Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Boulder To Birmingham

It's 10:30. I'm waiting on the kiln. It's at 2300 on its way to 2370. Another hour or so should do it.

It's raining outside and every twenty minutes or so I lean my guitar against the chair, duck out of the warm kitchen, walk through the rain to the kiln building to check the cones. Then I rush back to the kitchen and my tea.

Breeze is asleep on the linoleum floor. For the last hour I've been playing Boulder to Birmingham along with an Emmylou Harris recording.

Some nights waiting on the kiln are better than others.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Unconscious Competence -- The Invisible Man

I've been thinking about this quite a lot lately. I was thinking of writing a short story (an ironic endeavor, given the intended subject matter)....I'm not exactly sure how to do it...maybe it will come to me and I'll blog it.

Anyway, the idea of the story would be the progression of a successful piece evolving from a total awareness of the artist to a total unawareness of the artist.

What got me thinking about it is that there is this sort of uncomfortable stage in a creative person's life when they realize that the reason they are being complimented on their work is not because the work is successful, but rather, because the effort they are putting into the work is so evident. Everyone wants to be encouraging and praise them for it. Like parents do with their children. "Oh, that's BEAUTIFUL, honey!"

There's a stage of learning -- of incompetence -- where the effort is at least as evident as the intended goal.

People want to be encouraging to creative people. We will find something worthy of complimenting in even the most abject beginner's work. And even in this age wherein ideologies and beliefs are defined in the negative by our professional ridiculers, most people will still avoid being cruel to those who are making sincere attempts in the creative world.

But there are any number of creative endeavors in which it suddenly dawns on the creative person that they either suck because nobody compliments them on their work....or -- and this is the long-awaited punchline -- nobody compliments them on their work because they have arrived at the level of expected competence. That is, we don't compliment experts doing what experts do. We expect it.

Looked at from another angle -- It seems as though really competent creative people recede as their work advances. As the work nears perfection, the person behind the work nears invisibility. Transparency.

I know.  I just set up the scenario in which you fellow potters are suddenly set to second-guessing upon receipt of a compliment. "I just got complimented.  Does that mean I suck?"

I don't think it exactly works that way.  In fact, the point I'm trying to make is quite opposite of that.  What I'm trying (unsuccessfully) to convey is that there is a level of competence achieved wherein the absence of praise is actually a confirmation of success -- especially as your peers count you among their number.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Garage Sale Art Fair

My dad and my best friend growing up were coin collectors.  In both cases, it started when they were young paper boys, dealing day to day with small change.  They never rolled coins without first checking to see if any of the coins were collectible.

I was a paper boy too.  Collecting never really caught on with me beyond keeping the wheat pennies and buffalo nickels.   But because of my dad and my friend, I knew about some of the esoterica that surrounded collecting.  I knew some of the language: 1909 S VDB, Steel pennies, Silver certificates, Mercury dimes.

But to me perhaps the most intriguing of all that esoterica was the "1955 Double-Die Penny".  The 1955 Double-Die Penny is one of the most valuable collectible coins out there -- a "Holy Grail" for the coin finder (the mythical paper boy who finds one in his change purse), and the most expensive to trade from collector to collector.

And why?  Because the 1955 Double-Die penny was a mistake.  The machinery slipped up.  The imprint in the copper got pressed in twice, side-by-side, creating a doubling effect on all the letters and numbers.  

But, again, why does that make it the most valuable?

Because the mistake that caused its production made it rare.  It was created by accident.  That accident created an incredibly short run of those particular pennies.  And because they were created by mistake, they will never be duplicated.  The mistake was corrected.  The faulty pennies are inherently rare.

And "rare" is -- or always has been -- a principle determinant of value.

See, even when we acknowledge that enhanced value, we cannot, then, simply create more Double Die pennies so that more people could own them.  For one thing, intention was not what created them in the first place.  But, again, even if it were possible to recreate them, they then would no longer have the very value for which we went about duplicating them.

Sort of a value "Catch 22".

So the Double Die penny will always be valuable.

Hand made pottery is also inherently rare.  The output of one potter will always be inhibited by human limitation.  So, in addition to the value contained in the creative and individual ideas communicated by a given potter, value is also implied by the potter's limited output.

Brian Beam will only make so many tree jars in his lifetime.  Kristy Jo Beber will only produce so many whimsical landscape plates.  Same with Joe Pelka's sculptural pots.  Mike Taylor will create only a limited number of clay baskets in his lifetime.  And Michael Kifer's clay-as-canvas paintings will be limited in the same way.  

But you know what's even more rare than Brian's, and Kristy Jo's, and Joe's, and Mike's, and Michael's award-winning, eye-popping, show-stopping, artistry?

What is even more rare is the work they put into the kiln in their ambitious, unrelenting quest to develop that excellent work by which they are so regionally and nationally known.  The "error" part of the trial-and-error method that got them all to the top of their game -- that is what is even more rare.  And sometimes quite interesting.  And usually quite un-duplicatable.

And, if you like to collect pottery, these rarities are among the most fun as conversation pieces to own.  Those rare and one-off pieces often tell us more than words can about what it really takes to get to that level -- the pinnacle of pottery proficiency -- of a Beam, a Beeber, a Pelka, a Taylor, or a Kifer.

And like those Double-Die pennies, these potters are not going to backtrack, retrace their steps, and re-create the works along the way -- the works they learned from -- their means to an end.  They've moved on.

But they are going to sell those rarities.  I am too.

The Garage Sale Art Fair is happening this Saturday, Feb 24th.  Some of the best potters in the Midwest will be there with varying arrays and numbers of pots (my selection will be quite limited this year). 

You could go to the St Croix Valley Pottery Festival or the Old Church Pottery Festival or any number of the other fine pottery festivals that are popping up around the country, and you might find a gathering of different fine potters who may be just as good as the potters you'll see at the Garage Sale Art Fair....

....but you won't find an array of potters any better.

Come to Kalamazoo.  You won't regret it if you love pottery.

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Price Paid

High and outside is my biggest weakness.  I can hardly leave it be (I hope you can appreciate some good Hoosier breeding in that colloquialism).

It’s not that I’m faked by high and outside such that I believe that it’s in the strike zone.  I’m not that perceptive.  No, it’s really just the highness and outside-ness that I find so innately appealing.   

First, I’m tall.  High requires no laborious bending.  And outside appears to meet the most promising part of my bat. 

Oh, I’m not right about that.  But in the split second I’m allowed to make that assessment, it just seems like, between my long arms and my long bat, that’s where the fat meets the leather.  My impulse for the glory of the long ball makes it such that I don’t just swing, I really swing (if you catch my drift).

Okay, and maybe the angle of the view from the opposite side of the plate fakes me the most into believing the perception of less velocity on that outside ball.  Looking as relatively across its path as one is on an outside pitch, it seems to travel slower.  It seems more hittable
Low and inside, though?  That’s definitely not my temptation.  And, again, it’s not that my perception is good.  It’s not.  It’s not that I think it’s in OR outside the strike zone.  Actually, by the time low and inside has whizzed past my shinbones….or where my shinbones should be – and would be if I wasn’t a chicken – I’ve very likely stepped all the way out of the batter’s box to avoid getting hit.

I think that fear goes all the way back to the season before I got glasses.  I never did see the one that hit me coming.  And, apparently, I never forgot it either.
So, no, I don’t go for the low and inside.

But the count keeps climbing.  And the count doesn’t favor me.  And probability educated by experience tells me I can’t keep tipping foul balls indefinitely. 

It’s going to end. 

 It’s either going to end in glory or shame.  I’m either going to hit or whiff.  And with the choices narrowed by the count, just a bit of panic starts setting in, clouding my judgment a making the latter outcome even more probable.  Shame.  Strikeout.

And then it happens.  

Oh, yeah.  It was never only two choices.  There was that third one all along.

The pitcher paid the price.