Monday, March 20, 2017

Funding Arts

So here's the current national government budget proposal, planning to remove funding for the National Endowments for the Arts and for the Humanities. Yes, yes, shock and horror. And discouragement.

I keep thinking about it. As usual, I am tangled somewhat in understanding the relationships of art and craft, and of both of those and entertainment. They have fuzzy edges.

It's no news that our country does not much value art. If it makes sense to measure our valuing by our choice to pay for it, artists come out low. Dancers rarely make much money. Potters rarely make a living. There are some exceptions: the work of stars and celebrities in any field, while their fad continues; art that makes a good investment, because it is generally recognized as marvelous ( and inherently rare); art that is popularly entertaining, like good movies. And there is the support of people who artists treasure, because they like what we make.

If I am not interested in car racing, should I have to support it? If you walk by my booth at a craft fair and are not attracted to my pots, should you have to buy them? Surely not. This is the market at work.

So why should there be national endowments for anything? It's the difference between public and private choice.  Like other government support, an endowment for the arts is meant to encourage what is not taken care of by individual or commercial interest. No one seems to think we should pay for highways just by individual user fees.  But there are people who say; I have no kids, why should I pay for schools? And there have been proposals to fund state parks by user fees.

So the question becomes: what rates public support? Clearly, things which contribute to public welfare. Public health services, for example, because germs don't care if you can pay for your own medical care. Your unvaccinated child's illness threatens all too-young-to-vaccinate children. The person who provides your food, and has the flu, can give you the flu.

Clearly, public schools, because a well educated next generation supports us all, economically, civically, and personally as we age.

The purpose of government is to think and act on a bigger scale than individual people or businesses for what is beneficial to the society, large scale and long term. So should it support art? Should there be an active national endowment? Should public schools be able to fund music classes and performing groups? Should grants support ceramics residencies for training? Where are the edges between private concerns and public ones? We need the conversation about this, not just the rants.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Working with a Learning Goal

I am taking Pamela Kozminska's pottery class at the ECC, a part of the San Diego Community College. It is presented as a beginners' class, though we may take it many times, treat it as a community studio and help each other learn past the beginner class. I was not expecting to learn much, beyond the sharing of ideas and an occasional technique. I started there to have company in making pottery, for access to cone 10 reduction firing, and for the stimulation of other people's work.

Last term the school required all students state a learning goal, and write formally how we plan to approach it, what obstacles we expect and how we may overcome them. There was, of course, a bit of eye-rolling at participating in a generic, structured format (This is art, a studio class works differently from other learning...).  At the end of the term, we reflected on our work in light of the goals and plans.

Surprise! I found it wonderful and very helpful. I had a real goal: to make pots that weigh less. It required patience largely, throwing slowly and carefully, trimming more, not being satisfied sooner than a weight light enough for my approval. Got there! No, not for every pot, but I am pleased, and making light-weight pots. I had not noticed how complacent I had become, accepting as finished less good pots than I can make. No way to show that in a photo, but here are some.

I knew how to do that, just needed to actually do it. This term I intend to make pots with clean, even bottoms, still light-weight. Do I know how? Somewhat, but I think I'll need to search out some teachers among the students for help. This is real education, to discover what one needs to learn and how to get there, and then to pursue the learning. I appreciate the push.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Floating Pots!

That's what I'm after.

Last weekend I participated in playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto. I am reminded that the most moving parts of the piece, for me, are the spots where the solo melody floats light and high, way above a simple, thin accompaniment. That barely tethered lightness is the thing.

My favorite flowers float on long stems above the leaves and shimmer in the wind. Like the local ubiquitous weed, oxalis. It's beautiful right now.

And those are the pots I want to make, with that quality. Is that a contradiction? Clay is earth, not air, and heavy. But it is also completely flexible, and can make forms that look light. I've been working on literal lightness, less weight. Getting there, though not with every pot. I'll focus on making shapes that lift and wave. I've got a few.

This has some of the right feel, but a bit chunky.

Do these cups look light? They weigh very little, so I think so, but if may be more feel than appearance. That's ok. I want both.

What makes that effect? A narrow base, which is hard on balance. Maybe just not a solid footring. A spreading form? Thin walls. Simplicity. Not too much precision or geometry. This will be pure pleasure to explore.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Street Pots

In the latest Ceramics Monthly, there are 2 articles about little mobile shops for pottery.

 One, by Andrea Denniston, describes her hand built trailer for exhibit space, meant to drive and set up easily at craft shows or anywhere. It's lovely, and evidently, very effective.

The other shows an urban version, even smaller. Frank Saliani built two "art carts" on wheels, small enough to push around city sidewalks and take on the subway. He considers them outreach tools, as much as places for sales, and sets them up on the street and in parks in New York.

What is so charming about these mini-galleries?

They are tiny, and have all the attraction of cuteness. But the work by both potters is not cute; it is elegant, and so there is more quality than that.

The displays are beautiful.

The idea of easy and obvious mobility attracts me. It suggests that any place people gather may be a place to present pottery, and that I might not need to search out organized sales. It's a kind of freedom.

My experience in selling my pots is opposite, though. Well-established sales where people come to buy seem to be most effective selling points for me. In setting up my displays, I go for a maximum of display space, worrying that the piece I have no space to show might be just the one that attracts a passing person.  And I have a lot of mess to hide under the tables at a sale: the bubble wrap and bins in which I've brought the pots, extra pots, bags, display supplies. Like living in a tiny home, selling in a tiny space requires stripped down gear and neatness. How do they do it?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Striped Pots!

I'm really liking this stripy stuff.

 Officially it's agate clay. It's so casual, and variable, and unpredictable, it needs a casual name: stripy stuff. You wedge together partly several colors of similar clay, and make pots on the wheel from it. The clays blend and spiral as clay always does on the wheel, but you can see it happening. With enough trimming, scraping, sanding of the throwing slip, the colors show up separately on the pot. I've just been using a dark and a white stoneware for this and getting blond and brunette variants. With stains to color white clays, you can have all sorts of color mixes. That's a mess to make, and, I think, can easily become garish.

I think I prefer a more even clay mix than that, but it's interesting.

It's OK with a clear glaze, but definitely wonderful unglazed.

Dark, or light.

And the stronger color contrast, the better. Do I prefer blonds?

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year

This is from Barb Johnson at Chrysalis Pottery, forwarded to me by someone else.  I really like it, and wish it to you potters for this new year. And their equivalent to all others who work with our hands.

Hands and hearts seem to me close together. I love working with my hands. So far I have not been able to include housework in the pleasures of working with my hands, but maybe I'll get there too. Hands are our original tools and it pleases me especially when they prove to be the best pottery tool for a task. I do plan pots before and as I make them, but there is always a part of the process that goes through some path other than my intention. From heart to hand, bypassing brain?

Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Do We Own Pottery?

I'm thinking of violins, and other string instruments.

 If they are not broken or burned, they last for hundreds of years. We own them legally of course, buy them for money, insure them as property. But it doesn't feel like ownership really. We live with our instruments and are responsible for them. They pass through our hands and lives and on to others'. They outlast generations of us, we hand them on through chains of players. Good instruments gain in value, as they are played, or as antiques. They have their own histories and paths through time, far longer than ours. Maybe we belong to them.

So what about pots?

 They are much more "domestic", lower valued except for museum quality pieces. But they can have the same characteristic independence by longevity.  We hand on the family china to our children if they let us. We use these pots, connecting to their history with us. And then the material lasts for thousands of years. Unbroken, pots outlast memories, use, cultures; they become art or archeological artifacts,carrying different information to later people.

What does it mean to own things with "lives" of their own?