Friday, June 12, 2020

Mutts and Glazes

Legacy chemicals. 

I inherited this box of soda ash from my friend, Dave, when he made his final move to FL. It's marked: "Sugar Creek Art Products" -- a company that hasn't been around in more than 30 years (maybe 40). 

I finally broke into the box yesterday to mix up a shino glaze. Some of the soda ash has petrified into stones that would have required mechanical breakdown (they'd need to be re-crushed) in order to be incorporated into a glaze. 

As I screened and re-screened the glaze, I ended up with rocks I had to throw out. I then re-introduced more soda ash by guessing how much I had thrown out in the rocks.
I'll probably end up with a mutt glaze.

"Mutt glaze". 

That's not a bad thing. I've noticed that some of the most remarkable dogs I've known in my life -- both by their beauty and their behavior -- have been mutts. And each time I noticed such mutts -- whether the "Tippy" I grew up with, or the "Bear" I met recently on the trails -- I couldn't help but sense the bittersweet nature of such a dog. That is: there's no duplicating it. 

The mutt is a treasure....but once gone, you can never again have it.

Oh, I get it. No dog is duplicate-able. But at least a breed will put us in the ballpark of looks and behavior. 

But a mutt is its own unique being, so often for the better.

I hope this mutt glaze I created yesterday is more than I hoped for. If it is, I'll name it "Tippy" and enjoy every pot I make with it.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

The Table




Troy is the guy who welded up my kiln frame and a half dozen ware carts. Nearly 30 years ago I had him weld me 16 corners of 3" angle iron drilled to thread bolts into. They are made to affix to 4"X4" posts as legs, and those are used to create sturdy worktables. I have two of them in the shop and I have had this one outside the shop for nearly 30 years now.

This old table has seen a few million dollars worth of pottery ground, tagged, and boxed in preparation for art fairs over the years. It stands at the back of the shop on a wide concrete apron beneath a 40 foot maple tree. It's a wonderful outdoor workspace in the summertime.

But we learned as soon as we put it up that the dogs all loved it too. When they were young they could easily leap up onto it. When Bear (our first) got older, I built him steps so he could still access it. It allowed the dogs a view into the shop through the window above it, and a vantage point to stand sentry over the back yard. It also provided a nice bit of shade to nap under with the cool concrete adding comfort.

As you can see, it's finally rotted away. Today I disassembled it (Keeping the angle iron corners and the post/legs). The table is now a pile of ashes. 

It's an odd thing to feel sentimental about, isn't it?

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Gates and Keepers




To some degree there have always been both avenues toward success/survival for all artists/craftsmen who have tried to survive by their creativity.

I remember when I met David. I was doing an art fair in Toledo and though I couldn't see them behind my booth, I could hear some really good musicians -- a hammered dulcimer and a guitarist -- who were hired by the art fair to provide ambiance.

When they stopped playing and I had no customers, I ventured around behind my booth and found the two musicians taking a break. I introduced myself and complimented the guitarist -- David. After some conversation, I asked him what he did for a living. "Music", he said.

I felt kind of silly. I mean, for 15-20 years to that point, I had been making a living as a potter in a sub-culture, niche market "Wild West" of art fairs that had developed as a work-around to the twin gatekeepers of academia and gallery.

Why it hadn't occurred to me that there were parallel means of making a living from other creative pursuits and their gatekeepers, I don't know. Probably because I worshipped the world of music and the musicians that the gatekeepers of record labels and radio had presented me. At that point in time I was only a decade or so into collecting more homemade music and meeting more and more musicians of a decidedly NOT pop kind. At that point, though, even those musicians I was learning more about were still the "product" of record labels and contracts and distribution infrastructure. It was just smaller labels like Red House, SugarHill, and others.

But David was completely independent. He played in (at that point) four different bands, had his own recording studio, and would accompany just about any musician in need at a gig or recording studio.

Now we're all Davids. We're all finding our own way. Many of our favorite musicians are those we find on youtube. The Universities told some of our favorite authors/writers that they weren't any good. Thankfully some of them were simply obligate writers who couldn't not write.

In this digital age the braver among those rejected by academia and publishing houses took a chance. Even if those educated in our Universities to have contempt for the simple and the beautiful had rejected them, perhaps they could cast their bread on the water of the internet and see if there were any souls among the 4 billion with computers and kindles and phones out there whom they might touch and be touched by. And they found us. And we found them.

There will always be gatekeepers. And there will always be a majority who will look to them to tell us who and what we are supposed to like and dislike.

And there will always be obligate artists who do what we do. The shift is that there is now a much broader path around the gatekeepers.

Sometimes the gatekeepers want a piece of some of those self-made artists, and agreeable deals can be made.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Some Handles



SOME HANDLES look like the sweater you just got back from your big sister after she borrowed it. They’re stretched out and worn-looking before you ever even put them on. You think you can smooth out the wrinkles or stretch out the bulges, but the more you work at it, the worse they look.

SOME HANDLES are a hand offered to shake, but maybe we feel that shake as a warning: The coming kiss of the rim is bound to be just as rough as the touch to that hand. 

But some other handles are the hand offered – palm up – that you take into yours with the promise that you are going to be gently walked -- hand in hand – to a very pleasant encounter with a waiting rim.

Some lugs are bugs. Some of those bugs are parasites. Ticks. And like ticks, they appear to have dropped onto the pot in a seemingly random manner with no aesthetic consideration of balance or composition. From there they parasitically and immediately suck the life from an otherwise healthy pot. 

But some lugs are symbiotic, and to those lugs the pots take a liken. They share the pot’s surface and the whole of the pairing is greater than the sum of either part. They enhance the glaze in ways the surface couldn’t have done without them in place. 

SOME HANDLES were following too closely when the pot in front of them jammed on the brakes. Sometimes the ensuing wreck is catastrophic. Other times such a fender bender can create interesting results. Without that accident we may never have known that the bumper could even fit there.
SOME HANDLES are like your favorite rich butterscotch topping….on your favorite fettucine. 

Alfredo?
Alfraidnot. 

Switching metaphors mid-stride here, I have a friend who once told on her husband, “He came downstairs wearing a plaid shirt over plaid pants. I asked him ‘Howard, why in the world are you wearing that shirt and those pants together?’ He answered that they were both his favorites.” Well, duh. 

But I see it with handles all the time. Fettuccini w/Butterscotch. We like ‘em both. Not so much together. Beautiful pot. Beautiful handle. Terrible match.

SOME HANDLES are like….
….Remember that junior high Health Ed book wherein they had a picture of two stick figure men standing side by side – a big man with a little fig leaf and a little man with a big fig leaf? So the publishers of the Health Ed book tried to make it clear (bless their hearts), much to the relief of a few 7th grade boys, that size doesn’t matter.


But it does with handles. And proportion means even more.

SOME HANDLES are invited by their pot to a seat at the table. In the case of these handles, the pots exhibit a concave to which a handle might offer a convex echo. Those pots have an empty visual space inviting a handle to fill it. And for their part, the handles observe the formality of the setting with its full complement of silverware paraded in its proper place, the linen napkin, the china plate – and those handles shape themselves into the proper dressy attire before sitting down to dinner….

….Or maybe the handle observes a casual setting and therefore adopts a more easy-going style. Either way, the handle wasn’t an afterthought. The pot was made with the handle ever in mind. The invitation was sent, the handle arrived in time and in place.

Some handles have nice pots attached to them.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Framing



 

 
Framing
1. Framing (construction), common carpentry work
2. Framing (law), providing false evidence or testimony to prove someone guilty of a crime
3. Framing (social sciences) a set of concepts and theoretical perspectives on how individuals, groups, and societies, organize, perceive, and communicate about reality.
4. Framing (visual arts), a technique used to bring the focus to the subject
5. Framing (World Wide Web), a technique using multiple panes within a web page.

I woke up early this morning. At 3:40 AM (that's "3:40 ayem-in-the-morning" if you're a Hoosier) I awoke with a start. The chilling fear that I might have left 20 porcelain mugs open to the heated air of the shop last night popped me out of bed faster than the sound of a hairball retching cat.

That's fast. Abrupt, even.

So, after making coffee I've been out in the shop (turns out I did remember to cover the mugs after all) and I've been watching a series of very inspirational potter's videos -- all stirred up on a perpetual youtube playlist by initially following Cary Hulin's link to a Svend Bayer video.

Because I was watching the videos one right after the other I began to notice the framing:

Contemporary MTV-style cropped imagery that made even a plastic tub of water seem somehow as pastoral as a Millet painting.

Eerie, emotion-stirring instrumental musical accompaniment to the video imagery.

Disembodied narrative, well-rehearsed. Phrases from the canon of sayings that potters have rehearsed, repeated, and handed down from potter to potter in our family since the time I first ever touched spinning clay.

... Phrases so well-used that -- like the old joke about the comedian's convention -- we could simply attach numbers to in order to save time in the re-telling.

But I wouldn't want to save that time. I want to hear the stories. The phrases. I like to hear them told over and over and over. They are like hymns.

"Today we will be reading from Leach. Turn if you will to page 77. 'It seems reasonable to expect that beauty......"

I know the hymns. I know the stories. I still love to hear them anyway. They inspire me.

And a few contemporary creative souls are adding to that hymnbook: Dick Lehman, Tony Clennell, Tom Coleman, to name a few. Souls generous enough to take the time to explain what they're thinking as they're doing it so that I might approach what I am doing in a more inspired way.

Well, in typical fashion, I couldn't wait to interrupt myself with that rabbit trail. But back to the subject:

Framing.

The videos reminded me that the framing isn't the work. (see definitions 3 and 4 above)

I remember the first time I took a pot out of the frame of its presentation and brought it home -- only to discover that I had been seduced by the frame and not the pot.

For the longest time I wondered -- beyond timing and marketing concerns -- why I didn't like to enter my pots into exhibitions with other potters. It's because in doing so I lost control of the framing. I don't like to lose that control.

Upon that self-discovery, I began to realize that it belied a lack of confidence in the work alone. If forfeiting the power of framing bothered me so much, it was a tacit admission that I thought the work inherently weak.

I don't know where that introspection has left me, but I'm forever conscious of trying (even if mostly failing) to make pots strong enough that they need neither the additional support of framing, nor the excuse of explanation.

Maybe.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Someone Wrote Me A Kind Letter



Thank you so much for your order, but especially for your note. At this particular time, you have no idea how much your words mean to me. 

We potters have formed quite a community over the years. Our interdependence was only made easier as I find so many of our number to be such engaging, friendly, and interesting people.

On some level I think we potters are at least vaguely aware of the anachronistic nature of our craft/art . It's a dangerous game we play to have our livelihoods tied to the production of something that folks don't actually need to buy in order to survive.

Except that they do. They do need what we make. They do need beauty.
And we hold steadfastly (if foolishly) to the conviction that the human condition requires creative input that transcends the merely functional, the merely utilitarian.

We haven't been proven wrong yet, though with each wave of change, each demographic shift, each cultural transition that brings a different vision to the fore and marginalizes another in its wake, we have our fears.

Mostly, we know that come what may, we need to be creative. We need to make objects. In that human game of juggling our need for significance and our need for security -- ever striving to keep both aloft, we always drop a ball or two.

But we pick them back up again. It's who we seem to be.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Vocation

 


The LORD is my shepherd; I am a collie

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. When he says “Down, Laddie. Down” I obey. Sometimes mid-run. Sometimes more willingly than other times because moving the flock is my passion. Herding is what I was born to do. 

So, I don’t need coaxing to herd. I only need direction. And that comes in a faint, distant whistle. You didn’t hear it? I’m not surprised. Even I can’t see its source. Even I can barely hear it.

But herding restores my soul. It is my right path. On this the shepherd and I agree.
Today we moved the flock by still waters. 

But tomorrow might be that place in the valley where the rocky terrain tends to split the flock. Keeping the flock together tomorrow might require far more of me. I might not be able to do it on my own. Sometimes I suspect that the shepherd comes in with his staff and works the side of the flock that I can’t reach.

It just occurred to me that for some reason you imagined that I, a collie, was herding other dogs. I’m not sure where you got that idea. I’m not. I herd sheep. Some dogs pull carts and sleds. Some guard the home. Still others hunt. I don’t manage other dogs. I’m not the shepherd.

The shepherd prepares a meal for me – the food I need and lots of water.

At the end of the long day he brushes out my coat. I don’t need burrs or ticks following me inside, ‘cause I dwell in the house of the shepherd.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Crafting a View Toward Art -- Part III



....and so I want to encourage young and beginning potters that the prompting to scribble outside the lines is the "after" picture. And I'm not thus encouraging them because I want them to pursue the craft. I'm doing it because it is my sense that that is what they want to pursue.


 It's my sense that most people are asking how they might acquire the tools with which to be creative.

 And I suspect that is at least in part true because they have the will to create -- they want to write, they want to paint, they want to play music -- but don't know how to get a foot in those doors. All of the skills are still a mystery. They feel a sense that they want to put something out there into the world, but they don't know how.

And I'm not talking about the romantics who wish they were a writer, wish they were a painter, wish they were a musician. I'm talking about the folks who want to do it. I suspect that for them the suggestion to simply scribble outside the lines is more of a deterrent than it is an encouragement.

To some extent perhaps the only clarification necessary is the clarification of goals. What does a person really want as the end result of the endeavor.

It was my experience as a wannabe athlete for most of my youth that if you took (for instance) two 12 year old boys who had never held a racquet and set them to a game of tennis -- the one with a basic course in the proper way to hold the racquet, a proper forehand and a backhand, a proper serve, and the strict instruction that this is how tennis is "done" -- and the other you simply told "use this racquet to hit the ball over the net and between the lines and don't ever let a ball bounce twice on your side...

...basic athletic ability being equal, the second boy would win the match. That is, the goal is often more important than the skill to get there. On the other hand, once the first boy's skills start to improve, he will eventually overtake the second boy. There is an objective reason why the proper means of doing something develop over time.

...oh, you can't have one
You can't have one
You can't have one
Without the other

I think that why there's yet another phenomenon in the creativity/skill conundrum:

When older people decide to take up a creative endeavor they fight an uphill battle against diminishing physical capability and the time required to learn a skill when compared to youthful counterparts. On the other hand, they often have a more refined sense of goal. They have more educated tastes, and they aren't quite as fooled by mindless meanderings.

Crafting a View Toward Art -- Part II

That's one of the interesting things about this. It's like my attempt at a very short story:

It was a quiet day around the universe. Gabriel was between major announcing gigs. As such, he was kicking around the firmament doing a whole lot of nothing.

He made his way over to a cloud bank on the far side of the horizon where his long-time friend, Michael, was supervising the launching of new souls to be born on earth.

“Hey, Gabe” Michael said as he watched his friend climb a small cirrus stile and make his way over to him and the soul launching pad.

“Mike. ‘Sup?” (When Gabriel isn’t making announcements he almost never speaks in King James English. And he never uses his Transatlantic accent. Even his diction isn’t much to write scripture about).

“Not much.” Replied Michael. “I’ve just been sending some of these new souls down to Earth.

They stood together in comfortable silence. Gabriel watched. Michael worked -- his hands on the lever of the soul-launcher.

After a while, Gabriel asked, “What’s with the *and* or *or* light?”

See, as Gabriel watched, he noticed that each soul launch involved Michael pulling a lever. As he did, a small lighted *and* would appear over the launching chute as the soul disappeared downward. However, with the next pull of the lever and the next soul starting its descent, the light would come on and read *or*. As Gabriel continued to watch, he noticed that there appeared to be no pattern to the *and* or the *or*. It’s just that sometimes it was one, and sometimes it was the other.

“The *and* or *or* light?" said Michael.

“Yeah, what’s up with the *and* or *or* light. What’s it mean?”

“Oh, that” Michael replied. “Well, that’s an indicator light. The souls that go down under the *and* light will be born with the physical and intellectual capacity to accomplish both *this* and *that* on Earth.”

“And the *or* light?”

“Yeah, well those souls will have to decide between *this* or *that* because they won’t be capable of both.”

Gabriel quietly watched a while longer as Michael launched a random few more *and*s and a few more *or*s. Finally he asked, “So, how will the souls know whether they are an *and* or an *or* once they’re living on the Earth?”

“They won’t.” answered Michael.

It's not symmetrical. Propose that there is such thing as "gifted" and you won't be wrong. But you will almost certainly put a damper on people's willingness to try. You'll almost certainly squelch the creative impulse. Why should they try? They're probably not gifted. They don't feel gifted. They've never yet shown signs of being gifted. Again, so why try?

But propose that there are approaches one can take to maximize the possibility being successfully creative and folks might be more encouraged to take it as far as we can. After all, the mystery of it all is that nobody knows how far they can take it until they try.

And evidence of "gifted" isn't equally present across all endeavors. It's pretty clear that if an endeavor requires height or speed or good looks -- Dudley Moore auditioning for the role of Tarzan notwithstanding -- most of us show the good sense not to even attempt. But most endeavors -- particularly in the creative arts -- aren't quite so evidently limiting. When pursuing the arts there are too many variables for the lack of giftedness to be evident.





So it's probably worthwhile to encourage people to pursue those endeavors with proven strategies that will likely be most fruitful. Sure, most of us will find our limitations. Some more quickly than others.

But better to be sent down the best path from the start rather than: 1) Start down the wrong path that just about guarantees failure or 2) Assume the concept of "gifted" is so black and white that if I show no evidence of it, I might as well not try. There isn't always evidence of giftedness. And there certainly won't be evidence of it if we never try.

Practice is the artist's act of faith.

But faith is not an epistemological strategy. Faith is the end result at the conclusion of our epistemological strategies.

We don't believe by faith. We believe what we are capable of believing and then by faith we pursue what that belief leads to.

Learning skills with which to be creative is probably a pretty good thing to put faith in.

Crafting a View of Art -- Part I

"Instead of pushing creative teams to think outside the box, consider what’s best for the user and what constraints they face, and create a new playground where they feel comfortable to explore." -- from a study showing that children act with far greater freedom on playgrounds where there are fences surrounding them, and conversely cluster around their teacher when there are no fences.

uxdesign.cc/fenced-in-playgrounds-d5f9371f8414

I guess it comes down to (but maybe isn't limited to?) "What is art?"

I grew up in a culture that evaluated a distinction between art and craft in which art was deemed something akin to "divine", while craft was merely mortal. Pedestrian. Sometimes even twee.

And so I grew up thinking I wanted to be an artist. Until I didn't.

Somewhere along the line I changed the way I approached the distinction and realized that all I wanted to do was create objects that pleased me and at the same time pleased my community as well.

That's craft.

Add an objective degree of quality to that distinction and if I could achieve that, I maybe could call myself a "craftsman".

If I could successfully do that -- please me and please others by my creative hand -- maybe I could perpetuate and amplify my ability to keep doing so by also making a living doing it.

The more I was able to make, the more likely came the pleasing results.

And, ironically, the more I pursued that excellence in craft, the more often my culture described the result of my efforts as "art".

Conversely, when I was studying with a mind to becoming an artist, I found myself in the midst of an academic and cultural milieu that conflated "freedom" with "creativity".

In that setting there had arisen a couple of decades worth of a new doctrine that had permeated the academic world that went something like this: "Teaching the mechanics of how to create -- the discipline of structured learning of techniques, materials, history -- will inhibit creativity, effectively hemming them into the status quo. And the status quo is, by definition, not "Art"."

But I wanted to know how to paint. I wanted to understand soloing over a chord progression. I wanted master clay. I wanted to know how others who had come before got the vocabulary in materials to create the works that at that point seemed transcendent, that spoke to my heart, that thrilled me.

The academic world was telling me that such instruction would inhibit my creativity....and without creativity there is no Art.

Small wonder I found refuge in craft. From that point I followed my intuition that a string cannot be pushed. It can only be pulled.

A bit of confirmation -- not that my budding acceptance of who I was and what I wanted to pursue was right -- but that it was right enough for my ability to understand the world....

...I became aware of my estranged nephew's painting.

I was vaguely aware that my brother's son, Stephen, had gone off to Italy to study painting. Up to that point I had never seen any of Stephen's artwork.


www.theepochtimes.com/painter-spotlight-stephen-bauman-the-continuous-search-for-art_1117846.html

But the first time I saw one of Stephen's paintings I was quite physically startled. It was, to my eye, masterful. My mind went immediately to:

1. Artists are born and not made. Stephen had to be gifted, right? That's what our culture sorta believes, right? I mean, when someone demonstrates an undeniable skill at something, it must be because they have something born into them -- or some inspiration from a transcendent source -- in order to create something so inexplicably "other", right?

2. Therefore, art is the domain of artists. But everyone wants to be an artist because our culture has romanticized the appellation "Artist" to such a degree -- who wouldn't want to be thus honored? And so, it seems, the simplest way to allow everyone who wants to be an artist fulfill that dream is to re-define art....or at least, change the focus of the definition to that very (and ironically narrow) corridor of "creative" -- but creative without an end and creative without a standard.

My introduction to Stephen's painting was causing me a pause in my philosophical journey. It was causing me to look again at my perceptions of what was art, what was craft. Were there meaningful distinctions?

Was he gifted? Was art not available to just anyone?

....and then I started looking into it just a bit deeper. I went to the website of the Italian academy at which Stephen was studying.

www.florenceacademyofart.com/

It seems that there were hundreds (if not thousands over time) of painters equally gifted as Stephen. Hmmmm. I saw the illusion of Stephen's "giftedness" and THEN I got a glimpse behind the curtain. Stephen's fellow students were doing work much like Stephen's. His fellow students appeared to be equally "gifted". Hundreds of them. So, maybe Stephen LEARNED to paint?

Yes.

And from there he was able to create. Once armed with a set of skills, Stephen was able to create in a manner that transcended the how-it-was-done. He was thus now capable of disappearing into the work and out of sight such that when one viewed his work, the "how did he DO that?" became secondary to the emotional response he made himself capable of evoking.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Lobby for a Hobby




My brother remains persistent with his questions. Must be love. 

Every time I openly wonder out loud about navigating the maze that is making a living via pottery, no matter how I frame it, the response comes from the assumption that I am needing more places to sell my work. "Have you tried galleries? ...have you tried Etsy? ...have you tried open houses? ....have you tried....?"

The latest: My brother just asked if I might approach Hobby Lobby about putting a stand of my pottery in their store.

I think what it comes down to is the problem I've always had and always will have: The reality is that I probably don't need multiple markets. Multiple means of marketing are so confounding. They defeat each other, and ultimately, they defeat the one thing that means the most to my annual income: How many pots can I make in a year (and guessing the right ones to make)?

This has always been hard to wrap my mind around. Being a potter doesn't work like most businesses wherein if you need more product to sell, you simply order more. In my case, if I need more inventory, I have to make it. And whichever means by which I chose to market cannot monopolize too much of my production time.

And the other side of that equation isn't easy either. That is, if I'm perpetually out of inventory, I can't simply raise my prices (as the corporate businessman would surmise). The market is too small and the alternative too multiple and it always will be. I'm amazed sometimes that I get the prices I get for my pieces. I started as a twenty-year-old no-name with $6 mugs. I sell mugs for $42 now. But it's not like I can simply raise my prices. The market won't bear it. 

Besides, even that is a trap that's hard to navigate. That is: The price of a piece isn't what I can sell it for. The price of a piece is what I can regularly sell it for. So, sure, I can sell one pitcher for, say. $130. Knowing my market as I do, I'd say that wouldn't be that hard to do…

…But the problem is that I most likely can't ALWAYS sell pitchers for $130. The art fair market is uneven – spread as it is over a crazy quilt of demographics, geography, and quality variables. There are “A” shows and there are “C” shows. And those shows are spread out over an uneven landscape of regional expectations ($130 isn’t even beer money in NY, but it’s a week’s groceries in AL). And if you’re not guaranteed a season of “A” shows, your pricing has to reflect your dependence upon “B” shows.

So, if I want to look at, say, a pitcher as a viable "product", I have to figure out how much of my annual income I can make from pitchers (perhaps $3,000 a year?) and calculate whether or not I'm still meeting that annual goal at the current price. I have to find a price at which a pitcher will always sell in any market, and that price has to pay me what I need from it -- annually.

And if I can't make enough from the pitcher (maybe I conclude that it requires too much labor for the price I can charge) then I have to be calculating enough to decide not to make it.

All the while I have to understand that all these lines are quite blurred by the fact that the pottery itself doesn't stay constant. I have good firings and bad and everything in between. And in some markets I'm John Bauman -- known, published potter....and in other (most) markets I'm just one other potter offering pitchers on the street with 25 other potters doing exactly the same thing.

Finally, add to that the fact that it is part of my genetic coding to be more driven by significance than I am by security. That is, it’s hard for me to be calculating about what I should and shouldn’t be making. Honestly? ….if I like to make pitchers (and I do), I am likely going to continue to make them to satisfy my soul. Economics be damned. And, yes, that means I’ll have to work harder somewhere else to pay myself for my pitcher time. It’s not science. But it is survival.

In short: I keep forgetting until reality smacks me in the face that there's really only one thing that matters to my bottom line: How many pots can I make in a year? I am RARELY in need of more market -- more ways to sell my pots. I am USUALLY trying to catch up with my inventory.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Never the Twain Shall Meet

And still the conversation with my brother continued (see previous two posts):

Said another way: "I wish I were an artist/writer/musician" is just that -- a wish. It's not a hope. It has no basis in reality. It completely misses the point that if you were an artist/writer/musician, you would already be writing, p
ainting, or playing music.

Most of us Americans get tangled up in the misunderstanding that writer/artist/musician means you get paid for it. The reality is that quite possibly most writers/artists/musician either don't get paid for their work, or they don't get paid enough to make a livelihood from them.

Now, to the American mind, that can only be understood one way: If you are a "professional" you are good. if you are an "amateur" you are not good.

But without even trying I could name 20 guitar players who are better musicians than almost any guitar playing star you might want to name. And I know artists who never even show their work, though it is stellar. And writers? omg. There are so many people out in this world right now who can express themselves in written word but couldn't sell the first page.

Nobody wishes themselves into "being" a writer. They write. Some can sell that writing. Some can't.

Nobody wishes themselves into "being" an artist. They simply create. Some can sell what they create. Some cannot.


Nobody wishes themselves into "being" a musician. They make music. Some can sell their music. Some never give a concert to anyone but their cat.....and even that, not too often. It's hard to get a cat to stay in the bathroom with you.

Brotherly Conversation Continued (from previous post)


  The conversation with my brother continued:

I have a friend -- a literary critic and writer -- who has a term for the "significance" thing. He refers to the impetus behind being a real writer, artist, musician...whatever the creative pursuit....as being "obligate". I
t's something you can't not do.

I have people approach me all the time expressing their wish to be an artist. It's a weird longing. It's a weird inquiry. In a sense, you either are or you aren't. You're either already doing creative pursuits or you aren't an artist.

I didn't start making pottery because I thought it would sell. I started making pottery because it was such a rewarding creative endeavor by which I could express myself.

It was in the creating -- the making -- that it became obvious that people might also be interested in what I was making. The dog wagging the tail is to be making and discover there is a market. The tail wagging the dog is looking at the market when you don't have anything new to offer it.

I still pursue other creative outlets. I'm obligate. I need to play music. I need to write. There is no market for either. I get it that most male Americans will never understand that.

My songwriter friends have almost universally experienced this. They'll be playing a gig and someone will approach them after they've sung one of their originals. And the question asked is always something like "Is that a real song, or did you just make that up?"



It's a real divide. I get it that folks like me who can't not play music or write poems are a rarity. Most of America thinks (without thinking) that art as a career is some straight line career choice. It's usually not. It usually isn't pursued as a career. It is pursued because the pursuit itself lends meaning and significance to life.

On some level I get it. Most of us are culturally bound to the idea that the only thing worth pursuing is something to which we can affix a dollar compensation for. And so we say "I wish I could make a living by doing something cool that would make other people admire me" ....and one of those things we dream that people admire is the creative arts. That was certainly true for me.

But the "Catch 22" of the whole thing is that if you aren't already pursuing the arts because you have to, then you have almost no chance that you are going to successfully experience them for a living.

The market for commercially viable trinkets'n'things is positively glutted with foreign import crapola that can be bought for next to nothing.

No smart craftsman is even going to attempt to compete in that market that is already suitably served by the mass-produced.. If that's what a fella's bent was in the first place, they'd have likely pursued manufacturing or engineering.

City of Brotherly...Questions


My brothers mostly don't get me. They all followed more "professional" paths (one's a pilot, one's a periodontist, one's an accountant). My world seems strange to them.

Upon seeing me sharing my potter-friend's images on facebook, one brother asked me:

"I wonder after seeing some other peoples' pottery on your website .. to what extent do you have to "stay in your lane" in your designs?"

His question already betrays a businessman's "product" perspective of the pottery. Commodity. Objects for sale in a competitive market. That's the world as he sees it.

I answered:

.... On the one hand, there's lots of sharing. Something you learn pretty early on in pottery is that you make yourself an island at your own risk. Clay is taken right out of the ground and, as such, one acre of clay isn't the same as the previous acre. There are always materials problems to solve. Heck, I've lost the better part of a year's production when feldspar started being pulled out of a different section of the mine.

So, there's a great attitude of sharing among potters. If you don't share information when others are struggling and trying to solve clay problems, you're going to be on your own when you suffer your own clay problems.

With some potters there's a clearly shared influence -- like "schools" -- so that some potters' work can look similar to others'.

Additionally, glaze recipes are handed down in a very folk-traditional way. So, many of us use the same glazes. Of course, our idiosyncratic kilns make it so that the same glaze isn't always recognizable as the same.

But at it's core, most potters I know are part business man and part artist. I heard someone describe mankind as having two basic drives: Security and significance.

I think that what drives the potters I know is the significance thing. And because of that, outright copying at the level of shows I do is pretty minimal. There's not much personal significance to be derived from outright imitation.

Like the moon's light we'll shine
Many a time
But like the sun's?
Maybe once.


There are a few obvious exceptions, but most of us got where we are by being recognized as unique. That also means that nobody is going to climb the ladder to the top using the same rungs we used to get here. It wouldn't work.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Letter From Doug

Hi John,

I remember you once used the metaphor that your life so often seems like one of those tile puzzles that moms give their kids to keep them quiet and awake in church.

I get it now. Really, I do. I've been years now trying to pick a tile to start with, assuming that perhaps there is one right beginning move that will spare me the regret and consequences of wrong moves. I'm now guessing that's not the case.

Life doesn't really seem to allow ample time to sort the puzzle tiles into proper sequence at my convenience. The clock is running. And the tiles are coming flying at me more like a game of tetris.
But (I think, anyway) sometimes a fella just has to start moving the tiles around until some sort of order starts to appear. Then it's work from there in hopes that you don't come to what seems like the end, only to realize there are two tiles that need to be reversed --- but that reversal can only happen by disrupting at least two finished rows.

...and you're not sitting in church...
...and the tiles are, you know, something of great consequence.

I think I finally figured out that I only have one first move: I have to sell the house and shop. Until that happens, I don't know what I have left to work with. I can make contingency plans out the wazoo, but the reality is that those plans are always based on moving targets themselves...

(I could buy this other small house if it's still on the market and I have enough from the sale of my house to complete the sale AND rebuild the kiln and shop....

....Or I could move into a mobile home if I have nothing left but Social Security and a grocery store shelf stocking job available to make ends meet).

White Christmas opens with that treacly song "What Do You Do With A General (When He Stops Being A General)?" I'm facing a reality that the romantic in me had never really supposed would happen, though I should have been adult enough all along to have allowed my inner William James to beat back my inner Walt Disney, and drag me back to the real world.

What do you do with a potter when he stops being a potter?

I always thought that someone as accomplished in his field as I have had the good fortune to become would be able to trade somewhat on his notoriety as the prospects of survival on sheer, brute productivity naturally waned with youth. I was wrong.

Reputation, skill, and experience don't count for anything if they aren't reputation, skill, and experience in a field that matters.

The clay world has been a wonderful, rewarding world in which to make a living. It is, however, largely anachronistic at its core, demanding in its production, and has a value that is ultimately tied to notions of both function and its inherently humble raw materials.

Maggie and I will figure it out because that's what people do. People figure things out. The instinct to survive is strong right up until it isn't.

I don't know if it's my inner Walt Disney or a modicum of grace from the graceless James, but I will not be selling my pottery equipment, no matter where I end up. It may end up in storage, but I will hold onto it so that I might allow myself the conceit that I am still a potter ( even if I am on a sabbatical of indeterminate length). I think that's called "hope" (I've always had trouble distinguishing "hopes" from "wishes". Perhaps that's how I ended up where I am today).

Thanks for the mix CD you sent. The music is great. For forty years we've shared those two constants -- music and pots.

Give my best to Dar, Breeze, and Crush,

Doug