Tuesday, November 14, 2017

" Fine Craftmanship is Attention to Every Detail."

I'm not sure who I am quoting, but it sticks in my head. To me it means pay more attention, take it slow enough to finish every step and detail. That's difficult. It's a version of the general difficult and very good goal: do less better.

Last weekend seemed focused entirely on this message.  I went to a concert by Richard Goode (marvelous pianist). I'm sure he attended to every note as he prepared the music he played; certainly he seemed always to know where the music should go and how to express what he heard in it.

I also went to the San Diego Potters' Guild show. Such a range of work in the same medium, all of it functional pottery. I saw everything from marvels to pots I don't even want to look at. Even if they are beautifully well made, and though I very much care about pottery, some of it is just far from my taste. I find taste fascinatingly variable. I'm sure it is something separate from quality.

For lessons in fine craftsmanship, I always look at Ellen Fager's and Merle Lambeth's work at these shows.  Have a look at the members section of sandiegopottersguild.org.

While you are at it, may I show you my new favorite potters there? Evan Lopez and Michael Ridge. And my perennial favorite, Roberta Klein. That's my taste. You, looking through the same set of web pages, might be attracted to entirely different work.

Maybe fine craftsmanship is necessary but not sufficient to make something attractive. Or maybe it is not even necessary. I have been working towards making light-weight pots, and I am pleased that I am mostly there.  But some of the pots I picked up at this show were really heavy. Is that a flaw? A matter of taste?

Monday, October 30, 2017

From Lindbergh-Schweitzer to Talmadge

Where are these places? And can you tell I think of them as opposites?

I'll be at craft shows the third weekend in November. You could too.

Saturday, November 18,  Lindbergh-Schweitzer Elementary School Craft Show, 9-3. This is a busy, friendly, homey sale of handmade everything, relatively inexpensive. Near the 805 and Balboa in San Diego.

Sunday, November 19, Talmadge Art show, 10-4. This show is full of very classy, often expensive usable art. Lots of gorgeous handmade women's clothing. Liberty Station Conference Center, 2600 Laning, San Diego. Yes, let Google help you find it.

I tend to bring different pots to these two events. Without a real intention to do so, I make pottery that covers this range of quality and style. I'm just starting to wonder why. Part of the answer, I think, is that I am not yet set as a potter,don't have a standard collection of things I make repeatedly. Still exploring. Always, I hope,exploring.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

What Grabs You?

I am much inspired by an article by Dubhe Carreno in the October Ceramics Monthly. (That's Carreno with a tilde, but I don't know how to find that here.)

What grabbed me first were photos of her pots, quiet, simple, loose, graceful, lovely.

She began aiming to be a dancer, then a potter, then became a gallery employee and then owner, then a studio potter and a teacher. So many changes, each leading ahead. The article is about her professional passages, each step loved. It's wonderfully open and brave and hopeful. She says "Change is the core of growth" and does it.

As a teen she worked to be a ballet dancer; deciding she was not going to make it as  major pro, she switched to clay. She had discovered it at a friend's studio, "a magical place." They still connect: "ballet is the discipline that formed my character and sensibility as an artist. Your dance cannot  be made to look better than it is, your hard work and true presence is there in front of the audience, no time for edits or after-the-fact fixes. This ingrained knowledge was naturally brought in when I started working with clay. I understood the need to dedicate time to build muscle memory by working long hours to tackle this new medium..."

Studying art, she worked at a gallery, kept that up after school and eventually opened her own gallery. "I lived in the gallery and absolutely loved it."

With the prospect of motherhood, she closed the gallery and started, part-time, to make pots. She took time to revive her working skills, and now loves this stage: "I love the utilitarian nature of my work and strongly believe in being surrounded by beautiful handmade objects that enhance your everyday experience."

"It has been really important to consider major life and career changes as chapters of a rich life. I questioned myself, whenever a change was upon me, am I quitting? But life has showed me that recognizing that you need to change and move organically to the next adventure is a gift. You carry with you all lessons learned. I am so grateful I danced so I can understand how to know clay better, and I needed to know clay better, in order to become an art dealer, and I needed to know how to cultivate a business running my own gallery to discover my own practice, I needed to develop my own practice to become a better teacher."

Perhaps life and changes look so connected, like such a blooming, in retrospect, rather than in the exploring. Perhaps not. I am impressed, both with  her current work, and with her way of living.

See more:


Monday, October 2, 2017

Photos: What Do You See?

I always take photos to keep a record of the pots I make. They are not particularly good pictures, nor interesting, but they remind me adequately. Like this.

Recently Alan Greenberg, a real photographer, took pictures in his garden of my pots. His purpose is to have more photos available for Talmadge Art Show publicity. He offers me the photos. too. What's my purpose beyond the record-keeping? And what do you see differently in his photos?

Look at these.

Do you see the pots or the background of garden? Does it matter? I think these are much more interesting photos.

The best ones are art pieces in themselves, not for the pots more than the garden, just the composition of interesting forms and related colors.  I really like this one, everything round.

 That's one additional purpose: a fine photo. I like having my pots used this way.

What about the publicity? I hope some of these pictures will be used by the Talmadge Art Show. I also use photos in my Etsy shop, to show the pieces for sale from several angles.

  That is certainly second best, for pottery, compared to handling the pot before you decide to buy it. These photos make a three- dimensional object into something two-dimensional, and a thing held in hands into an image for the eye. Not at all what you are getting.

(Have you heard the story about Picasso accosted by someone on a train, who complained about his unrealistic paintings? The complainer showed Picasso a photo of his wife, and said, "this is realistic". Picasso politely peered at the photo, and said, finally, "she sure is small.")

 Etsy suggests we show our pieces in use, to make this form of presentation more realistic. Kitchen and dining pots in the garden are not more realistic. But interesting, eye-catching. Maybe even odd and attractive.

For Etsy I do try to make better photos. Other than a few of pots sitting on a table, all have a plain  background, to focus on the pot. Compared to these photos in the garden, I find that focus does not make them interesting. And there are thousands of pots for sale on Etsy. Interesting and unusual photos may help.

Perhaps less background, to highlight the pot?

Not that one but the next one?

What do you see, the pot or the garden or the photo?

I think I've learned how to make my pots stand out on Etsy. Thanks, Alan.

Friday, September 22, 2017

A Fit of Teapots

After several years, I am making teapots again, with pleasure. It's a very rewarding form, complicated enough to be challenging, variable enough to suggest always more possibilities. Oh, dear, there's a limited market for them. What shall I do with them all, if I keep following the options as long as they are interesting?

My taste is clearly for smooth, simple graceful form. Sometimes I succeed, more or less. For other people, teapots, more than other shapes, seem to invite us to go wildly creative.

We see references to other things in their shape or parts. They encourage art.


The above pictures from a book are in The Ceramic Surface by Matthias Ostermann.

Commercial pots, too, express hints or forms of other things.

That's so friendly and homey, though few of us have ducks on our counters. It's the resting shape of a duck that is also a teapot, and makes the feeling. Thanks Becca.

Look at this spectacular teapot by Ellen Fager.

It's the real fish, and, if you dare, a functional pot for tea. Thanks, Ellen.

Of course people make art in other standard pottery forms  --  cups, bowls, plates. But there is something special about teapots. Perhaps because they have so many parts, they ask for manipulation and variation, for changes of proportion, and so refer so effectively to the rest of the world.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Art and/or/versus Craft, Take Who-Knows-How-Many

This is one of my on-going issues. Where does functional, handmade pottery fit into the world these days? Do potters have to be artists? Do I?

Octavio Paz offers the clearest, most sensible distinction that I've seen yet, and adds industry as a third relevant category. He wrote an introductory article for the First World Crafts Exhibition in 1974, which I've read in In Praise of Hands, a 1974 book about the exhibition. So, not news, but new to me.

The rest of this post quotes his article, "Use and Contemplation".

"A vessel of baked clay: do not put it in a glass case alongside rare precious objects. It would look quite out of place. Its beauty is related to the liquid that it contains and to the thirst that it quenches. Its beauty is corporal: I see it, I touch it, I smell it, I hear it. If it is empty, it must be filled; if it is full , it must be emptied. I take it by the shaped handle as I would take a woman by the arm, I lift it up, I tip it over a pitcher into which I pour milk or pulque  --  lunar liquids that open and close the doors of dawn and dark, waking and sleeping. Not an object to contemplate: an object to use. ...Handcrafts belong to a world antedating the separation of the useful and the beautiful." (In Praise of Hands, page 17)

"It is not simply its usefulness that makes the handcrafted object so captivating. It lives in intimate connivance with our senses and that is why it is so difficult to part company with it. It is like throwing an old friend out into the street." (page 19)

So art is to contemplate, and has no other use these days (well, a commercial one). Craft is to use and enjoy as sensory experience. Not quite; our contemplation of art is a sensory experience, and art pieces we are attracted to may become old friends, too. Not so separate.  Perhaps the problem is just in our categorizing.

But there is a distancing in our relation to artworks; "Being made by human hands, the craft object is made for human hands...We look at the work of art but we do not touch it. The religious taboo that forbids us to touch the statues of saints on an altar  -- "you'll burn your hands if you touch the Holy Tabernacle," we were told as children  --  also applies to paintings and sculptures. Our relation to the industrial object is functional; to the work of art, semi-religious; to the handcrafted object, corporal....The handmade object is a sign that expresses human society in a way all its own: not as work (technology), not as symbol (art, religion), but as a mutually shared physical life." (page 20)

Is that true? I hope people who own artworks touch them; I do. It is only the museum protecting them from too many hands that keeps us separate. That is most of our experience of art, though, and may affect our relation to it in the way Paz says it.

And art is usually handmade; by "the handmade object" I think he means a handmade and used object, his definition of craft.

OK, industry. "Industrial design tends to be impersonal. It is subservient to the tyranny of function and its beauty lies in this subservience. ...Technology is international. Its achievements, its methods and its products are the same in every corner of the globe...(page 22).  Craftwork, by contrast, is not even national, it is local. Indifferent to boundaries and systems of government, it has survived...Craftsmen have no fatherland: their real roots are in their native village...craftsmen defend us from the artificial uniformity of technology...: by preserving difference, they preserve the fecundity of history." (page 23)

I think he is talking about traditional craftsmen, not us. We influence each other all around the world, borrow freely from traditions, are interested in and rewarded for innovation. But we are locally based. I even find it odd to sell pots online, where people choose pots only by look, and cannot feel what they might be choosing. And a product of industry, however uniform, changes with different contexts of use. I once saw a set of photographs of those basic resin chairs, in settings all around the world. Wonderful variety, emphasized by the one object that links them. But, yes.

"Between the timeless time of the museum and the speeded-up time of  technology, craftsmanship is the heartbeat of human time. A thing that is handmade is a useful object but also one that is beautiful; an object that lasts a long time but also one that slowly ages away and is resigned to doing so; an object that is not unique like the work of art and can be replaced by another object that is similar but not identical. The craftsman's handiwork teaches us to die and hence teaches us to live." (page 24).

I think he overdoes the differences among objects we place in these categories. But it is a clarifying and convincing perspective, to me, and lovely, and encouraging. Back to the potting wheel!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Cooing over Chun Glazes

I love that look.

In the latest Harvard Magazine, there's an article exulting over their recent collection of pots in the original Jun glazes. The collection is a gift from Ernest and Helen Dane, the collectors, to the Harvard Art Museums.

These are the original pots, from the Song dynasty in China or a bit later. Fancy as they look, they are flower pots, for the emperor's palace, of course. The article says, in scholarly tones, that "Jun techniques in fact persisted much longer, at least into the Ming era (1368-1644)".

Actually we still make and fire these glazes, very happily, and usually spell the name "chun". Take a look at Pinterest or Etsy.

Aren't they wonderful?

I love the glaze. I'm not sure I love the pots. (Are we allowed to say that, about grand, historical marvels?) These 3 from the Harvard collection are published in the article. I find the long, rectangular piece wonderful, balanced, calm, beautiful. The others look chunky to me, which makes them seem heavy. And I have a hard time appreciating anything ornate, like the pot with saucer. My limitation, perhaps, not a less than wonderful pot.