The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Potter

(Forgive my maudlin poetic sentimentality in what follows. I just had my worst ever studio sale where I shattered all my previous records for mediocrity. And honestly, if I wasn’t already so used to being beaten down I might… I don’t think I can go there now….. So my apologies for the timorous voice. This is an injured and humiliated artist talking. Perhaps you can relate. Perhaps you’ve been there too….)

Potters trying to make a living selling their work are caught between two worlds. We have this duality whether we like it or not, whether we are good at it or not. We are no longer kids playing in the mud, merely indulging our creative impulses. And we are not unique. All selling artists are in this position. Its the difference between the lightness of following our dreams and desires, an untethered promiscuity, and the heaviness of outside commitments, responsibilities, external pressures, and the sacrifices we make to fit in.

Sometimes the fit between these two worlds is smooth and uncomplicated. Our mojo and what we are trying to do with it finds an audience that is receptive and supportive. When everything is going well, we mostly don’t even notice the duality. We don’t need to stray too far outside the dreamlike state of our lightness. We can make what we want, and the universe enfolds us in its nurturing embrace. There is a customer for every pot. Every pot has a home. The work virtually sells itself. People come to us to get our wares, to invite us to do shows, to do workshops, to give lectures. The outside pressures on us can be as soft and soothing as gentle caresses, sometimes maybe only as mildly offending as pleasantly cajoling nudges.

I have yet to experience that potter’s utopia. Sometimes I can almost sense it in the distance. Sometimes I think that just maybe I’m on the right track, that I have enough breathing room to finally smell the roses. Sometimes I think that I’ve got at least a part of this business figured out. I think that just possibly the plan I’ve got will keep me pointed in the right direction. But it usually comes crashing down. I never seem to get very far without needing to stop where I’m headed and reassess. Just when I think I’ve got a handle on things the world outside my control reminds me how small my grip really was….

Maybe that creative utopia only describes a handful of potters. Maybe none. Perhaps it sort of describes only the ones who have already worked their socks off to get in that position. Or maybe it kind of describes the ones who started off with a sizable bankroll, a primo studio set-up, the right education, the right connections, the right people willing to support them, to shepherd them into the limelight. Looking around I see potters that may not even need to sell their work to live comfortably. They may not be aware of the heaviness that ordinary potters carry with them. For some, making pots can almost be like a professional hobby, stress free safety net included…. Or maybe they were once like us and its a past better left unremembered. Or they know it, and count their blessings every day. Or maybe they have already forgotten, and have expunged all traces of a potter’s heaviness….

We tend to notice things more when the wheels aren’t turning, when there is a pain we can’t get rid of, when we are scrapping for our crusts at every turn. We tend not to notice our health until its not there.

But I get the feeling that most professional potters following their dream spend almost as much time chasing down opportunities as they do making actual work. I get the feeling that most full time potters are so weighed down with the heaviness of external pressures that the dream of a creative future hangs by the slightest thread. As if one careless misstep will plunge us over the edge.

Being a potter is a marginal activity for most of us. The weight of our predicament surrounds us and we can’t seem to break free. Its a cocoon of brambles. A good show sprinkled in amongst the other ones is like a gift from the art gods. We have a moment of respite. We pick that thorn from our flesh. But it never lasts. We can’t afford to get too comfy or complacent. We can’t get lulled by one good showing. We can’t slip up too many more times. A cat only has 9 lives. How many does an artist have? The executioner’s axe continues to hover above our necks, waiting to sever us from our dreams of creativity….

And the path is littered with talented potters who just couldn’t stick with it, with potters who were forced to give up their dream and get a ‘real’ job….. What was it Tinkerbell said? “Every time someone says they don’t believe in fairies somewhere there’s a fairy that falls down dead”? The dream of being an artist is almost as brittle, a gossamer miracle in the eye of a storm….

No one becomes a potter simply to make money. Its not like most other professions where it is a choice between other jobs of how to make a living. For most potters our time could be more profitably spent working the counter at a burger joint. Its not about the money. At least not primarily. Rather, we do pottery because this is who we are. This is what we care about. This is the light that illuminates and animates our souls. We are Romantics. Potters believe the dream. They believe that fairies are real….

The lightness of being a potter is that we create. We cast off the dross and dust of the daily grind to reach for the stars. We use our imagination to add things of value to the universe. Beauty. It is a dance of our passions made manifest in the world. It is a follow through on the joy we knew as children, an innocence, where our imaginations told the story of what things were important.

And the unbearable part, the unbearable lightness of being a potter, is that it is a dream that too often and too easily can be crushed. It is a fragile flower. It is a poignant reverie, an exquisite moment of grace that the universe offers up. It is an improbable instance of magical opportunity. That we can create, and make our way in the world as vibrant caring beings. That we can resist the call of more ‘sensible’ paths. That our duty is to this fragile flower and not obedience to some anonymously soul crushing outside authority.

Just how incredible is that? That we can keep our creative dreams alive despite a lack of appreciation for what we do? Isn’t it sometimes almost unbearable? Isn’t it sometimes enough to make you want to cry….?

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.

25 Responses to The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Potter

  1. steelewares says:

    Reblogged this on Steelewares and commented:
    A hard truth that I must consider as an aspiring production potter in a modern world. Brilliantly written.

    • Thanks Jonathan.

      There is a way forward, and it takes perseverance and a lot of hard work. Sometimes it takes a bit of luck, but you can also make your own luck sometimes.

      DON”T GIVE UP! Keep your dream alive. Believe in what you are doing. Know that adding beauty to the world is important. Maybe its one of the most important things you can do in addition to being a decent caring person. The world needs more talented potters. And it needs dreamers who are not afraid to put their imaginations on the line. Help teach the world that what you do, the beauty that you see in the world, is something worth pursuing. It sometimes takes more than just shoving a pot under their noses, but with patience and sensitivity we can help our audience understand the need for a person’s creative insight into the world.

      Its not just a nostalgic longing for the simplicity of the past that makes handmade pottery important. Right now and right here we need to be reminded of the beauty of objects and the value in handmade craftsmanship. These are values that would be devastating if we let slip through our culture’s fingers. Consider pottery and other art forms a beachhead against the trends in our society that stifle imagination, that take creativity out of our hands, and that put problem solving as a digital resource.

      Train your hands and mind to think for themselves, and help others realize that potential within themselves. Keeping the lightness of being a potter is also continuing to think for ourselves despite the pressures on us to conform. We need people to make that stand. The more we imagine it CAN be different, and act on it, the more we take responsibility for the shape of the world. Making our art is a statement that this is the way the world should be, that it should include these new things sprung forth from your imagination.

      Keep on dreaming, and make it count. Share what you’ve got with the rest of us, and teach us new horizons of possibility. You can do it! We need you!

      Never forget that.

  2. Thank you for a very enlightening post. Being new to the profession, I often don’t realise that successful potters are a minusucle fraction of the whole. Chin up and please don’t stop writing, I enjoy your blog immensely.

    • Thanks for the encouragement Araceli!

      Good luck with your own artistic adventures. Keep believing in yourself and that what you are doing is important. And help folks understand that this creative exploration you are engaged in is a journey they too can engage in. Every artist is a light pointing the way forward. Help inspire folks to see the world differently, that it can be different, that creativity and imagination can make things different. Help them understand that deep within each of us (them too) there is an artist waiting to be born.

      The heaviness of the world, the turbulent seas that crush our dreams, are just the side effects of a world that has ceased caring. We can teach folks to nurture their own dreams and help calm the sea. We can nurture each other’s dreams. We can remind people that they too have the spark of creativity within them, and together we can make the world a lighter place. We can learn that the world is also a place where dreams can be born and can flourish. But its a future too big for any one person to do all on their own. We all need to dream this dream.

      And you can be there when it happens. You can help others find that dream within themselves. You can help be the midwife of new creativity in the world. Share the creativity within you and be a beacon for possibility. Be the example that inspires others to follow their own dreams.

      Good luck!

  3. John Bauman says:

    This hit home. Well said. Pottery is a great second income. Unfortunately, it is my only income. That is/was great when it was going well. But for a single-potter studio, too many things have to line up well — even perfectly — for success. When one of those many things goes south, the wheel of life starts to wobble. If you speed up in a panicked reaction, the imbalanced wheel goes flying irreparably off the axle. If you feel that happening, you slow down in caution….and it’s then that you realize just how important momentum was….and what it ultimately takes to fix the wobble. And that’s if you’re lucky enough TO figure that out.

    • I wish it wasn’t so true…..

      I hope your wheels stay on and true for as long as you want to keep pursuing this adventure.

      I’ve been kicking around ideas about the nature of our predicament for a while now, and the more I think about it the more it seems obvious that we are all in this boat together. It seems that the best way to raise ourselves up is to create an environment where we ALL are raised up.

      And that’s why I was so excited to hear you are considering teaching classes. I think the best way we can carve out space for creative work is to help create a culture where creativity is understood, intimately and personally. And thankfully there is a demand for teachers. And thankfully it also pays a bit on its own. If I didn’t have the income from teaching, my clay dreams would soon be lost.

      And the reward of helping folks find their own creative inspiration has the benefit that you have just taught someone to value what it is that potters do. They get it. They may even become inspired by your own pottery and help support what you do in your non-teaching moments. They can now see where these things came from, and have first hand experience of the difficulty it took to give birth to these creations. Its not as easy as it looks, but you don’t appreciate that unless you try it yourself. Its just the way of our minds that we often fail to adequately respect the things that we have no first hand experience of ourselves. Teach the world about what you do and the world will find new appreciation for it…..

      In the end I would say that the more of us who can relate to a life lived creatively the more space and nurturing there will be for it to flourish. That’s my take on it, at least. That’s my hope….

      Good luck in the potting, and good luck with the teaching gig!

  4. I believe in Fairies…I do, I do, I do (and yes I’m clicking my Ruby slippers together while I say it)!!! Seriously though, you have a great, kind soul Carter. I wish that more people could experience your expressive, beautiful work in person. You have taught me to have a greater appreciation (and a keener eye) for the craft of making pots. Please do us all a favor and continue to create the work that your soul wants to create.

    Save more Fairies…they’re on the Endangered list!

    • Thanks Erika!

      I’m not done with it yet. I’m stubborn and a fighter. I don’t give up that easily. If the hundred times I’ve already been knocked down hasn’t broken me yet then it will take quite a bit more to keep me down. I may be woozy, one eye may be closed, I’m drooling through my broken teeth, and there’s blood everywhere, but I’m not done yet.

      Thanks for your encouragement, and thanks for hanging out with me at Good Dirt when you are able. I believe in fairies, but I also believe in YOU. I’m holding my breath that the obvious commitment and real talent you bring to this pottery adventure will someday become the legs that you can stand on. I sincerely hope that you are able to carve out your own space for sharing your creative vision and passion with the world.

      I absolutely didn’t want this post to be discouraging. I was just responding to a post by Brandon Phillips and a follow up post by Michael Kline, and the post sort of wrote itself. I believe in fairies, but I also believe that there IS hope. I’m not a pessimist despite all the knock downs. As you may have recognized since the “signature style” discussions, I am on something of a mission to get potters motivated by the issues facing us. The more together we are the more we can help each other stand up. Divided we will only fall…..

      So I’ll keep my chin up, and I sincerely hope you will too. Thanks for being my occasional student! Thanks for tangling with all these issues! Thanks for getting your hands dirty! And thanks for being YOU!

      Seeya this Summer, I hope!

  5. linda says:

    Carter – I continue to be impressed and drawn in by your blog. It’s wondrous. I left the “real job” world almost a year ago now and decided to pour all my guts into making my work and seeing if I can make it work. I cannot tell you what a wild ride it has been. Still is. I think other potters would understand. Seems to me, you do. There is this interesting phenomenon of terror and euphoria that happens all the time. The terrors are the obvious fears and worries, a feeling of being adrift sometimes ( = lots of time alone in studio) and then conversely when there is a success of some kind a real deep connection to what you do. making an object, a vessel that someone will USE in their daily life. That’s where the fairies come out and sing in your ear. I need fairies – I’ve worked harder at this than any corporate job I’ve ever had.

    I’ve had some luck recently. you need luck too ! We’ll see if it holds. living in the Bay Area and being involved in the community here, I see a lot of examples of funded potters, insanely successful ones and every other across the spectrum of full time and part time artist/craftsmen and women. It’s also a tough business.

    I also just applied for a small business grant. I’m sure a million other people did too and in reality my chances are probably minuscule – but hey, I am definitely going to find a way to open a place where I can sell my work, but more importantly the work of others and yes, educate people – inform people’s eye to what needs to be more closely considered and appreciated and BOUGHT !!!! wish me luck. Meanwhile, I am going to keep making my work and keep at improving it.

    BUT – I do feel ceramics, pottery, the clay arts is in a kind of renaissance. A phase of appreciation and interest by the public. There is so much work out there changing the experience of what pottery is or can be. That’s pretty exciting.

    You have amazing insight and sensitivity. This blog is intelligent and thoughtful. And honest !

    • Hey Linda! I’m rooting four you!

      I totally agree that right now in many ways seems an unprecedented time in the pottery world. In the last 20 or so years the level of quality and imagination has seemingly exploded forward. It IS exciting times for us.

      And maybe the general public is getting more of a feel for pots, learning to see the wealth of creativity and insight for what they truly are. But its an education that can’t rest on its laurels. With pot making getting dumped out of many universities I have real worries that our customer base and the training that prospective professionals get will suffer. Not that there are no ways to fill the gaps, but I fear the worst…..

      I’m so glad that you are on this journey with me! And thanks so much for sharing things in your awesome blog. I’ll say it again, and every day til I die, the more we can stand together the more each of us helps raise the others up as well.

      Good luck (yes, LUCK)!

      • Scott Cooper says:

        I’d be curious to see a survey of professional potters on the question of whether the general environment is getting better or worse. If we’ve already hit some sort of apex and were now on the downside, would we even know it? (And, is the staggering array of pottery stuff available via the web skewing our perspective on this issue?)

        I lean towards the pessimistic, so like you I fear the worst. If there’s a way that a terrible economy, a lack of training at all education levels and a growing reliance on the virtual world bodes well for the future of handmade pottery, I’m not seeing it.

  6. Kevin Yates says:

    Perk up, Buttercup. Happiness is primarily a choice. Success is mostly perspective. The challenges you describe are shared by everyone who tries to create something and make a living at it – as you mention, every artist, but also every small business owner, every restaurateur, every musician, everyone who didn’t see an easy path for their dreams to come true other than to manifest it on their own. I’ve always felt that if the path you are on doesn’t suit you, then either pick a new path that does suit you or transform yourself so that you suit the path. Easier said than done, but the alternative seems to be to walk in increasing misery as the discordance between you and your reality grows. Cheers, Brother. Sorry for the crappy sale, and I hope things pick up for you.

    • Thanks for chiming in Kevin!

      Yeah, its not just ‘artists’ who follow their dreams. You well know this from your own marvelous pursuit of your dream!

      Since I went all philosophical in the post I’ll pile some more thoughts on here.

      I can’t help but feel that dreams DO matter. Not just to the person dreaming, but to society, to the potential of all possible dreamers. Not just to the individual dream, but to all the people who are changed by it. Its a big issue, and as with all things that matter, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There’s a bigger picture than whether my dream or your dream survives….

      And every one of those dreams is fragile and precious. It needs support, care, and nurturing. Like the gardens you plant. And every one of those dreams comes up against the hard oppressive reality and faces a sometimes unbearable soul crushing. Sometimes its easier not to dream. Sometimes its easier to fit yourself into the little prefab cogs of an uncaring and implacable machinery. Is that right? Sometimes its easier to plant grass and mow the lawn, or to simply pave it over.

      That’s why individual dreams are important but our ability to dream may be even more important. If we lose one dream but replace it with another, then that may be alright. But if we stop dreaming all together, what then? What is wrong with a culture that discourages dreams? What happens when a society fails to stand up for the dreams of its citizens?

      In the chill inhospitable climate of conformity the dreamers take an unholy beating. Do we wish to live in a world where its alright NOT TO DREAM? Do we wish to live in a world where people have forgotten what its like to use their imagination? Where we can’t imagine it being any different? Where its not even slightly in our control? Where we are no longer agents of possibility and everything is spoon fed to us, purchased off the racks? Where the future is entirely in the hands of the ‘powers that be’? Where a ‘better world’ is just something that the advertising executives have mapped out and sell us on? How can we keep that creative potential alive within us when schools are becoming more like test training centers and indoctrination camps than investigative educational opportunities into the realm of possibility?

      Do we sit back and meekly take it?

      In my mind exercising your imagination, being creative, and learning to follow your dreams are moral conditions. Self determination is if nothing else taking a stand that the world as it is and the world as it should be are NOT the same things. Every time we pursue our dreams we are taking a stand. We are not merely fitting in. And unless we practice our own creative intelligence, unless we hone our skills for self determination, then we will only end up living lives that have not been touched by our own dreams. Corporate dreams, perhaps, but not our own….

      Is that a future you want for yourself? Is that a future you want for your children?

      Is it wrong to work for a world that believes in fairies?

      Sorry I went overboard! Sometimes it just happens to me…..

      • Scott Cooper says:

        “Sometimes its easier not to dream. Sometimes its easier to fit yourself into the little prefab cogs of an uncaring and implacable machinery. Is that right?”

        From personal experience, I’d say it’s easier in the short term, but harder in the longer term. Giving up on dreaming is like taking on a debt with a bad interest rate and a significant balloon payment, due at some unspecified point in the future.

      • Scott Cooper says:

        I like your distinction between the success or failure of our individual dreams and our collective ability to have dreams.

        I’m OK, I think, with a Darwinian process in the society that kills off the dreams that are more flaky, dumb or unsuitably naive in favor of those that are more fit to survive. (Yes, I’m deliberately chumming the waters of your tank with the presumption that the “fitness” of said dreams is a universal constant). If having and following dreams is a moral condition, I’d say a sub-condition is having the ability to alter those dreams as conditions change, particularly as we learn more by going after them. But that process — ideally — exists to improve the quality of the dreams that get realized; to reinforce the act of dreaming and aspiring to do unusual and non-obvious things in the culture at large.

        That’s the fairy world I want for my kid; the idea that dreams are worth having, but she’s going to have to learn to be really creative and work really hard to make one stick.

        • Absolutely! I hope Maggie and all kids of her generation get that chance.

          Dreaming, like any other ability or talent, needs nurturing and training. And sometimes we have to give up one dream to pursue another. So even failed dreams can be the compost for new dreams to find nourishment. And sometimes the plant is made healthier by cutting away dead or failing branches. And sometimes it just takes too much water to sustain a plant that was damaged from birth, and never will survive. Sometimes its best to cut life support. Sometimes a dream is just not fit for our world….

          But then sometimes its also important to let a dream have its day in the sun despite all that. Sometimes its important to feed that dream despite knowing that it won’t go anywhere. Sometimes the point of a dream isn’t how much it leads us into the future, but what it is right here and right now. Sometimes a dream needs to be respected just for having been dreamed. “This is MY soul speaking” says the artist. And who is right to tell her that the dream she is dreaming is wrong?

          If the world is not set up to support that dream is there something necessarily wrong with the dream? Maybe instead there is something wrong with the world that does not support it. Isn’t the point of dreams that they are not the world? That they are something different? Something new? Aren’t dreams born into this world as a sometimes violent tear in the fabric of reality? By their very nature, dreams are not of this world. So how can the world’s support ever be a measure of the ‘fitness’ of the dream?

          But we can also make the world more like our dream. Isn’t the point of dreams that we can sometimes follow them and change the world? That we CAN make it different? Isn’t following a dream this magical opportunity to imagine something different? And if it is simply being measured against the status quo, what dream would ever pass muster? Don’t dreams succeed precisely because they DO change things? That the world now IS a different place? Isn’t it also right to dream the seemingly impossible? To challenge ourselves beyond our known limits? To find new limits in previously undiscovered territory? Don’t we have to deny playing it safe just to have these dreams? Is that wrong? Are only the easy births worth supporting?

          If we make it a Darwinian scenario aren’t we just saying that only the easy dreams get to survive? That its the luck of the draw that there are are doctors and a support team to gentle the newborn infant into its swaddling clothes? And that dreams born into a war zone, or born into poverty, are just out of luck? That they are right to die off? That their fitness for the world was that they were born into poverty?

          That just seems wrong to me. And if that is the case, then we can’t afford to measure our dreams simply by which of them survive long into this world. That makes it an accident of history whether something makes it or fails. Do we truly wish to measure dreams on those terms? If Michael Simon’s pots had never reached an audience, if YOU and I had never gotten to see them, would his dreams of beauty and function have been wrong? Would they have been unfit simply because there was no one who could appreciate them? Are we saying that the tree never made a noise because it fell in a forest where no one could hear it? And how much beauty is still out there languishing for lack of opportunity? How many dreams get squashed simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time? The validity of a dream simply cannot be measured by the contingent circumstances of how well it survives in the world.

          Sure, some dreams can make a bigger difference, and some dreams don’t make any ripples at all. We tend to notice the ones that DO survive and change things. But do we only celebrate the dreams that shake mountains? Do we only praise the dreams that get born in fancy hospitals to wealthy parents? Is that the real test? The dreams that through worldly Darwinian contingency DO have an effect on the world at large? Are the dreams of the quiet hermit on the lonely mountain top any less worth dreaming? It is the ability to make dreams real that ends up getting celebrated instead, if we put all our marbles in a Darwinian sorting matrix. Do we want to only recognize dreams of the people in positions of worldly power, where its simply easier to make dreams come true? Isn’t a dream its own integral value no matter who is dreaming it? No matter where its born and into what circumstances?

          Isn’t predicting the potential efficacy of a dream in the world in a sense like trying to measure how well a car will run based on the color it was painted? Don’t all sorts of other things have to line up for one dream to survive and for another not to? And yet, the fitness of the dream is in question, not the fitness of the circumstances it was born into. Does that make sense? A child born into poverty starts out with incredible disadvantages, and if that child gets pulled down how can we in good conscience put all the blame on that child? Is the way the world actually is the best sorter for which dreams make it and which do not?

          And isn’t THAT the point of dreaming in the first place? That there is more to value than simply what is?

  7. Joseph says:

    After having my own studio in a retail unit and feeling like my dream was squashed it was hard. I have come to dislike a lot of the work I made thinking it was very ugly, which is very true, there was nothing special about it, nothing that really brings any joy to the world. I started a redesign, started making it, saw what another potter was doing, picked up my pots looked at them felt them and there feel to be too many problems still so very dull.

    So now I am designing again from scratch, unfortunately because my degree mainly seemed to be surface pattern I try and start there and work back to form. I am very interested in soda firing but as I don’t know a single person in the North West that does it it leaves that option closed as money is non existent. I have a small electric kiln and have fired earthenware recently doing craving/sgraffito it really isn’t me. I only know a few glazes, and don’t know where I want to turn with glazes, especially as my working space isn’t set up for doing glaze tests, and I don’t have the materials or accurate enough scales.

    I got recommended the “Potter’s Workbook” by Clary Illian and I have been working my way through it but still seem so uncertain as to my own voice. I want to retire what I have made and start with something fresh, especially as I have seen potters making work that is so similar to my boring work.

    So now I am looking for some more permanent teaching rather than going from place to place. If I had a regular income I wouldn’t mind the odd school visit but when it is part of my income and even if they contact there is little to no guarantee of a booking. One of the local colleges wants to employ me but it will only be one afternoon for 10 weeks trying to inspire their students in the use of clay and more importantly taking my wheel in and letting them have a go. I will have to find something else too, as one afternoon for ten weeks isn’t enough.

    The whole making money from pottery seems like a pie in the sky dream that will never come true as I quickly lose any certainty I have. The whole life seems even harder as we have our second little monster due in a month meaning the summer isn’t really going to be used to solve all the questions I have with my pottery, probably just being a dad.

    • Hi Joseph!

      Thanks for chiming in on my post!

      I didn’t plan on the post coming off as depressing as it did, but I knew I wanted to do a reality check. Times are hard all over, and maybe potters are in the mood for a good moan. What I’m hoping is that we can come away from this with renewed energy, and that we can pool our resources and really come to feel that we are part of a great and supportive community. We are in this together as far as the big picture goes, but sometimes we don’t see that our own small contribution is one of those threads that holds the whole thing together. Sometimes we imagine that we are all on our own, and that what we do has no bearing on other potters or on the health of the arts as a whole.

      So I urge you to keep with it. Don’t give up! Your dream is precious, and it matters to me.

      On a practical level it seems that you are frustrated by both the light side of pottery creativity and the heavy side of making a business out of it. The one thing I would strongly suggest is that you are absolutely clear which is which. There are some things you have to do to make ends meet, but there are different things that are good for your soul. Even if you put most of your eggs in the basket of how to sell lots of pots, try to keep at least a small space alive for the things that nurture your imagination and creativity. It can be hard to see that this matters, especially if you are struggling with the financial aspects, but to keep yourself in touch with the dream you need to keep dreaming. If all you can do is take 2 hours out of the week’s production schedule to make stuff purely for yourself, things that will never get put out in public or sold, then these 2 hours may end up being more valuable than all the others in the long run. You’ve got to keep your studio time as fun as possible, even if its just a small reminder outside the normal routine. And you’ve got to keep an open mind to learning new things without the pressure of making a sale on every lump of clay. Keep experimenting! And remember that having a ‘voice’ is a marketing strategy. Its not who you are, and its not how you have to touch every piece of clay. Keep your eyes open about that, and keep your imagination floating free from its chains as much as you can (heaviness permitting).

      Sometimes the unbearable lightness of being a potter is too much, but don’t turn every touch of the clay into drudgery. When I was in school the one bit of practical advice that stood out was when I was told that very few potters could make a living just selling pots. Even in the best of times. So it makes sense to diversify, and your teaching income helps take at least some of the pressure off. But it may even require a part time job outside of clay to make things work. Or paint or do sculpture and try to sell that as well. Keep your hands in as many pies as you can unless the one you want the most more than pays for itself.

      It may be better to keep the fire of a dream sheltered and small than to suddenly dump a load of fuel on it and watch it consume itself. If you are trying to heat your house, you need a steady supply over a long haul, not a conflagration that is so hot and so poorly contained that it will take the house with it. Managing your dream, finding the right balance, is what we all hope for. We’re not aiming for the junkie’s world of mind blown fantasy. Keep the fairies alive in the real world. Its not either pure dreams/or pure reality. That’s the beauty of being an artist: We make dreams real….

      I’m not sure if any of that made sense, but I hope you do keep with it and I hope you do keep your dream alive.

      Good luck!

  8. Lori Watts says:

    So true! I constantly feel like I am one bad firing away from calamity. I call it “riding the ragged edge of disaster.” Then I feel like a fool because all around me, I see potters who seem to be doing well. Then I think, “Maybe I just suck.”
    But that’s not it. It’s not just me. Most of us who rely on pottery for our primary income – if we try at all to stay true to our aesthetic – we struggle, and struggle, and struggle.
    Thanks so much for doing a sister a solid, and acknowledging your own struggle.

    • Good luck Lori!

      And hang in there. The world needs us. The world needs to be shown the value of humble beauty in the service of utilitarian needs.

      So always remember that its more than simply setting our pots out. We need to strive more in helping educate the folks who don’t yet have the sensitivity to see what we are doing. We’ve got to constantly bring new folks into our audience. How can we help the world to better see the value of what we are doing? That’s the question I’m asking a lot these days. I’ll keep you posted with what I come up with.

      Happy potting!

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