[Clayart] we all look alike

David Lyons lyonsd at plbb.us
Sat Aug 13 02:41:27 UTC 2022

Snail says “ There are no instructional videos for learning to be yourself. ”.  Right on!  I used to say I was a graduate of YouTube university. But I had to cut way back on YouTube to truly graduate.  I still try to absorb ideas from others but with a mindset to make it my own instead of simply making a copy. 
Dave Lyons

Sent from my iPhone

> On Aug 12, 2022, at 12:32 PM, Snail Scott <claywork at flying-snail.com> wrote:
> David -I missed this when it was published, but this is one of the best damn things I have read in a long time.  
> I often do feel quite isolated in my studio, and find myself repeating tired forms and tropes out of habit, becoming less and less interesting with each iteration. External stimulation is required!  Over time, though, I have found myself looking less and less at the work of others. I have settled into practices that work for me, without (I hope) getting too stuck, and I have enough knowledge that I can get where I am headed, but to know what question to ask (I hope) when I don’t.  I still try to get out to exhibitions and look around to keep from getting stale, but I find that the best way to shake off the dust of outworn habits is to look outside of the tunnel-vision word of studio ceramics. Sculpture in other media, paintings, textiles, real-world things ranging from industrial forms to trinkets, and built or natural structures of all sorts, plus music, writing, and other things of less tangible or obvious visual presence. Color, pattern, relationships of force and mass; a composition of form, stance, space, or sensibility. 
> After a few years studying ceramics, I got frustrated when every critique seemed to devolve into ‘You should try another cone’ or ‘Maybe it needs more ___(feldspar) (silica) (whatever)?’ Those are the easy questions, really...nobody ever asked ‘why’; only ‘how'?  I quit taking ceramics and went down the hall, talking by way into an upper-level sculpture class instead, where the technical issues were a means to an end, and not an evasion disguised as education. It was the broader world I was looking for, with far more questions than answers.  
> Both in school and now, my most useful feedback has been from people who are visually literate and able to articulate what they are seeing and thinking, but who have not spent years drinking the same Kool-Aid. Photographers, painters, weavers, architects, tailors, poets, gardeners.  If you want to stay within the monastically pure craft tradition of your choice, go ahead! It’s an honorable pursuit. But if you want to do original work, you won’t get there by seeking out preexisting work to emulate. Mine it for what it can teach and assimilate it, but then move forward. There are no instructional videos for learning to be yourself. 
> -Snail
>> On Aug 10, 2022, at 7:39 PM, David Hendley <farmpots at eastex.net> wrote:
>> 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 work.
>> 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
>> www.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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