[Clayart] we all look alike

David Hendley farmpots at eastex.net
Thu Aug 11 00:39:16 UTC 2022

I think it was also at the time of the Louisville NCECA that I wrote a 
column for
Clay Times entitled "Burn This Magazine".
Usually, I just emailed in my columns, but I printed this one out and 
took it to the
conference to show to Polly Beach, the editor. To her credit, she said, 
yeah, let's
go with it.

Burn This Magazine

I can’t help it. Sometimes I’m over-saturated with materialism and 
affluence and overtaken by waves of anti-commercialism. These days it 
seems like there is always more of everything: more people, more things, 
more choices, and more sources of information. This trend has been going 
on as long as I’ve been around. It is constantly accelerating and has 
spilled over into our rather small and specialized niche of ceramic art.

It really hit me as I spent time meeting people at the /Clay Times/ 
booth, at the National Council for Education in the Ceramics Arts 
(NCECA) Conference earlier this year. Just walking through the crowded 
exhibit hall at the NCECA Conference was overwhelming, with booth after 
booth of tools, books, and equipment for sale, but staying in one spot, 
I particularly noticed all the stuff people were buying and carrying 
around, and it made a big impression on me. I mean, how many posters 
does one person need? How many tools does it take to make a good pot? 
How many books and magazines do you have to read? How many videos do you 
need to watch?

When I was a kid, we had to walk to school, barefoot, through the 
snow... wait, wrong rant. Seriously, things were quite different in the 
ceramics world when I was a student thirty-some years ago. There were 
not many books about handmade ceramics or studio pottery, and just about 
the only tools available to buy were the standard “student pack” sets of 
wooden rib, sponge, needle, and trimming tool. At all the schools I 
attended, all ceramics students, even the beginners, mixed their own 
clay. There were no throwing bats in the studio; you made your own if 
you wanted to use them. In graduate school my professor required all 
ceramics students to take a welding class, so they would be able to 
make, or at least repair, pottery equipment. I made a potters wheel and 
a clay extruder with a full complement of dies.

  Now I don’t want to sound like a dour old fogey, and in fact, if you 
work with clay, things are much better today than they were in the old 
days. Abundant information is always beneficial and choices are good. 
The work being produced today is generally more varied, more 
imaginative, and more skillfully executed, and there are more 
opportunities to exhibit it and view it. With all these options,however, 
comes the burden for the artist of keeping his or her vision and 
deciding what to discount or ignore. What I’m trying to say is that it 
is imperative that an artist spend time looking inward. Everything else 
– going through an exhibit hall, watching videos, reading magazines, and 
attending workshops - can be a distraction.

  The same is true for those with a more craft-oriented approach, who 
prefer to call themselves potters. Sometimes it’s better to approach an 
idea or problem without knowing how others have dealt with it. After 
all, the point of an artistic endeavor is to make work that reflects the 
personality of the creator. This is why I have always been a proponent 
of potters making their own tools. If the tool is unique to the potter, 
the work made with that tool will also be more expressive and 
recognizable as the work of that potter. It’s not necessarily bad to 
“re-invent the wheel” because each re-invention will be slightly different.

  As for pyrotechnics, I guess I don’t really want you to torch /Clay 
Times/ and never look at it again. It is enjoyable, after all, to see 
what others are doing with clay and to find out what Tony Clennell has 
been thinking about. Just be careful not to let the images and methods 
described in books and magazines displace your own thoughts and ideas. 
Look inward.

  And don’t be seduced by all the ads for bright and shiny new stuff 
offered for sale. Remember that for thousands of years potters produced 
excellent work with rudimentary tools. You can’t buy better work; it 
only comes with dedication, experimentation, practice, vision, and, most 
importantly, time.

  What about workshops? Are you a workshop junkie? I know it’s fun to 
meet well-known potters and hang out with like-minded friends, but I 
wonder if your time might be just as well spent if you blocked out 
several days of uninterrupted studio time and put all your effort into 
trying new things, taking chances, and concentrating on your own 
personal vision. Working, really working, for an artist, is a solitary 
enterprise, even if you are in a room full of people. Use the money you 
would have spent for that workshop to buy some good take-out meals and 
send the kids away for the day or to hire someone to do the yard work 
that needs to be done. Turn on the answering machine and go to work in 
the studio for the whole day. Chances are you will learn more from an 
intense day of work than a day sitting in a group watching someone else 

  Why don’t you hear this advice more often? Well, there’s money to be 
made if you buy a tool, a video,or a magazine, or attend a workshop. No 
money changes hands if you stay in your studio and work. Sure, go ahead 
and attend ceramics events and workshops – after all, you need a social 
life. (I hope you’ll continue reading /Around the Firebox/!) Just 
remember that your art comes from your heart, and you don’t need to buy 
anything to access and develop it.

David Hendley
david at farmpots.com

On 8/8/2022 12:06 PM, Gregg Lindsley wrote:
> many NCECA's ago, in Louisville, my little group that always stays an extra
> day so we could go to as may galleries as possible before the ceramic
> exhibitions were taken down, were doing our thing when I stopped us on the
> street . it was about 1 pm, and we had been looking for about four hours so
> far.  the group was myself, Nan Kitchens, Ken Nowiki, Dave Finkelberg, and
> a few others, (who i am slightly embarrassed to say I can't remember at
> this moment, which i am sure i will as soon as i send this).
>    I remarked that we're seeing the same pots that we have been seeing at
> other NCECA's!  All the same forms and glazes, everywhere.
>    I went home and realized that we had become homogenized as potters. How
> did this happen? Pretty much from looking at the same magazines and videos.
> Also, the supplies and tools we use are pretty much the same too.  Gone are
> the regional styles that arose because all anyone knew was what their
> local, (and I would give this a big range here, like a several state area),
> were doing. Face pots were made in the southeast, etc.  The proliferation
> of supply stores meant that anyone could buy the same materials anywhere.
> If you wanted to be a potter at the North Pole, someone would contrive to
> deliver the material to you, and it would be the same as used everywhere.
> Yes, an exaggeration, but not by much.
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