Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Purpose in 2013
During the past few months, my resolve has been somewhat shaken. So, the New Year seems like a good time to affirm my goals as a teacher, and as an artist. Here goes:
As a teacher, my resolve is to avoid getting overly involved in the care, and the feeding of the bureaucracy. I am at work to focus on my students. Yes, I said my own students. Because, if you were my student at any time, it qualifies as a continuous commitment. They have my full and undivided attention. It is my job to protect and nurture them. It is also my job to creatively come up with lessons and activities that will help them to find success.
"Because the individual is creative, and creativeness outside the narrow pattern of status quo cannot be tolerated. Herein is my revolt. I believe in and will fight for the right of the individual to function as an individual, without pressure from any direction. I am unalterably opposed to any interference with the creative mind. It may be wrong, but out of it comes the only rights we know."
I recently removed some of my vases from a consignment gallery. I couldn't afford to pay the fees, and my contract was expiring. On my way out the door, the owner told me that my vases hadn't sold well, because they had no real purpose. "I mean, what do you even do with your own vases?" She had merchandised my work near two functional potters, one of whom was selling large bowls for the ridiculous price of $15. I was ashamed of the functional potters that were cheapening their work, by asking for Walmart-esque prices. Their work was beautiful, and skillfully made. However there were such large quantities shown, that the pieces no longer looked individual. It looked like the door of an opened gas kiln, a wall of pots, with only two or three different glaze colors. I can't compete with that. Each piece that I make looks different. There is very little sameness. There is no way that I could charge $15 for anything. It wouldn't even pay for the materials or the electric bill. Also, my work is low-fire and porous. It is definitely not useful by any means.
Her comments angered me, but also caused me to reflect on purpose in my art work. So, what am I doing? Do I really care if my work sells or not? What purpose should ceramics serve? Is it craft or is it art?
Some years back, I received a BFA in Graphic Design. After college, I worked freelance briefly. I loved typography and composition. But, I didn't love client meddling. An idea would be wonderfully complete and unified. Then, the client would interject stray ideas or concepts. Trying to sweet-talk the client into sticking with the unified concept was exhausting. Most of my projects became watered down. That is the beauty of art. It is what you want it to be. You have complete control. It is your own self-created problem, with your own solution, using the medium of your choice.
So, do I really care if my work sells or not? Sure. But, am I willing to do the hard work that it takes to market my work? Not really. Not right now. I have a day job, which takes up an enormous amount of my time. What purpose should ceramics serve? I think that there is room for both functional and non-functional work. I have many favorite artists in both camps. However, I happen to enlarge the definition of functional a bit. If a piece causes me to feel some sort of emotion, or pleases me with it's aesthetics, or with it's level of skill, then I consider that, in and of itself, as a function. It was hard to explain that to the gallery owner. Mostly because I would assume that someone who sells art, should understand what art does for us. I told her that my pieces sit in my house, and give me pleasure when I look at them.
What am I doing? Well, there is no good answer to that question! I am just making stuff. Even as a little kid, I constantly made things. As a fourth grader, I remember trying to construct a pair of traditional Japanese shoes using wood, sewing elastic, carpet tacks, and nails. If someone likes what I make, or if it speaks to him/her, then it clears out more room in my studio for the stuff that I will make in the future. For now, that has to be my answer.
"There is marvelous peace in not publishing. It's peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure."
J. D. Salinger