Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What Potters Talk About, Part II

picture added just because blog posts should have pictures!

Yesterday I posted my letter to the editor that is currently published in the February issue of Ceramics Monthly. When I submitted that letter, I was painfully aware of how long-winded it had become. "Painfully" because I had first written the entire lengthy tome out longhand on a paper bag while standing behind my counter at the Columbus, Ohio Winterfair.

And since I knew there was a fairly good chance that the letter wouldn't get published anyway -- being as long as it was -- I didn't want to further undermine the time already spent on it by submitting an even longer letter.

But I did have two other points I would like to have made concerning the issue brought up by Conner Burns article -- the notion that one should only sell "perfect" work. The two points that I left off -- two more alternative perspectives from Conner Burns' article -- are as follows:

1. The "Nafziger Phenomenon". Mark Nafziger is internationally known for his intricate slip-trailed patterns on a graded rutile-blue glaze background. Mark tells the story on himself: The first time he created that background on which his trailing visually "popped", he saw it as a flaw. It was on a bowl and as he took the bowl from the kiln, in disgust he laid it aside. Months of shop junk piled up on it until one day his wife happened into the shop. She picked up the pile of indiscriminate junk -- helping Mark straighten things up a bit -- only to find the bowl hidden beneath. She remarked how absolutely stunning it was (she was right). Mark's eyes were open, and the rest is ceramic recent history (within a year, Mark's pots graced most of the ceramic publications in the country).

In other words, when your eyes are blinded by how far you missed the mark of what you intended, you may be missing the fact that you just came up with something even better than you intended.

2. The Fear Of Breaking New Ground. If you have to wait until you have perfected a piece before it becomes viable to your studio, you are far more likely to stick to the tried and true and not experiment -- not "grow" as a potter. But if you can adopt a more realistic view of the developmental steps as more viable, you're far more likely to try something new.


  1. fresh eyes make a world of they your own or a friend's. that is one of the best things i have learned...just wait a couple of days(or months) to really look at a kilnload.

    john, i would be very interested in your ideas/experience selling pots/business plan/how you set up your week/year. i have been fulltime for 10 years and need to get more proactive and shake things up a bit. i will look through your archives..thanks for the videos as well...nice touch.

  2. Hi Heidi,

    I'll have to think about how I might approach discussing my ideas about the business/selling side of things. I could certainly talk about it from the experience of what has and has not worked for me over the years. Maybe I'll post a few thoughts next week.

  3. thanks for your consideration, john. i wish there was a publication where clay folk got down to the honest details of their business. cm does it once in awhile with a few potters but mostly, it's that they have worked 14 hours a day for 25 years to pay the bills. i would like to think that it doesn't always have to be this way.
    there was a fresh thread on clayart recently but then of course someone took the word,'professional' and ran in the cerebral direction..dissecting it to death and abandoning the intent of the original question.
    enjoy your saturday.

  4. I do hope your letter gets published as a full blown article and not a pared down version. So much food for thought... I noticed that there are no comments on Part I, but I have been referred to it twice now by different people. I think your well considered response is having an impact on how the clay community addresses this important issue. Good job!

    I will need to digest what both you and Connor have said before I can articulate a proper response, but the two points you make in this part II are both excellent. It seems that we (the artists) are never the best judge of how well our work will be liked in someone else's home, so there must be a point where we admit that our opinion only really matters to us in the long run. And Heidi's and your point that our first impression may not even be a good one makes absolute sense as well.

    This leads to your second point in that any potter who is evolving has by definition left the previous work behind as something either transcended or grown out of. By definition, old work is work that has been left behind. It is a much different story for craftspeople who continue to make the same thing without variation, one year's model being interchangeable with any other's. In a static world there might be some reason to prefer our own judgment above all others. But, if we acknowledge that we ourselves change over time, then it is not precisely the same person who views these objects (something about not being able to step in the same river twice, I believe...). The fact that I am no longer dating the same person doesn't necessarily mean I was wrong to love them that way when I did, does it? When circumstances and how we feel about them are so changeable around us, it is a marvel that potters (and perhaps other artists) choose to view their art and the personality behind it as a solid crystallized kernel of identity. Rather than embracing this variability and having some fun with it potters often disown what ever doesn't measure up to today's standards. There is nothing wrong with admitting you feel differently now, but so many artists end up taking the current version far too seriously.

  5. Just a quick follow up thought: your comparison to musicians seems to be very enlightening. Thinking about a song as work in progress allows for considerable freedom in exploration. Rather than being wedded to a narrow range of expression and glacial innovation as potters seem to be, thinking of our creativity as fundamentally 'unfinished' takes the pressure off, and avoids the requirement that our art end up expressing just this one 'style' or 'voice' or what ever. Musicians seem to have an inherent adaptability and can easily fluctuate between vastly different modes of expression. Potters, on the other hand, strain to preserve the parameters of their style as if THIS were the goal. Potters are so serious about this dogmatism that very few of us have experienced the artistic freedom and improvisation that musicians seem to find a natural facet of their creative expression. How do you feel about this comparison?