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
Etsy isn't nearly as efficient a market as art fairs are.
Especially for potters, though I think that statement is pretty
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
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.
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...
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 since....since....you 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.
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.
suspect that most potters are connected by some
few-degrees-of-separation in terms of influences. And that fascinates
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
I like the idea.
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.
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
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
I had never decorated the backsides. After all, the bowl was virtually
flat -- virtually plate-like. Why would a fella decorate what isn't
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
....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?"
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.
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?
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.
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.