[Clayart] AUTOMATION -

vpitelka at dtccom.net vpitelka at dtccom.net
Sun Sep 12 13:39:33 UTC 2021

Robert Harris wrote:
"When a supposed professional sits down and makes the same pot for the 1000th time, without thinking, without truly looking ... then shame on them, they're no better than a machine."

I don't know about shame if it is a conscious choice to mass-produce by hand.  But I do understand, and I do agree in regards to any potter who is constantly trying to get better.  When I was a full-time potter in my studio Railroad Stoneware in Northern California (on South Railroad Avenue in Blue Lake), most of my production was kitchenware and tableware that I wholesaled to the gourmet kitchen stores springing up in Northern California and southern Oregon.  It was a very good market.  I was making the same pots again and again without thinking other than to maintain the same standards of quality.  I love machines.  I've had an affinity for machines ever since I was a kid.  When I teach workshops, I always do a slide show about the development of my own work, and when I talk about the Railroad Stoneware period, I always say, "I love machines, but I never wanted to be one."  That is really what it felt like.  I had become a machine, effectively cranking out exactly the same things over and over again, because they had to match the pieces I'd already sold to those stores, both in size/shape and in design.  It became incredibly repetitive, and my love of clay was waning.  My wife was the first one to suggest we go to grad school, but I jumped on board quickly because of my growing disenchantment with my studio work.  I recovered my love of clay in grad school.  

In my teaching, I always tell students to make every pot in the context of the previous one, thinking about form, thickness, rim, etc.  Make every one better.  Start each day in the studio in the context of what you accomplished the previous day.  Begin each month or year with a critical eye towards improvement over what you accomplished the previous month or year.  

I too have encountered potters who have considerable experience and yet sit down at the wheel or the handbuilding table with the attitude, "Whatever happens, happens," without any carefully design and planning ahead of time.  It's fine to do that as a way to explore form, but if they do that all the time, it doesn't accomplish much towards developing a coherent style and an recognizable body of work.
- Vince

Vince Pitelka
Potter, Writer, Teacher
Chapel Hill, NC
vpitelka at dtccom.net

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