comment on John Bauman’s blog

This is a comment that I made in response to a blog post by John Bauman. The question he raised concerned the value of etsy. You can read his post here:

“I think you nailed it. I had the same reservations as you, not wanting to be associated with such mediocre quality as was predominant on etsy 3 or 4 years ago. And when I checked back last year I was surprised that so many really talented artists were now selling their work there.

Of course the majority still set the bar fairly low, but artists such as yourself have changed the perception to now include some incredibly talented and sophisticated work. And I think you are right that there is no shame in rubbing shoulders with beginner potters or hobbyists. The audience will decide what it likes, and if one person doesn’t like what you do that reflects more on their taste than on the quality of what you are presenting. As is always the case.

I think your point about the difference to juried art fairs is also telling. A fair where the artists have all been selected, presumably based on quality, gives the audience that confidence you described. A booth “next to Steve Kostyshyn’s incredible baskets, or Jerry Smith’s marvelous landscapes” is much different than one next to a beginner or occasional hobbyist. Perhaps especially with ceramics the audience often needs to be told what counts as quality. There simply isn’t a lot of cultural education in that direction, except perhaps in some communities with strong traditions.

I guess I have a small concern that because so few folks are educated about quality in ceramics that often it is fairly irrelevant to a sales situation. A brightly glazed or garishly decorated pot has more intrinsic mass appeal than quiet subtlety. In a venue like etsy there is no presumption of quality, and personal taste mocks the “juried” standards of merit. But I think it is quite amazing that clay workers with minimal experience and marginal skill sets can make decent money off their endeavors on etsy. And on an important level this is exactly as it should be. If someone wants to pay good money for a thing, that is entirely up to them.

I guess the question is whether pottery needs a standard of professionalism or if merely anything goes. Potters are getting kicked out of ceramics departments, can’t get in most galleries or museums. Is etsy our last refuge? Will the public perception of our craft be based mostly on what gets sold on etsy? Will we someday only get juried into craft fairs based on how well we sold on etsy? Is this troubling?”

About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
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