Thursday, October 30, 2008

the right to suck and waste time

I had a tiny little meltdown last night. Yes, me--hard to believe I know. I've been noticing that I've been very crabby lately. Short-tempered, irritable, and impatient. If you read this blog, you might think that I am like that all the time, and to be completely truthful I do have an edge to me that I started honing around age 6, so my edge is pretty sharp. It can cut paper. Since I am a very complex person with lots of depth and facets, I'm also very sunny and friendly, and I do not enjoy being a bitch. Except when I mean to be a bitch, in which case there is no greater enjoyment.

Anyway, what came out of the meltdown was something that I've been turning over in my head for a while. Part of being a successful artist is to make amazing art-- seemingly effortlessly. But this is the rub-- to make amazing work you have to make a lot of stuff that kinda sucks. That may seem obvious, but when you reach a place where you're work is selling at a consistent pace and supporting yourself and your, ahem, habits, it's very easy to feel like you've got it all dialed out. Making work that sucks suddenly doesn't seem like an option, it feels like a waste of time. It's very easy to convince yourself that everything that comes off your fingertips should be good and reflect your masterful craftmanship. When it's not, failure is something to be disposed of quickly.

Anyway, I realized I need to write myself a new job description. The new job description, aside from cranking out plates, bowls, vases, cups, teapots, sake sets, and anything else that strikes my customer's fancy in record time, is to make some work that totally sucks. Not even sellable. I realized that it's actually my right to make sucky work, and it's part of my job to waste time. When I feel the pressure to whip out nothing but perfect work that will sell, I get so irritable, and I don't even enjoy the process of making it. I get bored, and then I am absolutely no fun to be around. Can you imagine? I have the greatest job in the world, and I actually get bored with it, and myself. I think all of us artist types need to take some time out of our daily routine to make some work that probably sucks, and not get too down on ourselves about it.

As an aside, I wanted to thank the dozens of people who posted comments about my art school rant, and all the emails I received about it. I read some very well-thought out ideas, and it makes me feel good that people take the time out to give me their thoughts. I don't often post comments back, because I frankly do not have the time. But I want everyone to know that I read every comment that comes through, and I really appreciate what people have to say. Thank you!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

get out of the studio!

One of my challenges as an artist is getting out of my studio and interacting with the art world and other artists. When I first started making pottery, I had no interest in taking workshops or even looking at pottery. I was zeroed in on making pottery like a laser, completely obsessed. If you got between me and my wheel, watch out! As I got be be a pretty good potter and people started looking at my work, I would always be asked who my influences were, did I know this potter, or did I like that potter? These questions would usually be met with a blank stare and a shrug. I was only interested in making pottery, not looking at other people's pottery or talking to other potters.

My approach has changed over the years as I've started looking up from my wheel and around the world of pottery. When I did my residency in Japan last summer, I finally realized that I must get out more, take some workshops, and hang out with potters whenever possible. Potters, by the way, are the friendliest and most unpretentious group of people you will ever meet. And no one can understand your pain the way another potter does.

Last weekend I had a pottery extravaganza weekend. My pal Nick, who I met in Japan last summer, drove from Tahoe with two friends in tow, Roger and Kat, who both teach at Sierra Nevada College. Nick and I went to an all-day clay symposium at the Firehouse Collective and got to watch and learn from Craig Petey, Arthur Gonzales, and John Toki. John Toki, by the way, built a four-foot high sculpture in 1 hour.

We went straight from there to Trax Gallery to watch a talk given by Akio Takamori. I bought one of his amazing cups. At Trax I hung out with Christa, Rae, Sara; talked to Andrew Martin about mold-making; crabbed with Bob Brady about annoying customers; stood near Akio so some of his magic could rub off on me. Then I was introduced to a couple of girls who are obsessed with woodfire and invited me to fire with them this Spring. I was very excited by this because I haven't woodfired since I left Japan.

The party went late into the night, and I must say I was totally hungover the next day. But I felt totally invigorated by my interactions with so many ceramic artists, and it reminded me that I need to get out of the damn studio more often!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

art school

I wish I were running for President, because if I were, part of my economic plan would be to eliminate art schools in favor of the apprenticeship for all of those budding student artists out there. I have many beefs with art school, I'll just put it right out there. One of my beefs is two-fold: art schools generally do not teach anyone how to survive as a working artist. And while you are learning how to make art in your basic art school, you are racking up incredible debt, and saddled with that debt when you get out of your four-year program with a BA in fine art. I have been talking to someone who wants to come work for me, but they are having a hard time figuring out how they can give up their $25 hour nanny job in favor of working for me at half that salary. This person has a master's degree in ceramics, and a $30,000 school loan debt, even with the financial help she received with grants and scholarships. Her monthly payment is so high, even I would have a hard time getting by.

To belabor the point: I have a family friend with a son who is showing some art talent, and he wants to attend a very expensive private art school in California. He's 17, a bit wild, and wants to sign on for financial aid that will give him and his parents over $70,000 in debt. When I heard about this, I blew a gasket. My idea is, if a 17-year old wants to go make art, then go make art! Get a part-time job to cover rent at the nasty squat you'll share with a few friends, sign up for some art classes at a community college, and find an artist who is making stuff you think is cool and offer to help them out. There is not a single working artist out there who does not need some kind of assistance. Help them, develop a relationship, and learn from them. It's called an apprenticeship, and it's a long-standing and time honored tradition that I think has been pushed aside in favor of four-year art school.

I understand that education is an investment. When I was 17, I wanted to go to art school too, because I thought that was the only path available to someone who wanted to be an artist. My thought is that students should not be spending their money on art school, but their time on being an apprentice. That's an investment too. When I finally landed on clay as my medium when I was 23, I got a job with another ceramic artist. From this artist I learned how to survive: how to sell work, how to run a business, how to live as a working artist and not just keep it on the side. I would love to share what she taught me with as many ceramic students as possible, but most of them are locked up in art school or waiting tables!

If I were running for president and putting out this idea, I know my opponent would run attack ads saying that I wanted to shut down art schools, put teachers out of work, and create a class of one-note, one-dimensional artists who had to learn how to sell out to survive. I would challenge my opponent to a debate where I would totally cream them and show them to be the institutional whores they really are. Until that happens, I would love to hear from everyone what their opinions are on this subject, and what advice they would give to that 17-year-old who wants to be an artist.

Friday, October 10, 2008

getting centered

Learning how to center clay on the wheel is the most challenging part of learning how to throw. I was taught by a master teacher, and my whole class learned how to center and throw within a very short time because of his skillful teaching. I think right about now is a good time to think about the metaphor of centering clay and getting centered in life. I bring this up because of the drums of fear and panic that are beating in all corners right now. Apparently we are in the depths major financial crisis, and unless you are living under a rock, we all know the words that are getting repeated over and over again.

There is something about chaos of panic that can set you free from the daily monotony. We are coming up on the 19 year anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake, which I experienced in full effect in Santa Cruz. It was the single most terrifying event of my life, but it was also one of the most meaningful. It totally released me from my own daily insecurities and problems that I was experiencing at the time, and put front and center exactly what was important: being alive along with your friends and family. It was an extremely valuable lesson to learn in my late teens, and I still can't think about that time without having an overwhelming emotional response of gratitude that I was able to experience it.

Change is happening; it's going to happen and it's out of our control, much like an earthquake. When I start feeling scared about what's happening and how it may impact me, I think about how much more important it is that I stay centered with my work, my husband, and my friends. For me that means staying calm and focused, and not spending to much time letting my imagination run wild, and not indulging in a lot of conversation about "the markets" or "the economy". I don't really understand any of that shit, and the majority of my friends don't either. Most of us are repeating what we hear in the news, which is pretty useless. I would really love it if we could all think about how major change can bring so many blessings to our lives rather than darkness, and how essential change is to make life worth living in the first place. In the short-term, change can be very uncomfortable and scary. But no matter what happens, we are still all going to be on this planet, alive, and together. How great is that?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

time to create

If you read my blog, you already know one of my biggest complaints is not having time to be creative and make new work. I spend most of my studio time managing my wholesale accounts and online orders. This fall I was determined to build in more creative time and stop the flow of complaining. If I really couldn't do it, then maybe it was time to reconsider how I was doing business, period. My business depends on creating new work, and so does my mental well-being. The one thing you hear over and over from customers at trade shows is, "What's new?" I can get away with "I have this in new colors!" for only a little while. For my own retail customers, especially the ones who have been buying from me a while, they also want to see what's next.

After an initial scramble a couple of weeks ago, we have production at the studio on a nice, even keel and I have been happily surprised by the fact that my little plan worked, and I do indeed have time to make new stuff. It was funny to see how my brain was resisting this open creative time at first. Frankly, it's so much easier to just crank out work without thinking, and when you've been doing that month in and month out, your creative edge gets dulled. This is a conversation I had with myself a few times:
"Hey, let's make some new pots!"
"Ummm... don't we need some more small cake stands?"
"Yeah, I guess it wouldn't hurt to have some in backstock." (Sounds of making ten small cake stands.)
1 hour later:
"Okay, how 'bout it? What should we make? I have this nice porcelain here!"
"Hmmm, that is nice porcelain. But don't you think it would be good to have some more dogwood flowers on hand? We're going to need a lot of them for orders."
"Dogwood flowers? We have plenty of those! Let's make some fun stuff!"
"I have a better idea. Let's see how many dessert plates we can make in 3 hours."
"What's your problem? You said you wanted to make some new stuff. Now all you want to make is easy stuff!"
"I don't have a problem! I just want to make sure we don't get behind, that's all."
"Well, we're ahead right now, so let's make the most of it!"
"Okay okay. Let's wedge up some of that porcelain"
(One hour later, staring into space.)
"What do you want to make?"
"I don't know, what do you want to make?"

I've been able to devote some time everyday this week to working on new things, and after I was done arguing with myself, this is one of the things I made: