Monday, June 19, 2017

Getting An Aerial View

Etsy only allowed me to enter a different market. It didn't earn me more money. It actually added up to the lessening of my overall annual income. It isn't even physically possible for me to make as much from Etsy and art fairs combined as it was for me to make from art fairs alone.

Etsy isn't nearly as efficient a market as art fairs are. Especially for potters, though I think that statement is pretty generally true.

The internet demands more time wearing the marketing hat. Far more time. It happens to require a skill set I seem to have naturally, but it takes time away from my production. And whether I market through Etsy OR art fairs, the single biggest determinant of my annual income is my production -- how much pottery I make.

I'm not resistant to change. I'm doing it. I'm changing. I market via the internet because I can and because I'm pretty good at it, and because my pottery is better suited to that market than most other potter's seems to be (even after a couple of years not really trying, I'm still in the top 100 Etsy sellers of pottery -- and the ones ahead of me are item-makers, not potters).

No, my point isn't about what I want to be doing or whether I'm willing to change with the times. That's why I said my point could only be contemplated in the abstract -- we can't go back. The internet isn't going to disappear. But that doesn't mean that I don't recognize that the internet brought on the current state of the art fairs. It took away every good reason to buy at art fairs -- or, at least, it took away the greatest impulses that caused art fairs to prosper so.

There isn't a thing we could have done about it to have halted it. The world is moving on and we'll all be trying to figure out new formulas. I'm working for someone else. I've contemplated offering workshops and had a few promising but false starts with that (right when I took the current job I had three national workshops ask me to present). So, timing is everything and maybe some day those kinds of offers will occur when I'm not similarly committed. I've changed the pots and am continuing to explore lower kiln temps.
My gut feeling is that when the dust settles, few artists of the kind we've grown up with (and as) will make their/our living from the internet other than as some sort of PR tool.

The music industry has been pretty decimated by the whole thing. But it's turning music back to its roots -- performing and creating. Nobody's getting rich selling recordings, but now many people are making a living (or nearly so) as performers.

I think the answers to our future haven't really been seen or defined yet. In losing the art fairs we've lost:

1. Impulse buying -- one of the strongest motivations for buying at art fairs was the inherent understanding that the purchase of this item was a now or never chance. And if they didn't buy it then, they were even MORE driven to not let the chance pass them by the NEXT year.

Now they contact via the internet. Except that they don't. They take a card and they are ABSOLUTELY DETERMINED they will contact you when they are ready to buy....but to the tune of about 99%, they don't. Out of sight out of mind.

2. Shared gravitas -- we were a stronger market as a unit than we were as individuals. As a potter in an open art fair market, every patron naive to the intricacies of pottery nevertheless was able to pass SOME judgement of the value of my work because it was set side by side with the fine photography of a Don Ament, the superlative display of jewelry put forth by a Bonnie Blandford, or the winsome and whimsical art of a Julie Kradel. The patron may not have known pottery, but if I was in with THIS crowd, then my pottery must have been of similar value. Which brings me to...

3. Gatekeepers. We hate 'em. But they were the ones who told the world that we were valuable. When we got into Fort Worth, St Louis, Cherry Creek, Artisphere, or the Garage Sale Art Fair :) ....the public knew we had been granted a pretty meaningful stamp of approval. We were safe to buy from or we wouldn't have gotten there in the first place.

We can't get ANY of that from the internet. None. In fact, we are as inclined to live and mostly die by the cynicism and skepticism inherent in social media that is more tribal than any societal mechanism know, TRIBES. Hell, we don't disagree with anyone anymore. We hate them. The internet is poisoned. And there's no going back on that one either. To try is, ironically, to embed oneself even DEEPER in tribalism.

And yet we're naive enough to the problem to actually share our political view points on the internet....totally oblivious to the fact that we've just alienated half of our potential audience. Yes, maybe your tribe will reward you for confirming their biases. Good luck with that.

I think our future as artists resides in the 3D world. I don't know what that looks like right now. Maybe it looks like a 20-year-old entering an art fair for the first time, willing to learn.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

I Think That I Shall Never See A Copy Of A Potter's Family Tree

Wonderful post by Tony Clennell. 

A few years ago I tried to figure out a way to come up with a potter's family tree. It's something I think about often. 

I realize it's impractical -- most of our pedigrees as potters are a mix of formal and informal education -- informal passing of information. And much of what -- in other potter's work -- influences our work may or may not even be their intent. Nor ours.

Nevertheless, I suspect that most potters are connected by some few-degrees-of-separation in terms of influences. And that fascinates me. 

It fascinates me when I see something familiar in the work of a potter I've never met. Sometimes I can trace the mutual influence. Sometimes it's nothing more than a common solution to a common problem -- there was simply no more logical way for the both of us to have solved the problem. Lids just fit better that way. Feet just set better that way. Handles are just more comfortable that way.

But I betcha it's often a common pottery ancestry. Often.

Years ago a friend gave me a boxed set of Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. It came with a cool fold-out poster -- a family tree of where CSN&Y came from -- Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, The Hollies -- and what had sprung from seeds they'd sown -- Poco, Manassas, Firefall, Eagles, etc. The family tree filled up the entire large poster with VERY small print. I read it by the hour.

I imagine one for pottery. When I buy a boxed set of pots from, say, Dick Lehman, it comes with a poster. I unfold the thing and see that he came from Marvin Bartel, and from him sprang Eric Strader, Mark Goertzen, Tom Unzicker, etc.

I like the idea.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

...And You Hang On Real Tight

He thought about hope. It was a sort of obsessive, recurring thought. Hope.

Like when he was very young and used to daydream about the flying trapeze. He’d only been to the circus once. But he’d seen Disney’s “Toby Tyler”. He couldn’t imagine anything more perfect than the swing, the lift, the release, the flips. Over and over.

When he was a teen he traded up for a new obsession – not about the game of basketball, but about the perfect release of the perfect jump shot. The image circled his brain like a cerebral gif. Over and over. The tips of fingers feel the seam. The flick of the wrist. The follow through. The back spin. 

Over and over.

And throughout both those life chapters, images of fingers on guitar entered his brain unbidden. They were just there. Always. Chord changes. Fingerpicking patterns. Over and over.

As he got older -- and approached old -- those unbidden thoughts circled around hope.

Thirty years before he had heard a haunting story. A woman from his small town left the local hospital having just received a terminal diagnosis. No hope. Months. Maybe. She drove from the hospital, down Arthur Street and into Center Lake. She didn’t even try to stop for the cross street. Somehow she made it across the usually busy street and the parking lot beyond. She hit the seawall and launched directly into the drop-off depth of the lake. She never even tried to open the un-openable doors. Inevitable is inevitable.

He couldn’t grasp it. His life’s hold on reality was always tempered with excessive, preposterous optimism.  Over and over.

Something would happen. Something would change. Rescue was around the bend.

But he was a born cynic and skeptic. No, really. In all other cases but the unbidden dreams, daydreams – the palpable expectations for the improbable – he was hard-edged.

Not about this.

He admired the hopeless. He admired the clear-eyed vision of the realist. He admired it, but he couldn’t be it.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Firing June 7, 2017

How often (if ever) do you find that you like the back side or the foot of a piece of pottery as much as you like the more prominent, more obviously visible parts -- the front, the top?  I know it happens to me occasionally.

I've made shallow bowls for more than thirty years now, but about twenty years ago I had an epiphany.  See, up to that point I had always finished the back sides of the bowls -- trimmed and footed them neatly and all.  I was taught well. A well finished foot matters.  

But I had never decorated the backsides.  After all, the bowl was virtually flat -- virtually plate-like.  Why would a fella decorate what isn't seen?

Then one Winter, Dar bought me one of Mark Nafziger's bowls for a Christmas present.  I admired the beautifully detailed slip-trailed face of the bowl and I was smitten.  Dar had picked me a beauty.

....and then I turned it over.

Mark decorates the back side of his bowls.  I had my answer.

"Why would a fella decorate what isn't seen?"

Because it is seen.  It's seen in the handling of it.  And there's a pleasure to be had in such a hidden detail.  It's almost like a message from the potter to the final owner.  Every time that owner flips the bowl over to look at that hidden detail, it's like the potter gets one more chance to smile and say, "Made you look, didn't I?"

I decided I liked the rightness in that.  I decided I liked the whimsy in that.

I decorate the backs of my bowls.

And now twenty years on, Mark's bowl still speaks to me.  Front AND back.

 I like this casserole as much as any I've ever made -- and I was fortunate enough to have 4 nearly identical ones in this firing (the one on the left was in the hot spot).

...ditto with my good luck on these jars.  The oribe on the acorns is iridescent.

This is the first of its kind -- different shape in the stoneware.  I'll be repeating the idea -- though I think I'll use a smaller acorn for the thumb rest.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

60 Minute Man


SP: So, Mr Bauman, there are reports that you're planning on attending the Minnesota Pottery Festival in Hutchinson, Minnesota?

JB: Scott, absolutely.  Can't wait for July.  It should be a blast.  Oh, and please call me "John".

SP: Well, John,  how is it you came to be part of that pottery festival?

JB: They begged me.

SP: Begged you?  To be part of their festival?

JB: Well, yeah.  Sort of.  They said I could send them some images of my work and if they couldn't find any other potters who they liked better, they would consider extending me an invitation..

SP: Really?  So you were invited? 

JB: Don't sound so surprised.  I mean...I'm a well-respected, well-liked potter.  

Okay, well-respected, anyway.  

Okay, I'm a potter. 

SP: So, tell me about this festival.  I assume there will be other potters?

JB: Lots of other potters.  From all over the country.  Many different styles of pottery -- low-fire, wood-fired, reduction-fired, electric fired, hand-built, wheel-thrown ... really, the whole gamut of pottery will be represented and represented well.

Additionally, they'll have what they're calling a "Clay Olympics".  It's where all these potters will have a chance to showcase the skills that got them where they are today -- which is, at the level of being asked to exhibit at the Minnesota Pottery Festival.

SP: Tell me about these "Olympics".

JB: The events will be things like tallest cylinder, widest bowl, longest pulled handle.  Things like that.  The pièce de résistance will be the blindfolded throwing challenge wherein the potters will attempt the tallest pot while throwing blindfold.

SP: So, what are your chances of winning anything at these Olympics?

JB. I've been working out.  Running 4 miles a day.  Lifting weights.  Studying the masters.  Meditating.  Drinking beer. 


SP: Well, good luck at the festival. 

JB: Thanks.