Just One Year

cleaning one’s office space during a pandemic may uncover old relics that now look entirely different than when first acquired.

Many years ago a list of questions circulated at an NCECA conference, aimed (primarily, I believe) at ceramic art student attendees. The intention was to encourage critical evaluation of one’s work. One of the questions on this list, however, exemplifies a sort of ‘art school trope’ that too often continues unexamined into a professional potter’s career.

To wit: “If you had one year left to live, how would this affect the pots you make?”

Obviously, the point is to examine why what you make is so important to you. But, considering it’s full implications, this question is largely premised on privilege and shallowness.

What you might make knowing the end is neigh could well be something without value of any kind beyond what you feel while making it. As such – the privilege part – the question implies that earthly things like paying bills, supporting families, and interests of people who buy from you are, at best, secondary.

Equally, the question ignores potential consequences – the shallowness part – of not thinking in the long term, or about anyone but yourself. Honing skills takes time. Operating entirely ‘in the moment’ suggests a near total lack of concern for the finished product or, again, needs of others.

Customers, clientele, audience, community, followers, or whatever you call those who buy your work, are necessary and co-equal partners in your or any professional artist’s enterprise. Their participation provides not only the capital needed to stay afloat, but valuable insight into how effectively you express your thoughts and skills. Without their input, you simply cannot work at this level (unless you or your spouse are independently wealthy, see the privilege part).

Tropes reinforce biases more often that they define reality; “those who can’t do it, teach it,” (said mostly by students); “if you make things to sell you’re simply a ‘commercial artist’ whereas the true ‘fine artist’ makes things for themselves,” (the literal definition of a ‘hobbyist’); “if it’s made well, you’ll find a buyer” (just about any craft fair proves there is no accounting for taste). Of course, for better or worse some tropes do hold up: “a blue glaze will probably sell well.”

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