“Could you make that for me?”

First off, as I’m neck deep in my current studio sale, let me thank all of my customers who DID make it on out. One more day to go and I’m hoping to pull this plane from a head on nosedive into a cliff…. (That was a bit dramatic!)

Anyway, Ron Philbeck just had a post on his blog that was probably familiar to all working potters. He was commissioned to reproduce the broken pot some other potter had made, something entirely alien to his own vision for making pottery: “Could you make that for me?” I haven’t heard those exact words for a bit now, but they are symptomatic of a greater underlying misconception about what it actually is that we potters do. You can read his post here, but this is my response to it. Please comment. I need to hear what you all think.

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I think its astonishing (but still amazingly expected) that many of the people who buy our pots have no real understanding of WHY we do the things we do. We each make pots our own way, according to our own interests, and they mostly come out looking exactly like or roughly like something we might have made. Somehow they end up being ‘our‘ pots. Even when we are only experimenting. Most of us aren’t just making a commodity that we don’t really believe in. In fact, most of us DO believe in what we are making. We have standards and ethics about making pots the best way we can. And this usually means making a certain type of pot, each of us in our own way.

But customers don’t always understand that. They think that if you have the skill to make some-thing you should have no qualms about doing whatever, whatever it is they special order: “Can you do this but in blue?”, etc. They don’t understand that this is an ethical issue for many of us. We aren’t just manufacturing soulless objects. Our pots are usually MORE to us than simple objects. We are artists, and we are trying to communicate something that speaks from very deep within us. We are attempting to give birth to new beauty, to add to the world in a morally correct way, a way that makes it better. Or at least some of us think of ourselves like this….

So with all the misunderstanding by our customers, my question is how we can educate them to have more of an appreciation for what we do? How do we get them to believe that there are real artists living among them, and that the sometimes humble offerings are unique and incredible contributions to the beauty of the world? How do we get them to see that the value of a pot is something more than its shape or its color, but that a bit of the artist has gone into making it? How do we get them to see that part of the artist IS that pot? How do we get them to see that the pot also is part of the artist?

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Did any of that make sense?

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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20 Responses to “Could you make that for me?”

  1. Tracey says:

    I can’t really offer any useful feedback on this one, I haven’t had this experience, I think it may be more common for functional potters. I have had people ask me if I make certain things that seemed rather silly, but never had a commission to make something I don’t already sort of make. I did read Ron’s post and feel bad that he had that experience… lesson learned I guess….

    • Yeah, I felt bad for him too. But for me the lesson isn’t that you just don’t accept these commissions (a good lesson but not the only one to take away), but that we need to change people’s perceptions so that they understand we are not simply making any old objects. Its not like asking a house painter if he can make the trim blue, but asking DaVinci if he would get the roller out and fill in the walls.

  2. Zygote says:

    Recently I’ve started thinking that potters are actually better off thinking of themselves as performance artists. That the pot is the tangible record of skill and vision at play. We are not simply makers of things, but artists that create and shape ideas into something that people can easily relate to. The best way to communicate this to the community around me has been to show them my dance and share my joy by taking it to the corner. I pull out the wheel and set-up on the busy street corner by my studio and throw operatically. Big, bold, and expressive. It never fails, people gather and kick back to enjoy seeing something really different. I play it as carnival barker, answering questions and sharing the grade adventure. By watching, they become active participants and start connecting to the work and me as an artist. It hasn’t increased my sales, but I haven’t exactly put that expectation out there to get shot down either.
    Side note… a pint or 2 as you go makes for fun thrown.

    • This is a great perspective! I think you are absolutely right that we get so caught up in the objects that the maker seems to be irrelevant. We put that sucker on a pedestal, under museum lighting, and the public has no clue how it got there (What if aliens had the advanced technology to perfectly simulate the idiosyncrasies of something handmade and beamed replacement objects onto the pedestals in place of the human originals?).

      I have always thought that the objects can be interesting, but that the human intentions, the decisions being made, and then the execution of the pattern should also be considered. That’s why I always had a problem with critiques in school where everyone just gathers around a collection of finished objects and discusses the merits. In my mind it would have been more interesting to gather around to watch the artist as they make their art, to see the decisions, the hesitations and confidence, and to see all the things that he/she won’t settle for. Sometimes I used to watch Michael Simon demonstrate throwing forms to our class, and there would have been around a dozen points that I personally would have stopped throwing/shaping. But all those intermediate shapes were not good enough for him. But how can you tell that if you don’t see the work in progress? I always thought that was fascinating.

      I think your background as a musician is an advantage here. You have firsthand experience of performance being the end, the point, of an artistic activity. I think the audience can sometimes think of music as a commodity, as a song they can pull up on their ipod, a cd they can buy in a store, etc. These things almost turn music into another kind of object. But for musicians at least the understanding is still there that the performance is what counts. If its good, maybe its one that is worth putting on a cd…..

      And that’s why I always try to get my students to think of what they are doing as practice. I try to get them to see that they are honing their skills and that the more they work on it the better they will get. I try to get them to NOT fixate on the object itself, especially as it sits on their wheel. If they are improving, the pots will always get better. And practice is always only a kind of performance, an activity rather than an object.

  3. Carter, I am CONSTANTLY working this question through my head. People are always asking if I can make a replacement piece for a set, or a special mug just like the one that they got at Dulce and Gabana three years ago, something a certain size, shape, or handle fit…….. *sigh*. I understand that people have an idea in their mind about something they want, but I honestly don’t think people look at a potter as an artist. Not like a painter is an artist, or a sculptor. I think they view us as people that make pots… we do a handmade version of what manufacturing companies do…. not that those companies are doing a manufactured version of what we do. I find it hard to explain to people the work and effort that goes into making pottery, and have them really ‘get it’. I’ve heard people say “Well, all you do is make pots, right?” It doesn’t occur to them the endless possibilities that are there, or that by doing it the way I’m doing it is why the pots look the way they do. I haven’t given up on explaining it, but when the right person comes by and really wants to know… I’ll talk their ear off. 🙂

    As far as the special orders with 15 stipulations, I’m not doing it anymore. All you need is to get burned on being a kind person and trying to help someone that obviously wants something special, and you’ll through being nice right out the window. Like Scott said once, I feel that the special orders cut down the flow of work in the studio. The past two months have been exactly that. I had over 100 pots to make for special orders from the Grand Opening and it was a DRAG. I nearly lost interest in making pots all together because it had turned into a chore instead of something I love doing because of all the strange orders of pots that I wouldn’t normally make. Now, when someone asks if I take special orders, my response (with a smile, of course) is “That depends, what do you have in mind?”. In the beginning, I would take on any project with the idea that “It’s money!”, but now I’m getting more selective because the special orders not only drag down my creativity and the flow of work, but like Ron said… some of the things I made for people because it fit their idea were just horrible and I didn’t even like looking at them, let alone actually charging someone full price for them.

    My new policy is that if I’m not intrigued by the idea of the special order, or it’s not something that I already make, I’m not going to waste my time on it. Someone said that mentality can make me come off as a ‘difficult artist’ and that I should be happy for all commissions and money coming in the door, but I think we potters have to keep respect for our craft and not let crazy, off the wall special orders bring us down. Just last week I got all the special orders from the opening done, and it’s like this huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders and all this week, pottery has been really FUN again. 🙂

    • Yeah, I think this is a problem that mostly potters get to experience. The confusion is that the public often doesn’t understand that making pots is usually a deeply personal experience for some of us. The idea of having an aesthetic means that you judge the world to need more of a certain kind of beauty, this but not that, and I think this characteristic qualifies most studio potters as being artists.

      But too many people don’t see us that way. I think the problem is that potters make cups and bowls, and you can get cups and bowls from Walmart. If the public only understand cups and bowls as commodities, even if they are drawn to the handmade version of these commodities, then there is nothing essentially special about one or the other. They are just different versions of things, and if someone has the skill to make them there should be no obstacle to doing it. Like saying that if you can draw, you should be able to draw a lion as well as a tiger. Like saying that if you can sing you should be able to sing “Hey Jude” as well as “Norwegian woods”. Like saying that if you are an architect you should be able to draw plans for town houses and for commercial spaces.

      The belief is that the details don’t matter to us. And skill-wise they don’t (once you get to a certain stage of proficiency). You CAN make just about anything you imagine or any pot you see. You can figure out how other artists ‘did that’. I suppose that being a craftsman means “I can do this, so I will”. Being an artist means that sometimes you will say “I can do this, but I object to doing this”. Or at least from my perspective being an artist means having a moral obligation to deciding what the world is supposed to look like. Artists are responsible for deciding what new details the world will have. Being a craftsman just means you have the skill to make it something different, but that other people get to decide what the details will be. Is that a useful distinction between art and craft?

      When I heard how many commissions you took on after your sale I was impressed. Nothing wrong with doing them if you enjoy it. Financially it can be a real plus. But for some of us it would be a soul crushing experience. Some of us aren’t cut out to do those kinds of projects, the same way some of us are not cut out to wear ties and high heels, work in narrow cubicles, and spend our days as conforming drones. Whoever told you you were being a ‘difficult artist’ probably comes from the world of homogenized subservience where the attitude is always “the customer is always right”. You can bet they never had an original creative idea in their entire adult life, and that their dreams are all culled from the Macy’s catalog and watching TV. Maybe that was a bit harsh, but you get my point: They are not themselves artists, so they can’t relate to the autonomy and liberation and responsibility that being an artist brings with it.

      • Scott Cooper says:

        “Financially it can be a real plus. But for some of us it would be a soul crushing experience.” Perfect response, OKG!

        Or, to quote the immensely quotable Morrissey, and confirm my belief that all necessary wisdom can be found in pop lyrics: “Frankly, Mr. Shankly, this position I’ve held, it paves my way and it corrodes my soul.”

    • Scott Cooper says:

      Hi Becky,
      Thanks for sharing this. I think it’s great that you ran the commissions “experiment” by giving it such a sincere and concentrated try. The results seem to prove the idea that “special orders cut down the flow of work in the studio”, as I’ve experienced on a much smaller scale. And what you say about it being a drag, and compromising your interest in making any pots at all, not just those pots, reaffirms my belief that most of the time those orders are actually more harm than good.

      • Hey Scott,
        All it took was two months of overwhelming ‘special order hell’ (that’s the affectionate name my friend Maggie gave my special order fiasco) to really understand why other potters say no to special orders. I constantly felt deflated. I don’t ever want that again (and our finances can’t handle me not producing sale-worthy pots!), and now that I’m a ‘difficult artist’, I won’t be doing them. Yay, liberation! 😀
        Plus, I’m actually getting some inventory built up, which is so very nice since the shelves in my little showroom are BARE. The kiln is cooking right now, so fingers crossed for nice pots. 🙂

      • Scott Cooper says:

        “Special order hell” sounds like a very good shorthand way of sharing your experience with other potters! Pretty much says it all. At least you got it over with in one shot! I stretched those experiences out over several years, with a lot of wrong turns and failure to learn from my mistakes along the way.

        I suppose that whatever way one gets there, the “difficult artist” label is earned, not chosen. I agree with Brandon’s idea (below) that the special orders thing is a rite of passage — hopefully one that all “serious” potters arrive at eventually.

        [Still having trouble with the “reply” links not appearing below every comment… not sure where this one’s going to show up in the thread. Sorry!]

  4. I haven’t thought this through completely (you know it takes me a while!) but I’ll try and be coherent. First and simply, ‘yes’ and ‘no’ aren’t instructive, as the teaching experience shows. If the goal is to educate our customers, we have to engage them. Demonstrating is fine as far as that goes, but if we have a client, specifically one that we know, the obligation to inform and enlighten rests with us. I hope never to be upset with a potential customer for asking. But then it’s my responsibility to take the reins, and guide (insert trail horse analogy here) them through their expectations to a mutually satisfying agreement. This could be yes, it could be no, it also may include a maybe, but with me it looks something like this. Me: Tell me what it is about that mug/cup/bowl/teapot/platter/vase that appeals to you/your spouse/your sister/et cetera? Then I have to listen to the response. It will be helpful at this point if the person is extremely intense and chatty because I will get to practice my patience while gathering important information. I will hopefully get some clues that help me as I then guide them to my work, and ask them to see if there’s anything they see that fits in with what they’ve described. I will then explain that my work is very different from what they’re asking me to do, and are they sure I’m the right person to do it? If they insist I am, I will stress that I seldom sit at the wheel with more than a general idea of what I’m making, and that I often experiment with forms, shapes, inspiration, and the sheer joy of working in clay– things I hope show in my work, but are an important and integral part of my process. I resist the urge to say yes or no– I don’t say maybe. I let the customer decide. I’ve never regretted letting one walk and I’ve never made anything to order that I would not sign. On a practical note I always get 50% up front, non refundable, whether I know them or not. One of my biggest surprises (and pleasures) has been watching someone walk away only to come back later– it validates not only me, my process, my art, and my craft, but the lesson: teaching someone to appreciate what we do is so much more important than selling them something they only think they want. And thanks for this post– and for allowing that what we do has not only beauty, but soul!

    • Sorry, one more thing I needed to say burst upon me while I was out in the studio. I’ll bet the husband likes Ron too, and probably loves his work. I just have a feeling he’ll be disappointed to know he got a set of mugs from him that aren’t truly and authentically his? Just an idea . . . .

      • WordPress comments are suddenly going screwy on me. That other comment (now located below this one!) was supposed to be for your first response. So this, my comment to your second response, is that one can only hope, but I sincerely doubt it. If they were interested in ‘authenticity’ they wouldn’t have asked for the reproductions in the first place. ‘Reproduction’ and ‘authenticity’ just don’t live in the same space. And if Walmart sold a comparable version, that might just have been as good a substitution.

        That’s the problem with people who accept the world as a soulless wasteland (Remember that I’m using ‘soul’ differently than you are, ie not metaphysically). Unless you get that there is a moral quality to how we behave in the world, and that actively and artistically creating is a huge contribution to making the world a better place, potters will be seen merely as makers of commodities and not the artists that they truly are. For these people pots are simply dead objects like any other. If we are lucky some of them will get that some objects are special and manifest something transcendent (Shoot, can I use that word? I mean things like beauty and other qualities for inspiration). Only on the rarest occasions will pottery ever fit that description. How do we change this?

    • I think this attitude is a great way of educating a customer about what YOU do. I’m not sure it necessarily helps them understand that what potters do is something different from what they first expected. I could see one of your customers learning all that about you personally, and going to the next potter down the road and making the same mistake. That’s not the only kind of education we are hoping to impart, is it?

      I think we have an obligation to teach folks about ourselves, and maybe by extension other artists, but I also think it is in our best interest to teach them about what potters do, what artists do, so they will look at the world differently. Its something like telling someone you don’t eat meat. OK, so now they know that about you, but unless you tell them what it means to be a vegetarian they will only have learned something about you and not about other people with the same beliefs. They will have learned something personal, not something about the rest of the world. In other words, its not just that “I do such and such, but not this and that”. The deeper issue is that “artists are the kind of people for whom such and such matters, and this and that are an abhorrence”. If we all are in the same boat, if every creative potter faces this same issue with many of the same qualms, unless we make the case that it isn’t just our own personal idiosyncrasies, then we won’t really be educating them much.

      Or that’s what it seems like to me…. We aren’t just standing alone on our own little islands. People often don’t understand potters because maybe they don’t see that we actually stand for something as potters. If it means something to be an artist, what does it mean to be a potter? How can we teach people that? If we want to teach a child that some apples are red, we don’t necessarily teach them that this apple is red. Lesson done. Oh, and maybe also this apple is red. Lesson done. No. We teach them that part of what it means to be an apple is that some of them are red. That’s the kind of lesson I’m hoping we can impart.

      Does that make sense?

  5. I took an order like Ron’s a couple summers ago. A lady found me through someone(?) and wanted me to make some larger mugs. She gave me one as an example to go off of. It wasn’t a bad pot…but it certainly wasn’t mine. It was fairly straight with a simple handle, 2 glazes overlapped, typical work. We were strapped for cash and she wanted 15 of them and at $20 each…that’ll pay a couple bills. I didn’t sign them, packed them up and gave them to her and she paid cash. She said: “Thanks Brad.” How well do you think she paid attention to what I did(or who I was?)

    The question that I think is being overlooked is about making a living. I have always said that I’ll make the pots I want to make, if they don’t support me then I’ll find another way. We needed the $300 and I could’ve gone and delivered pizza’s or something, but here was a lady with actual money who required someone with a skill that I posessed and could fill both our needs in an afternoon. What do you do? I think it’s situational of course, there is no right or wrong. We’re doing well now and I would not take that commission if offered to me but what about when you are broke and need the cash? I think most potters have taken a commission they’re ashamed of, maybe it’s a rite of passage. I think there’s something about using your skill to make mediocre work to make ends meet…it’s okay, I’ve done it, maybe most of us have. I didn’t sign the work, I don’t want it held up against my other work, but I’m not ashamed of it because it helped me put food on the table. Doing that work to make a quick buck…that’s another issue. Right out of college I worked for a couple months doing production dinnerware…crappy pots(the design, not my throwing) but it was $10 an hour to make pots…right out of college, I thought I had the best gig ever for about 3 weeks. Paid the bills and it was better than working at walmart. Again, I don’t know what(if?) the right answer is.

    I think there is a time where it’s okay to take crappy commission work, but as you evolve there is a time to grow out of it be your own potter.

    • Yeah, I think the realities of the world put pressure on everyone, not just potters and not just artists. Paying the bills sometimes just means you have to settle for something you don’t really believe in, for something less than you are qualified for, and for less than you deserve. That’s the reality. But that’s not the way it has to be or even should be. I just told Scott Cooper in an email that I’m a “dreamer and chaser of soap bubbles”, so I guess I’m always hoping that the world can be more than it already is. I suppose the only way to change things is if you don’t settle for everything it gives you, but expect more from it and work toward making that happen.

      So I guess the point of my post was really not so much about the painful reality of things that force us through this “rite of passage”, as you put it. We are put into these uncomfortable situations only because this is what outsiders expect of us. And they will continue to have those expectations until we educate them to believe differently. So THAT”S what I’m interested in here. I’m hoping that all the soap bubbles I’m chasing will actually lead to something. Maybe educating our customers actually IS important and can make a difference? It just seems so hard to get respect or sympathy when folks have no real idea about what you are doing. And we’d all like to be respected. But it won’t come on its own, and unfortunately as busy as we are doing all the other things we need to do as potters, there really isn’t anyone else as qualified or as interested in doing it for us. So the question remains, how do we get the public to more fully understand that the work we are doing is not just some anonymous manufacturing of commodities? How do we convince them that pots often are Art? They wouldn’t ask Rembrandt to repaint a Van Gogh (historical accuracy aside)…. Why would they expect you to remake someone else’s mugs?

  6. Not that anyone is still reading this post, but I’m gonna rephrase my question this way: While so many of us potters are preoccupied with living close to the edge in making ends meet and following our personal ceramic dreams it seems almost too much to ask for us to be bothered with more than our own personal quandaries and obstacles. And if that’s the case, and the most we can do is each of us individually promote what we personally do, who then is the caretaker for potters in general? Who is looking out for the interests of all of us? And, really the question I first asked in this post, what is the message that teaches the public to respect ALL potters as artists?

    Am I making any sense?

  7. I do get this question– I’m still reading you though I haven’t a clue. I’ve been pondering it since you commented on my post and have waffled between ‘am I the potter’s keeper?’ and ‘of course I can’t speak for all potters!’ until my head spins. Though if you reread my initial comment, it’s almost like I believe I am marketing director of the world, developing the sales pitch so that artists everywhere can practice ‘how to deal with the difficult customer, pamphlet 101.’ International translations pending. Role play at will and as needed.

    I also read six other responses with fairly divergent views, so what is The Potter’s Voice? Does everyone feel put upon when asked to make something out of their normal repertoire, or are some of us flattered, challenged, or grateful?

    I find it interesting that you, who seem to have such a strong community, are asking this question. I feel this void very deeply now, having just been to yet another guild meeting where all they want to do is socialize. I believe I made great art and pottery when connected with community, where creative energies, shared ideas and ideology flowed freely. I miss having moral support. I feel isolated. I feel like with all the resources out there it should not be so incredibly difficult. And while sometimes it isn’t I have to wonder, if you, where you are, can be asking this, what hope is there for the rest of us? Am I making sense? My head is still spinning . . .

    • I feel your pain! And despite whatever appearances may have suggested about me, I am probably just a cranky overly obsessive worry wart. Of course this stuff bothers me. Why can’t the world be better than it is, for cryin’ out loud? But I think one of the first life lessons I learned in my first days away from home at college is that to be human is to be a hypocrite. That sounds terribly uncharitable. But the truth, in however small bites it comes at us, is that despite all our good intentions we are lazy, we are forgetful, we are self indulgent, and we are apathetic, sometimes almost against our will. In short, we are fallible creatures who mostly want to do the right thing, but sometimes just can’t be bothered. Its just impossible to be consistent, I guess, and the gulf between theory and practice can yawn quite wide at times.

      It can be a struggle, but human nature includes far worse and unsavory characteristics than these. So I try to hold out hope that my sluggish neighborhood can get off their duffs and ‘do the right thing’. Its not as if they owe me an ability to make a living from making pots, but their frequent indifference saddens me. These are people who sometimes make a great show of supporting local endeavors, who vocally support the artistic ethos of life in Athens, and who demonstrate time and again a sensitivity to the passion and commitment behind handcrafting excellence. Somehow they just don’t get that potters represent all these good virtues they already believe in. How sad….

      But don’t hold my shoddy example as reason for despair. I think the root of the difficulty truly is a cultural phenomenon rather than just the symptoms of isolated communities or individuals. I think that because potters have failed to stand together on these issues we have only stood alone and on our own, and this has consequences. It certainly doesn’t help that we are getting foisted out of academic departments all over the place, or that we often return their disdain with equal venom. It doesn’t help that almost the only galleries we can get into are either pottery specific or craft oriented. It doesn’t help that the only pottery on display in most museums is either historical or iconic. We are being cut off from the fellowship of other artists and we cut ourselves off as well.

      I just think that our culture has a better picture of what other art is from the endorsement it gets in galleries and museums and schools. But this picture is equally seen outside the halls of the establishment. The message is also in the posters and prints of paintings and photos that people put up in their homes, the magnificent public sculpture that resides in may downtowns, painting and photography shows in restaurants every day of the week, etc, etc, on and on. People are constantly being fed what counts as art, and sadly its not pots. And the rare exceptions almost prove the rule. They are indeed exceptional.

      So as you noted, the responses to my question were each one different. And that’s not a bad thing. It just shows that we are not nearly all on the same page yet. We are too much on our own to perhaps even recognize that it is an issue that more than just one of us (ourselves) faces. But that’s why dialog is important: we learn about each other and about ourselves by this discussion. And it may turn out that it is important for some of us to be open to these commissions and that being flattered is an appropriate response. I, however, tend to think of it as being like the way it used to be when men (strangers) thought nothing of pinching a woman’s bottom. Maybe some women were perhaps flattered by it (?), but how many suffered the indignity as disrespect? (Men don’t still do this to strangers I hope, but I remember when I was a kid in the 70’s it seemed all too commonplace. Somehow our culture must have educated us to demand and receive a different kind if respect. That’s all I’m hoping for with potters….)

      And so the fact that some of us go ga ga over the unusual request for a strange commission probably says more about the potter’s own desperation or lack of sense of self than it does about propriety. Perhaps. And the customers don’t know any better because that’s how they’ve been raised: The world is populated by soulless objects, so no piece of pottery has intrinsic personal investment. And we potters haven’t gotten our act together on this to tell them its quite possibly wrong of them to think this. We keep getting pinched and we meekly take it, or calmly talk the nimrod down. Very few of us have the gumption to fight fire with fire and give a good old metaphoric slap in the face. But we don’t yet tell him that asking this is quite possibly an insult to many if not all potters. Just throwing that out there, because I’ve had my own bout with an accepted commission for not-carter’s-work. I sometimes feel unclean….

      So I hope we can convince ourselves and each other that we are not alone, that we are in fact part of a larger community with very similar interests and very similar circumstances. We can help ourselves, but we can also help each other. Part of agreeing that you belong to a community is that there are things that effect all of us. Some one member of my community has something go wrong, well that happened in my community, that happened to one of us. So every time a Ceramics teaching job at a University passes over a qualified potter applicant and goes to a sculptor I feel let down. Every time a potting student goes to grad school and comes out making sculpture I feel sad. Every time someone asks a hardworking potter like Ron to make some other potter’s work I feel disrespected. These things may be happening to other individuals but they are always happening to one of our own. The question is whether we are going to sit there and take it, turn our backs on the problem, cower in shame, shake our fists in frustration, or are we going to do something about it?

      William James had a great illustration of efficacy. He described a passenger train being robbed by outlaws, maybe just a handful of men with guns holding dozens of passengers hostage. And no one making a stand against them only means that the few win out over the many. Everyone is afraid to be that first person to stand up and to be shot down, so nobody does it. Because they act only as individuals they all suffer. But what if everyone stood up at once, or even an equal number to the outlaws, or just a few? And that’s what I’m getting at here. We are not alone unless we keep acting as if we are. And maybe not all of us are meant to stand at the front of the line and verbally call the bad guys out. But we can all stand up and be counted.

      So that’s what I’m really getting at. And the more we talk together, the more we even just socialize at guild meetings, the more we are building that connectedness that binds us all together. The isolation that many of us feel working off on our own in remote and inaccessible studios is just a state of mind. Especially in this internet age we can reach out and commune with our fellows, and physical distance plays no part. My sense of community involves being able to discuss these things with so many of you. And we don’t all need to agree on all things. Different opinions and takes on things should be welcome. As we each are growing and evolving on our own, so too is the community. We are not drawn together by being exactly the same but by sharing so many things in common. And we do.

      And actually I did love your spin on what to tell commission seekers! We need to have all of that in our arsenal. They need to hear that from more than just one of us. And they need to hear that they are not just misunderstanding this one potter, they got it wrong about many more of us. Isn’t that what it means to be a part of a community?

  8. Wow, Carter, I really appreciated this comment/post. The part about being a hypocrite really resonated. It reminded me of a recent email, where I was told ‘You can be an irritating, attention grabbing, bizarre idea holding, energy draining, demanding, crazy, pain in the ass. Right? But gosh darn it Cara…people still like you!’ So go figure! I’ll accept hypocrite easily, and admit if I worked as hard in my physical being as I do in my heart and head, I’d be much further along as a potter– ‘course I’d probably also be dead from exhaustion! My human experience is that it takes all three, the connection, the congruence, the integral aha of understanding must be there for me to be able to work out the bizarre ideas on the physical level. I really do get a lot of this from your blog, helping me put it all together, through the variety of responses that are posted here, as well as the other bloggers you reference.

    I also am grateful that you shared your experience of community. It’s so easy for me to sit here and do the ‘grass is always greener’ routine, without really understanding that culturally we are probably all pretty much in the same place, more or less. I am going to continue to go to the guild meetings, and practice my social skills (which are horrid), and hopefully be a catalyst for change in some small measure. I can’t be the hero of the day perhaps, but I could bring a chunk of clay to help me tolerate the socializing, or a sketch book to do some gesture drawings. Maybe just my ‘demanding pain in the ass’ presence is enough, maybe I’ll get an idea or two, or make a connection there that makes a difference. I’m committed, is what I’m saying, and thanks for reminding me that commitment is needed.

    As for the ‘potters party line,’ I believe what’s important is not settling. As long as we each, as potters, make a commitment to be true to our craft, our art? I don’t know what that means to any individual potter, we each have to make that desicion as the question or opportunity comes to us. But I don’t want to ever be in the position to say I’ve made something I won’t sign, and I don’t want to do anything that forces any other artist to do that either! How frustrating that must be, and how sad for the world, that they didn’t get our best! But beyond this, standing up to the apathy, the illiteracy, and the selfish self interest– I don’t have an answer for that. I don’t know how to educate or enlighten. I don’t know what it would take to make these changes, I believe talking about them, getting them out in the open, is a great start, and I’m glad to have that sense of community this forum has provided. Thanks again for being the catalyst of that!

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