Friday, November 10, 2006

a good, solid, soul-baring rut

Being in a rut totally sucks, and something that every human being will work themselves into eventually, more than once. While ruts are depressing and even debilitating, they are also a signal from the soul that a change is needed. I've started thinking about this because I have many artists in my life right now who are experiencing creative ruts and even depression. They all do very different things, but the symptoms are all the same: The feeling that your work is dull and going nowhere, fear that you will never be as good as you once were, and the wish to do something completely different and yet the complete inability to imagine what that may be.

I was in a serious rut about three years ago with my own work. I had chronic pain in my neck and shoulders from production throwing, I worked 40 hours a week in my studio yet I had no money in my savings account, and as I marched to my studio every day, I was tired and grumpy before I even walked through the door. It was while in this weakened state that I was approached by a California company that owned several ceramic factories in China, and they had a fistful of cash and a proposed contract to license my designs and produce them in Asia. In the face of many reservations and even my own personal pledge to never go to China to have my stuff made, I signed off on the deal. I was sold on the dream that I could move to Italy with my husband, fax in designs, and live off the royalties.

As the collection came in from the factories, I slowly woke up to the fact that China was not going to save me. While my factory collection had superficial appeal, it lacked magic and much of the detail work was sloppy. It was exciting to see "Whitney Smith Pottery" stamped on the bottom of each item, but right underneath my name were the words, "Made in China". In the end, I was forced to admit to myself that I sold out.

Despite this, I have no regrets designing a collection for this company. All of these images to the right are items from my China collection, and the bottom one was an ad for Neiman Marcus. The experience taught me some valuable lessons and techniques, and also gave me some breathing room financially to start firguring out a new plan for myself. The rut I was in, while deeply unpleasant, paved a path for me to move forward. The rut presented me with a set of choices I would otherwise have not considered, and took me places I could not have predicted. In retrospect, I am grateful for the opportunities my rut provided me.

So while I watch my friends work out their own ruts, I at once feel their anxiety and fear, and my own excitement for them as they grapple with what's next. All of my friends are so smart, so creative and visionary, I know they will come out of their ruts and move on to a better life, just like I did.