fill in the low,
Between you, and me, and this guitar,

Tonight

I’ll sing to you this lulla-hello

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Illuminating Craftsmanship


We have technologically surpassed Gutenberg. And yet, people still want -- still appreciate -- illuminated manuscripts. Whether ignorantly, or esoterically, or religiously, or athletically -- we appreciate the skillful use of materials that man's hand is capable of.

That hand-to-art is something that scratches an itch in the human soul -- even more when technology threatens to make us -- in the minds of the science fiction buff and the reasonably paranoid -- dispensable.

And, in a funny, ironic twist, that hand-to-art moves at a speed faster than technology. It moves at the speed of man's need to create and be stimulated by that creativity. It is our focus on product that makes us see creativity as slow.

For the thirty years that I have been a potter there has ALWAYS been technology available to help artists increase production in the media of their choice. And that technology has historically been rejected or at the very least moderated (and certainly so by art fairs) to limit technologically produced inventories according to medium.

In those cases, technology has been rejected because we know that ultimately the thing that brings people to the art fairs or to the potter's studio is that those are some of the best places in the country to get a taste of where the human hand meets creativity.

We craftsmen offer the best way to see the most immediate creative expression of the skill of man's hand married to the latest ideas of his mind. And people come to witness that immediacy, charmed because they have the ideas themselves -- it is the skills they lack and thus admire in us and our work.

That always was the strength -- the appeal -- of the working artist/craftsman -- not simply the product we offered for sale. We were selling people's dreams back to them.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Pots and Generations


I was in my first year of doing art fairs for a living when I met John and Denise. And now, thirty years later, we all still share the artist's life. Throughout these years we've known each other, John and Denise were also raising some of the most thoughtful, gentle, and creative children that my wife and I have ever had the pleasure of getting to know. Back in that first year it was just twin boys, but in the years that followed, we watched as they added a daughter and another son.

I got an email a few weeks ago. One of the twins, now a man in his thirties, wants to get back into clay and would like to visit my shop and maybe get some insights as to how he could best set up his home studio.

We're now enjoying watching a new generation of thoughtful, gentle, and creative children -- John and Denise's grandkids -- being raised. As we talked clay and glazes, wheels and studios, the kids played with the dogs -- enjoying the first sunny, Spring-like day of the year.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Subversives


Dandelions are dangerous
Dandelions don’t need gardeners
Dandelions are artists
They ignore all the boundaries in the yard
Flower beds? They’re in them and they’re out of them
Wreaking their insomniac havoc all about.


The crafted and groomed watch jealously
From their straight rows and their well planned lives.
And they can see who is having the fun
Painting dada smiley faces on daVinci lawns


The other flowers are not stupid
Just stationary
And, sheltered as they are
They know who’s been around
Growing zones?
Don’t make me laugh


The other flowers are not stupid
They just have the plastic left on their couches
They have their “Do Not Touch” signs
Displayed in their careful elegance


Meanwhile the children make chains with yellowed fingers
Meanwhile the children test to see if they like butter
And the crafted and groomed look on
And wish they’d come up with that simple idea first.


Dandelions are artists.
With their outrageous style
And a bright yellow Tina Turner hair-do
With outrageous opulence that doesn’t spare a Springtime acre
Subtlety be damned.


Dandelions are dangerous
Dandelions have no need for gardeners
Dandelions are artists.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Poor Fits and Reasons

A photographer and I were discussing what I perceive to be the damage inflicted on the art fair market by the introduction of digital photography -- and its "camel's nose under the tent" effect on the other media at the art fairs.

Art fairs have reached the point of no return. They are perilously close to losing their very distinction as a market -- the very thing that made them a strong market in the first place.

The photographer disagreed with me, saying (among other things) that the end product was and is the only thing that matters in the art fair market. And (according to him) means of production should not matter.

Artists/Craftsmen can agree or disagree with that -- and what makes a good art fair. But then the photographer added this opinion as to why digital replication shouldn't matter:

"Reproductions in any form are an inherent part of our respective crafts, potters, jewelers, all artisans reproduce their successful and saleable work all the time. The only difference is the technology involved."

How do I disagree? Let me count the ways...

1. His comment, “Reproductions in any form are an inherent part of our respective crafts”

Wow, is this ever semantic gymnastics to equate painting or throwing on the wheel with mechanical or digital reproduction. The kind of reproduction potential in photography is absolute and need not involve the “craftsman” (the other part of the above definition that is tortured -- “respective crafts”). And the reproduction potential in photography is also limited by only one thing – how many reproductions a photographer thinks he can sell.

I'll tell you what...

I don't know a single Painter or Potter John Henry who could ever hope to drive spikes at the rate of the photographer's steam drill. I mean, you gotta be kidding me if you think that I could ever, by the means referred to here as "reproducing" (with my wheel) make as much product as the average photographer teamed up with his lab.


2. His comment, “reproducing the same paintings over and over”.

Really? So that’s what Monet was doing with lilly pads, and that’s what Jamie Wyeth was doing with haystacks, and that’s what Hamada was doing with teabowls?

Hogwash

When a craftsman does what you are claiming is the equivalent of mechanical reproduction he is not reproducing. Even if his intent is to market an already proven idea/product, his/her decision to remain in the realm of the hand-made – the craft – necessarily means that he/she has chosen a method that, by its very nature DEFIES reproduction

...And that choice (to remain a craftsman -- making, painting by hand) is a conscious one...

...just because a potter or painter wishes to further explore the same or similar ideas DOES NOT mean his intent - NOR THE OUTCOME - are reproductions. Even pots that I intend to be making with pretty much the same idea in mind evolve over time (a little with each piece, a lot over years)

3. So much of photography came shouldering a long 2X4 around in the china shop that was the art fair world. With the front length of board they swung around, they knocked over the painter’s capacity to make a living by cheapening 2-D work. With the length of board that they trailed behind them, they crashed the printmaker’s livelihood by clouding the long-held (in the art world) definition of “print”.

Then the photographers graciously (having so devastated the painter’s market) lobbied on behalf of painters so that painters could also sell “prints” at art fairs – further devastating those whose very craft WAS printing.

And, so, the art fairs slowly but surely became “commodity” markets. But if it doesn’t matter HOW a thing is made, then what EXACTLY is the draw of an art fair ANYWAY?


Heck, I’m too tired tonight to write well or express myself clearly. Having reproduced a BUNCH of pots today has left me exhausted. I’m sure that photographers will understand that.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

All On A Winter's Day

I just got back from skiing with my Malamute, Breeze. Breeze and I "skijor" together. With me wearing a wide, padded belt, a towline between us, and Breeze in harness, we can make pretty good time cross-country. But for years I've been using a "Flexi" leash instead of a towline. This is because the Flexi automatically retracts. That way it never gets tangled, I never run over it, and Breeze never steps over it (tangling himself).

Today I was skiing alongside railroad tracks when a deer jumped out of the woods ahead of us.

Breeze bounded forward and popped the Flexi line from the Flexi handle as though it was attached to it with a mere tab of scotch tape. He was off like a shot and there was NO way he would be deterred from getting that deer.

And maybe he wouldn't have had a chance if the deer hadn't doubled back on him...

...as deer are inclined to do -- I've had it told me (and so I'm sure it's true) that though a deer can out sprint most dogs, in the long run it will not outrun them. Hence, it needs to elude them by the trickery of doubling back or jumping fences that the dogs cannot also jump.

Well, whether that's true or not, it would have appeared to be so as I watched Breeze nearly get the deer (They were about 75 yards ahead of me when it looked as though they made contact, so I couldn’t actually tell if Breeze got a piece of the deer) on the deer's first double back.

Then I watched in horror and wonder as the two went up a rise and crossed the railroad tracks and vanished out of sight. I skied for all I was worth to get past that rise that blocked my view of the two of them.

Just as I got to the end of the rise, I saw that the deer and Breeze had found two different breaks in the old fence that lined the harvested cornfield that lay on the other side of the tracks. The deer's break was east of us both, but Breezy had stood his ground, working on navigating a break in the fence much closer to where the two had initially crossed the tracks.

That meant that at exactly the same time the deer turned back to the west again (I don't know why it decided to double back yet again when it didn't work the first time) Breeze had made his way through his break in the fence and was on the deer's heels again.

I watched in amazement. If you'd asked me if a malamute had any chance of keeping up with a deer at a dead run, I wouldn't have hesitated a minute. I would have said an unequivocal "no way".

Way.

By the time I tripped out of my skis and made it over the broken down fence to the cornfield, both animals were out of sight. I looked and I called. The field stretches more than a half-mile both ways -- unbroken landscape -- and yet I couldn't see either of them. Even if they were within the range of my sight (they didn't appear to be), the two of them have white tails running both away from me and against a snowy-white background.

Suddenly, almost at the limits of the distance of what I could see, a single dot of brown against that snow white had just turned south that entire half mile away from me. It was moving FAST. It was the deer and it had come to the end of the length of cornfield east to west and was now heading south along a tree line that bordered the field.

And then...

...there he was.

Awesome.

A second dot of brown against snow white broke to the south. Breeze was STILL on that deer's tail. As god is my witness, Breeze was still only about twenty yards behind the deer

And I was a bundle of raw and mixed emotion. I was scared witless as to how I was EVER going to get Breeze to return to me. And yet I was witnessing one of the most beautiful scenes of a dog in action that I have EVER seen.

He was so far away now that I doubted he could even hear my shouts. The nearest cross road -- my second-biggest fear -- was a half mile away. But it was to the south. That's the direction they were headed.

I lost sight of them

I kept walking toward where I last saw them. I kept calling, though I figured that by then I was doing so to no listening dog. Still I walked. Still I called.

I had probably been walking no more than five minutes. But fear stretched those minutes to what felt more like hours.

Then...

About a half mile out. Brown/gray dot heading my way. Closer now. Now close enough to see the touch of pink of a lolling tongue. Breeze.

And he was coming directly to me across that field. No veer to the right for an interesting scent. No turn to the left for a look at anything. Just straight across the field -- looking straight at me and smiling all the way -- to a now kneeling and hugely smiling dad, waiting with open arms. I pulled him to me and we rolled over together. Happy dog. Relieved, and now happy dad.

We walked a mile toward home. Then I dropped the skis and put them on again. Our last mile we skijorred home -- this time with the line secured to my belt.

Breeze is nearly asleep beside me as I'm typing this. His side is pushed up against my leg. He's tired and he's content. And I'm relieved.


Growing Pots






It's that time of year. The shop is getting full of green pots and I need to get more firings through. If I don't finally stop and fire, I get a false sense of being ready for the summer shows. Without lists and empty shelves, I come out each day to full shelves of pots and feel as though I've got a good start on the year's inventory.

But inventory has always been my biggest hurdle. Keeping up. I've never done it well.

And this new activity of viewing other potter's blogs gives me the sense that EVERY potter is making more -- and faster at doing so -- than me.

*GULP*

Gotta get to work!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Getting Around to Firing


PEEEE-YOOOOOO!

Smell that? I'd be surprised if you couldn't smell it right through the digital feed on your computer!

First bisque firing of the year in the old kiln. I can't remember a February or March when I didn't have to survive the smell of burning off mouse nests in the old kiln. And since bisque precedes glaze.....and only glaze is hot enough to REALLY fry the suckers....I have to live with the smell through a few more rounds of bisque firings.

If burnt offerings give me any kind of advantage in having a successful year, well then, good for me. Too bad for the mouse.

So far, the new kiln doesn't seem to attract the mice. It's probably because I lined the outside with steel instead of the "space age" ceramic board that nearly disintigrated after only a year or two on the old kiln. The old kiln has lots of its brickwork exposed. I've watched mice scurry between cracks that you wouldn't think you could wedge a piece of paper between. Mouse bones must be made of jello.

The new kiln has in it some pieces that I've made expressly to sell on my new Etsy site. I've been dying to explore the new possibilities of making some work that excites ME, but that doesn't match the work that I take to the art fairs.

That includes some pieces that explore my past in clay. After the sheer magic of watching a pot being thrown -- my initial enticement into the world of creative clay -- the thing that excited me most in the clay world was the salt-fired crockery of the nineteenth century (as pictured below).


Through much of the eighties, my pottery reflected that interest in crocks. Now I'm going back and reviving some of those ideas and synthesizing them into a new whole.

Ain't it wonderful to get excited about the new ideas?!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Evinrude



Evinrude the boat from shore, Halleluiah
Evinrude the boat from shore, Halleluiah

Wind it up and pull the rope, Halleluiah
Putt-putt, pull again and hope, Halleluiah

Hold the choke when it's chilly and cold, Halleluiah
Back the throttle when the spark takes hold, Halleluiah

Grab the handle, steer from the dock, Halleluiah
Blessed days off of the clock, Halleluiah

Fishing's just great there in the cove, Halleluiah
Bamboo bent double as the bobber dove, Halleluiah

12 inch striper grabbed in the net, Halleluiah
Pan-fried eatin' is good, you bet! Halleluiah

Evinrude the boat ashore, Halleluiah
Evinrude the boat ashore, Halleluiah

Friday, March 6, 2009

Garage Sale



Last Saturday I did the Garage Sale Art Fair -- an event invented by a couple of art fair artists -- Bonnie Blandford and Michael Kifer.

I can't overstate how important I think it is that this is run by touring art fair artists. I don't think that anyone not familiar with our lives and concerns could have pulled it off even half as well. But they do pull it off. Year after year

They made the event fun without detracting from the respect and high regard for the artists and craftsman's work. Though they played up the bargain aspect, it never came at the appearance of anything but an exceptionally good value on something that the patrons may, otherwise, not be as likely to afford.

In fact, there was much buzz among the patrons along the lines of ......."oh my gosh! ....he's/she's ("famous" artist in their view) here!". The buzz I got from the patrons was not just the deals they were getting -- it was the deals they were getting from these particular artists!

The bargain aspect never played up the "seconds" nature of much of the work there. Sure, that was an understood aspect underlying the whole event, but it just never came across as the artists unloading junk. It always came across as a great opportunity for the buyer

They made it easy for the artist. If the artist wished to put more time into presentation, I suppose that was possible. But it wasn't the nature of the beast. Art work could be displayed however you wished to display it. This was one thing I loved about the event. It reminded me so much of those days 25-30 years ago when we all went to art fairs with our own inventions for ways to display. And as odd as this sounds -- that sort of "ramshackle" sense of display is so dadgum inviting to the patrons. I can't remember the last time I saw a more engaged patronage. They loved it. All the intimidation that we as artists subconsciously build into our displays to make us seem more erudite, more esoteric, more "gallery", were absent. Those walls down, patrons felt more at ease to approach artists.

I can't do this event every year. I usually don't have enough seconds to make it worthwhile. But I consider it an important event. It is an interesting reality check. When we artists begin wondering where the art fair patrons have gone....

...it seems they just might be just as crazy about our work as they ever were. They just may not be able to afford our work that is now priced -- not as reflects the market, but as reflects our (artists) desire for an easier middle class lifestyle to match our age peers. We were never promised that. We were never promised that we could BOTH have the joy of working with our hands AND not have to work hard. Very hard.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


The colors in a late winter woods are incredible. Like no other season. A drive by doesn't reveal them. You have to walk into the woods to see that winter isn't just brown.

Walk one direction up the trails and you'll find that every large trunk that faces you appears to have roadside signage -- those signs all being shapes made of moss. In the summer you may never notice that moss because the more vivid shades of leaf green draw your eyes away. But in late November those moss-signs stand out as though every tree trunk was carefully patina-ed with oxidized verdigree copper.

There are two trees right now that have bright red berries. Actually, one a small tree and the other thorn covered bramble interspersed wherever the woods thins a bit to allow more light.

The winged euonymus is still holding on to the last of its now dangling, dusty rose colored leaves -- though their almond shape is now facing up and down rather than horizontal.

And there's still one tree out there that is as green as springtime. I don't know what it is.

Sure, there's lots of brown out there too. But when you're in the woods it's not brown. When you're in the woods it's sepia, and umber, and siena, and chocloate, and buckskin, and tan, and everybrown in between.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Guitars



It’s that wire that no one sees but draws us to the magician’s hand.

It’s the true north that mysteriously keeps our needle pointing one way.

One day we hear the jangle, the strum of an E chord, the tip-of-a-hat in a G run, or the one-man-band of a fingerstyle song and we’re never the same. We wander through life with a different song in our mind. We notice everything guitar—of course in sound on the radio and in recording—but also the physical presence of the guitar in the background scenery of a movie set, in a commercial on TV. If we walk into a strange place and there happens to be a guitar in the room, little else occupies our mind. It calls our attention like an overheard conversation that sounds more interesting than the one in which we’re currently engaged...

“Oh, excuse me. Did you say something?”

Maybe it’s the sound that hooks us first but almost simultaneously we’re drawn to the guitar as a work of art. Curiously, in the horizontal position we view it as a practical tool to make our music. But we view it as art in the vertical—resting on its heel, that perfect balance, that anthropomorphic symmetry. Proof? --the guitar tester’s dance-- you know the one. You’ve seen it and you’ve done it. Play a riff, a chord, a song, and as that final strum is cast…we pick it up, left hand still holding the neck, right hand on the end pin…and we do that graceful pirouette ‘til we’re face to face with the guitar and the sound it’s making. Eyes take in the beauty from peg to bridge. Then the grin…

...Fred, meet Ginger.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


What keeps me endlessly inspired to work in clay?

Finding my way toward a “good” pot is like a lifetime of working on leveling a three legged table by incrementally sawing one leg at a time. Without measuring. And the curious thing? …turns out that the goal isn’t really a “level” table after all – just a table with a pleasing cant.

The three legs:
1. Manipulation – a lifetime of learning to
control the medium. The tactile pleasure. The “something out of nothing”
sense of accomplishment. The sense of going too far (being “too” in control –
man as machine) or backing off and allowing for the materials to express
themselves.

2. Materials – Being mindful of the
inherent qualities of clay and having the joy of sometimes letting those
qualities express themselves – and sometimes having fun with playfully
disguising those qualities.

3. Communication – whether
it’s as “crass” as determining whether there is a market for a pot – or a more
lofty communication of elements of the human condition. I’m always trying to
figure out what to “say” and how to “say” it.
The old saying goes: “You can never step twice into the same river”. “Art”, and the world with which it is communicating, is that proverbial river. The same pot being introduced at a different time communicates different things.

Groundwater

Pottery seems singular in this -- the “competition” is so often one’s biggest inspiration and encouragement.

There’s an aspect to the pottery world that is a little like hidden groundwater. Most of your life you walk right over groundwater and never note its presence. Then one day, perhaps for the first time, you notice an Artesian spring at the base of a hill. Or maybe a several day rain makes you aware of the rather high water table. Could be you drive past a farm field while it’s being irrigated. Suddenly you’re aware of that erstwhile invisible groundwater everywhere.

Potters are sorta that way. A few springs pop up here and there. An Artesian well or two – even the occasional pond of a potter --- a few obvious “bigg’ns” get some ink, get some notice.

But it’s the groundwater that keeps the whole craft going. It’s the groundwater of work-a-day potters that makes the clay world go ‘round. And maybe, just maybe there’s a slight pressure on that working potter to spring out – to make a splash in the world of clay.

I think not, though. I think most of us are so at once charmed, and then trapped in this life. We love the material and the process. Then the pursuit of it and the demands of a potter’s lifestyle ensure that we never really escape it. That is, if we ever wanted to escape it.

What other discipline but pottery allows an average Joe like me the great joy of sitting around the dinner table with Jim Ulmer, Brian Moore, Bob Reiberg, and Tom Bothe – a quintet of relative unknowns in the clay world, but with well over one hundred combined years with our hands and lives in clay – sharing a beer and laughing uproariously about the kiln disasters we’ve survived – the survival being the key that allows the laughter?

Where else but in the world of clay can I meet a heretofore stranger like Bob Briscoe at my pottery booth and have an hour-long discussion about mining creativity and recalling influences? …or be driving through the mountains of northern Georgia and call Tom Turner on my cell phone to arrange a clay tour of North Carolina? …or email Pete Pinnell and talk about firing schedules, having both arrived at similar conclusions about thirty-year-old glaze recipes? In what other discipline are the “arrived” so open to sharing what they know and where they’ve been?

It’s a world that few have the honor of glimpsing – this groundwater of potters around the world. Some only see us on the surface – above ground. And some of us potters never make it there. But we’re all still part of that force that keeps clay surfacing through times when it might seem that we’re destined to our anachronistic fate. Together we push on through history. And I take no small pleasure in being part of that force.

Knowing potters as I do, it is an honor.