Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Do You Want a Story with your Pot?

I'm struck by all the interest in sharing the story of a pot with the selling of the pot. Etsy suggests to its vendors that we add stories to our shop listings of what we make and offer there for sale. A story about the making, the inspiration, ourselves. They say buyers want to know the maker somewhat. I get it; when you buy a pot, or anything else online, what contact do you have with the maker? And if you like the personal aspects of handmade things, maybe you want touch with the person who made what you choose.

 I visit potters as I travel, and usually buy something as part of a visit. Several years ago, I followed the picture of a wonderful pitcher to the maker, Fran Tristram, in Nottingham, UK. One of those pitchers sat on her crowded kitchen windowsill, a familiar piece of useful equipment. (Can't show you a picture; I bought something smaller to carry home, and she has moved onto other forms.) But the pitcher on the windowsill is a treasured memory, and the pot I bought from her makes the same kind of connection, as a souvenir for me of our meeting. So, yes, the experience adds a layer of knowing and I enjoyed the contact with the potter, but I focus mostly on the pot.

In the October 2016 issue of Ceramics Monthly, there are a couple of articles about potters who collect pottery. Matt Scheimann collects cups, and wants to know his guests' stories: what attracts them to the cups they choose to use from his collection: "the interaction between the user and the pot".

Brian Harper and Tiffany Charbonneau began collecting by trading, and so start with a connection to the other potters from whom they collect." To us, that makes the collection personal and meaningful and acts as a record of our life experience."

The story of the maker or the making is one context which the object carries. It's the usual context for art: what was the artist doing? Art objects are presented as things valued and experienced in themselves, and their scholarly context is mostly about the artist. In contrast, anthropology museums exhibit things from other cultures in their context of use, where they came from. Not so much objects on pedestals, as dioramas of life. More like Schiemann's guests' stories, where choice and use by the owner/user is the relevant context.

Here's the "art object" picture, an object alone, with minimal context (my pot).

There's a move now to display objects for sale with a decorative or imagined background, as if they are in someone's life.

Yes, I have a background in anthropology. Yes, I taught interior design students and pushed them to accept that the owners and users of the places they design want to claim those spaces, put their marks on them, own them. The design eventually belongs to the user, not the designer.

A store or fair booth is a transition between these "ownerships", where I offer my pots to become yours.

Maybe that's my unease with the story being the maker's story.  I call my Etsy shop "Pots to Live With". I want my pottery to end in someone's life, being used, being comfortable. Yes,
the context that matters to me is not the artists', nor the museum visitors', but the users'. Take them home.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Great Pottery Throwdown Rides Again !

What fun. It's a BBC program from 2015 and 2017, available now in bits and pieces as people put it up in various places on the web. Just Google The Great Pottery Throwdown. I've recently discovered several more episodes listed as series three, which they are not.

It's a competition, exactly on the model of The Great British Baking Show, for making pots. They find competent amateur potters who are also expressive and articulate, fun to follow. They require an astonishing variety of products and techniques, far wider than I've ever considered making (a handbuilt toilet?). The video is well done, so I/you can learn from watching the work. The judges are serious and demanding.

I do object to the constant time limits. Necessary for a TV show, perhaps, and part of making pottery. But almost all the pots would be better with more time for work. There's no attention to production skills (speed for a purpose, efficiency, saving materials), so why the scramble, the panic, the unfinished work? It does make the whole thing seem very artificial.

Also I find I am constantly resisting the whole idea of competition in making what might be art. Each assignment is not only judged for quality, but also rated, so someone wins. And in each episode, one potter is eliminated, as worst in the week's assignments.

But fun. And broadening, and sometimes inspiring. I've loved trying the assignment to make a cylinder and a bowl blindfolded. I find I do work on the wheel largely by feel.

Have a look.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

"You're Creative. Figure it Out."

"Reach inside of yourself for guidance. Don't ask the larger culture if it's okay. They can't answer that question. Only you can. "

That's Lisa Naples, in a short interview in the May Ceramics Monthly. I love her attitude. Here's some more, from that interview, from her website, , and from an interview with her in the podcast, The Potters Cast.

"If you need a part-time job to makes the ends meet, brilliant. If you don't, brilliant. Neither is better. Just deal with reality. Believing that things are "supposed to be" a certain way is an argument with reality." "I worked in a closet in an apartment for one year."

Absolutely. How we tie ourselves up in unnecessary knots.

She says "figure it out", but I think her working process is much more open, less figuring than attending.

"There has always been a persistent honoring of the flow of creativity; a deep knowing within that I'm facilitating that flow, that I'm in service to it. "

Yeah. People who play music know we play in service to the music. If I play Beethoven's music, I'm in service to him; how marvelous. In creative arts, we don't have a personal name for the source we follow, but it's there.

""I don't make art by entering my studio "knowing", rather with a disciplined commitment to "not knowing." "And creativity, in my experience is as tangible as gravity: always there, present, available for engagement. The gatekeeper for communion with it is stillness and then a willingness to play, process, and practice. Invite yourself to stillness as part of your studio life and wait for what arises. " And then do: "show up...a daily practice".

She says the newest pieces of a 3-month making cycle tend to sell first. She thinks they are the most live. They are made when there is enough to sell, so no pressure, when she is well warmed up in the making, and they come as something that's been incubating for awhile.

Here is a potter who has been working for 40 years, so aware of her process of work, and so articulate about it. Inspiring.

And I find what she says here articulates my next challenge. Over the past several years I have been trying to live more intuitively, following the example of several friends with powerful intuition and amazing experiences. I think I am doing so generally. But am I attending to what arises in making pots? Back to the wheel to try.

Monday, April 30, 2018

There are Still People with Empty Bowls..

And so the lovely Empty Bowls project continues. Potters make bowls, restaurants make soup, bakeries make bread, sometimes a musician  makes song, everybody donates their art. People come for lunch or dinner, donate I think $20, choose a bowl  to keep, wash it, fill it several times with soup, take some bread, enjoy themselves, and support organizations that assist homeless people.

Next time in San Diego:  lunch on May 13 at 11-1, at the La Jolla Methodist Church, 6063 La Jolla Blvd. All donations support TACO.

Here are some of my bowls for this year.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wondering About the Weight of Tradition

Relatively few potters these days work in a tradition. There are ongoing traditions, where industrialization has not yet overcome all hand production for daily use (India). There are traditions consciously revived or continued, or even reinvented, for contemporary artistic work (North Carolina, Mata Ortiz). There are grand ancient traditions, which people might refer to in their creative work (Greece, China). But most of us make our own pots, or our own art.

I've just been in Greece. It was a tourist trip, under some time constraints, and I have not had a chance to talk with potters. But their ancient pottery tradition is one of the world's great art forms, in all museums. I started looking for Greek potters and found a strong connection to the ancient tradition. There is, of course, a good market in reproductions for tourists, of ancient and ancient-inspired pots. I was wondering if the weight of that grand tradition almost forces contemporary Greek potters to work with reference to it. So grand, so known, so beautiful, so Greek.

For example, Aristotelis Zizimos, in Delphi, has made pottery in various designs, his own art. However "over the last fifteen years, the charm of ancient ceramics and the magical world created by the depictions of mythical and historical subjects...has led him to focus almost exclusively on  the recreation of ancient Greek ceramics."

Maybe there is no way to be a potter in Greece without feeling the ancient art leaning on your shoulder.

Thetis Authentics extends their reason for reproductions beyond charm. They make exact copies to undermine the market in stolen antiquities, as well as making pottery referencing the ancient work for anyone who likes it.,

It does seems possible to resist that pull or pressure. Hector Mavridis, who advertises his workshops in Ceramics Monthly, makes wild, contemporary sculpture. He is, though, an Australian, with US education.

And I saw just a little of another potter's work at the Handmade Festival in a subway station in Athens. Pictures of her work, though not her name, on the announcement of the show. Google Handmade Festival, Athens

The tradition clearly need not dominate. I wonder if it is always present to potters there.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Come to the Talmadge Art Sale!

There's a lot of very classy handmade stuff. I feel in very good company there.

The next one is April 15, 10-4, at the Liberty Station Conference Center. Google knows.

I'm coming with  brand new pots, out of the glaze firing yesterday and some still there.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

New Pots -- Such a Pleasure

Why? What makes this step in a long process so very much pleasure?

It's the last step, mostly, receiving finished pots from the glaze firing. A culmination of the process maybe, and a productive success, or failure. But very definitely, my favorite step in the process is the beginning. Shaping pots on the wheel is the point where clay becomes pot, form rises from potential, "nothing" becomes something. It's a thrill, and a pleasure in the hands.So why is the end of this process so much pleasure too?

And I am very pleased, even though all the pots from a firing load don't come out well. It helps if they do, if I can feel some pride and success. This leaf is 12 inches across and all the texture came out clear in the glaze!

Wow, those colors! It's my favorite rutile blue glaze, applied thin and in a lucky spot in the kiln.   Breakfast tea today in this cup, and I kept turning it and looking at it.

Even if a pot is trash, or a "second" for sale cheaply, or just OK, I am pleased to get it; there's something new in it, and perhaps a good idea to follow in another pot.

Boring, but the shape has possibility.

Opening a shared kiln is a community enterprise, interesting to everybody. We care about each others' pots. We admire, encourage, steal ideas. It's good to look at pots, to handle them, discuss them. A shelf of new pots in a classroom or community studio is a happy traffic jam.

And it's not really an end to any process. Some pots need further work.

The text was illegible on these cups; something ran. So I rewrote the text with underglaze (in a squeeze bottle) and refired with a bisque load. OK now.

Ouch, the big leaf has a crack. Can I salvage it? A further challenge.

 Almost all pots have some further life in keeping, gift, sale and use. And each one contains ideas, to try again and differently. There's never an end.