I had an interesting conversation the other day with my friend and fellow ceramic artist, Laura Zindel. I like talking to Laura because she's ahead of me on the learning curve when it comes to being a full-time, professional artist, and is very grounded about the realities of making a living as a ceramic artist. She's talked me off the ledge a couple of times over the years, and I take what she says to heart because... she knows. With every challenge that comes up in my work, she's already been there, like 10 times.
We were discussing the challenges of dealing with your ceramic work as a "product" versus dealing with it as "art". I think the idea that art can only be made as one, unique item dogs many of us who depend on production in order to make a living. For myself, I divide my work into two categories: the high production stuff that is definitely a "product," and my more one-of-a-kind pieces which I see as my "art". The trap, as I see it, is getting sucked into that deep ravine of demand that comes when you make that great item that everyone wants (ahem, bird cake stands) and forgetting that you are an artist. Strangely, you can even start looking down on your own work, totally forgetting that even your "products" were born from art to begin with.
For some reason the artist Sergei Isupov has been on both of our minds lately. Me, because I wish I could translate my painting and abstract ideas onto clay the way that guy does, and Laura because she thinks even someone as brilliant and genius-like as Sergei is deals with the exact same crap we do when it comes to the challenges of making art in a market where demand is high for his work, even at the fine art end where he is. As we discussed this issue, Laura said that there are no perfect answers to meeting high demand with pottery, not with the product, and not with yourself. I think an artist is always going to have personal issues with creating work in a production setting, because of the loss of the artist's energy through the replication of each piece. But what are the choices when you want to make a living making your stuff? Sergei, at the other end of things, still has to wake up every day and come up with a new idea, and deal with people who want the same thing that has already sold.
What I'm really starting to understand as my career advances, there are no perfect answers to many of the issues I face as an artist. There is only making, or giving up. And everyone, no matter what they do with their life, faces this issue of doing meaningful work in a world that demands major output. So I want to know from you: how do you keep the art in production? How do you find meaning in repetition? Most of all, how do any of us stay sane when we must wrestle with these issues on a daily basis?
In this vein, I highly recommend Kari Radasch's article, "Eyes Wide Open" where she discusses some of these issues.