Instructions on how to fight Pirates

I get the sense that only a handful of folks out there are worried by the things that seem to alarm me. Maybe I’m just making stuff up. Maybe I’m seeing boogeymen in the closet, creepy crawlies under the bed. Maybe I’m just crying wolf…..

Well, John Bauman just posted his very real experience as a victim and frequent witness of artistic piracy. Read his post for an eye opening excursion into some troubled seas. The question for me isn’t so much how to arm ourselves with lawyers to combat these rouges. Its how we got here in the first place. And for that I’ll refer you back to Prometheus. We are the victims of Pirates because as simple consumers the public can’t distinguish between things lovingly and individually created by hand and things mass produced in a sweatshop. Not only that, but we have trained them not to care.

Read John’s post first, please, but this is what I had to say in response:

Dang! That is dreadful. Gives me the heeby jeebies!

It seems that this is a new ugly reality we may have to face, and my question is whether we will ever gain satisfaction from the pirates or if we need to put our efforts into the consumer end. In other words, I would like to know if we can educate the consumers about the difference between these handmade items and their knock offs. Can we get the audience to see that they are not the same merely because they LOOK THE SAME?

If the audience doesn’t know any better or doesn’t care, then of course they will see no real difference. If they are just consumers of shapes and colors, what do we expect?

One way out seems to be helping people to value handmade in and of itself. The things a potter makes him or herself have a value that is not translatable into shape or color. If people get this they also get the difference between our work and the work of pirates. And also the idea of supporting local industry. If people get this they also get the difference between our work and the knock offs.

If the consumer is only aware of what we do as a consumer good, how it ended up on the market is probably unimportant. The pirates will have every advantage. What we have to do is educate our audience that it isn’t just a product we are making, but a contribution of personal craftsmanship, artistic decision making, and sometimes local or regional industry. But as long as the folks buying our work are immune to our story of actively creating our work it will always be a hard sell. What we really need is to prove to them that being creative matters in their own lives. What we do creatively matters because what they do creatively matters. We show them that what we do as artists is interesting and important by demonstrating that creativity has a role in their own lives. They understand the role of creativity by being creative themselves. How else can they appreciate the difference in integrity between being an Artist and a Pirate?

If our audience is only a passive consumer of products and has no clue about the efforts and creativity required to make what we make, and if they have no reason to value these things, then OF COURSE they will shop at Walmart for pots.

To me it seems that the greatest difference we should be trying to make is to remind people that creativity matters, and that they can be sympathetic to our artistry because we all understood creativity once upon a time. Its only the naked greed of money grubbing capitalism that wants the audience in their strictly consumer role being spoon fed the latest model of innovation or the season’s latest fads. Is that in our ultimate interest? Don’t we want them to be more than mere consumers? Don’t we want them to understand the difference between what we do and what the pirates are engaged in? Don’t we want them to be engaged in creativity themselves?

In the end we stop the pirates not by hiring an armada of bigger gun lawyers, but by getting the public to take an active role in appreciating the work of individual creativity. The fewer people buy from pirates the less piracy is rewarded. The more the public care about our creativity the less we need fear pirates. The more they care about their own creativity the more the public will see value in the creativity of others. If we all stand up together they won’t be able to pick us off one by one….

What’s that old saw about united we stand, divided we fall? Am I just crying wolf?

What do YOU think?

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.
This entry was posted in Art, Arts advocacy, Arts education, Beauty, Ceramics, Clay, Creativity, Pottery, Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Instructions on how to fight Pirates

  1. Ashley says:

    I have run across a few variations of piracy, and they all make me shake my head. It really should be called THEFT. Piracy makes me think of sailing the 7 seas, eye patches and Johnny Depp.
    I know a potter who had a more direct form of piracy/theft happen to him a few years ago. He used to put his seconds outside by the dumpster. He mostly taught and did not sell much anymore, so he didn’t even think twice about what he was doing until one of his students mentioned that they saw a few of his pieces in a little shop not too far away. It turns out the women that ran the shop would sneak around, poke through his seconds, take what they wanted and sell it The seconds now get the hammer treatment before going to the dumpster. Not only did they steal from him, they stole his crappy stuff to put out in the public eye.
    I have no solution to the piracy problem. There are always going be those people and corporations out there that will take advantage of you if they think they can get away with it. The average person really only cares about the cost of an item, and if it looks similar to a more expensive one, my guess is they will probably go for the cheaper one. I have found that one of the best ways to educate people about hand made pottery is to teach them how to make it. Then they understand the time it takes to actually make something and to make it really well. Past students are usually some of my best customers now. But you can only teach so many people.

    • Well, I guess that in a culture that romanticizes pirates it would only be natural that so many folks out there are comfortable with the activities and the spoils of piracy. Maybe its just a twisted side of human nature that we idolize the dangerous ones among us, that we look up to the bad guys. I don’t know. But it seems that we make the choice to do ill more palatable as almost a cultural mission.

      So it may actually be somewhat true that there is nothing ‘wrong’ with thieves because they are just doing what society has made acceptable. Sure, they stand outside ‘the law’, but when so many of our cultural heroes also take their place there what exactly do we expect?

      I would contend that most of the problem lies in this tradition of dubious behavior. Maybe its just human nature acting out. But I’d also suggest that part comes from our inability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. We see the world as if we are the pure center and all justice relates to how we get what we want. Other people don’t have the same rights because we can’t see their situation except in our own terms.

      At root, I think this has to do with how quickly curiosity gets squelched out of us as we are growing up. We don’t care as much about others because we aren’t all that curious. What happens to them is ‘tragic’, but never as onerous as our own things gone wrong.

      So I’d also say that our lack of curiosity makes the bed for pirates to lie in so comfortably. As long as we can get ours, to hell with the rest of the public. We look at the world as if justice were done only when it has us at the center. We care about piracy because I was stolen from, not that piracy itself is something wrong.

      And so the question might be how we can keep curiosity alive, how we can nurture the idea that there are other people out there with an equal claim on justice, and that we are not the only center of the universe….

      My suggestion is that we stay more curious the more we train our minds to create. The more we are flexible in imagining the world the more we can imagine things from other people’s perspectives. Not that we necessarily will, but we at least are given that opportunity. If we lack curiosity just what will that get us?

      And the more we are familiar with the responsibility of creating the world anew the more we can recognize that what we do does matter, and what we do changes things not just for ourselves but for all the world. If we are familiar with adding to the world we are familiar with our power to make it different.

      If we are only consumers in the world we only care about it to the extent that it gives us what we want. Like small children at that stage where they holler and act out in order to get what they want. But if we are creators we care about the world by means of what we can add to it. Doesn’t that seem to be the most telling difference?

      What was it President Kennedy said? “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country”.

      In the end, have we made a world fit for pirates by diminishing the value of what we can do in favor of what can be done for us? Is this what Prometheus had in mind when he brought us fire?

      • Just found this commencement speech video from then candidate Barak Obama:

        “[O]ur individual salvation depends on collective salvation. Because thinking only about yourself, fulfilling your immediate wants and needs, betrays a poverty of ambition.

        ” [S]hould you take the path of service, should you choose to take up one of these causes as your own, know that you’ll experience the occasional frustrations and the occasional failures. Even your successes will be marked by imperfections and unintended consequences. I guarantee you, there will be times when friends or family urge you to pursue more sensible endeavors with more tangible rewards. And there will be times where you will be tempted to take their advice.

        ” But I hope you’ll remember, during those times of doubt and frustration, that there is nothing naïve about your impulse to change the world. Because all it takes is one act of service — one blow against injustice — to send forth what Robert Kennedy called that tiny ripple of hope. That’s what changes the world. That one act

    • Scott Cooper says:

      @Ashley: This is besides your point, but I’m surprised it took this lesson for that potter to start smashing his seconds — I think it’s one of the most enjoyable parts of the job! Oh, the catharsis!

      Also, definitions vary, but I only smash thirds and lower. Seconds get discounted and are usually well received.

  2. gz says:

    when I’m doing a farmers market, or doing my turn in our co-operative galleruy, I tell people- pick them up…the best pots are chosen my hand as well as made by hand..
    It is a job to know what to do, apart from educating our public

  3. gz says:

    chosen by hand…

    • Agreed!

      Our culture is preponderantly visual, so we need extra efforts to encourage folks to make the leap in understanding things with their hands. And because most of our culture is so unused to making things with our own hands we are pretty much out of practice knowing how to use them. Our hands have lost some of the sophistication that other generations knew intimately.

      Maybe we just don’t value things made by hand because our own hands have lost the sense of importance in what hands are actually capable of? If our society downgrades manual labor doesn’t that seem to have implications for other efforts of the hands? Isn’t this a bias of perception? Isn’t this an attitude more than anything? isn’t it correctable? Maybe…..

      • Scott Cooper says:

        Weirdly, I think your idea about how non-craftspeople or laborers have lost the skilled use their hands was exactly right up until 10 or 15 years ago. But in the era of texting, touch screens and ubiquitous video games, things have changed again. (Damn technology keeps moving forwards…)

        So now it seems more accurate to say that, for most people, the sense of touch you’re referring to — that used to come from making things and performing physical labor, like farming or working on an assembly line — has been re-wired to the touch for speed typing, swiping and tapping, or pulling triggers. Which is great for dexterity and hand-eye coordination, I suppose, but it still doesn’t do us a whole lot of good to the extent of having touch-enabled customers. If anything, it might do the opposite — now their hands are skilled, but only at touching mass-produced, uniformly perfect bits of plastic and glass.

        Just a thought.

        • No, that’s a good point.

          But I also think that the single-use purpose of texting only puts a limited amount of intelligence at our finger tips. We know ONE thing to do with our fingers, but not much else. Its a technique rather than a foundational intelligence. All that dexterity fails to translate to other activities. Its like being fed on a steady diet of junk food, or only reading “See Spot Run”. Its like flexing one calf as a way to prepare for a marathon.

          This is the great difficulty with specialization: Its so persuasive in being good at specific things, but it leaves us grasping when we step outside its comfort zone. Yet another reason I persistently blow the horn of imagination and open mindedness, experimentation, and wild intelligence…..

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