I was watching The Antiques Road Show the other day, and I was rooting for a China-painted piece from the early 20th century to really wow me on price, and it came in at something like $1000–$1200. I thought out loud, “Oh, come on, ceramics. You can do better than that.” Now perhaps historical China-painted work is not what we focus on, but I expected better. That price represented only about $10 for every year of that piece’s fragile existence that it avoided being dropped, kicked, nudged, thrown (for a second time—and not for the right reason), elbowed, lost, or any number of other unfortunate but all-too-common ends for ceramic objects. It started out as worthless dirt and some considerate, careful, highly-trained and practiced individuals turned it into permanent—but only slightly less worthless—dirt. I think every potter at some point starts to see his or her efforts not being appropriately balanced with income or value. Now, on another episode of that same show, I saw a 1920s bourbon flask in the shape of a pig with a cork stuck in its you-know-what (not its snout) valued at something like $10,000. I was equally incredulous, but this value, of course, was based on rarity and the humorous subject matter, rather than the craftsmanship of the object itself.
I think many of us would agree that, on some level, no matter how enamoured we are of this material and process, and no matter how much energy we feel is necessary to fully exploit them, there is a point at which the value added to an object simply cannot be recouped in the value the market will bear for it.
So, we could ask, “What’s the point? Why waste the time and the resources?” The economic answer to that question is difficult, but the issues here are clearly not simply economic; and if we’re being honest we are not (and those historical makers were not) making work for people 100 years from now. Yes, the work will quite possibly still be around, but that is not the time for which we produce our work.
I know I waste my time in the studio—willingly, gladly, gloriously—because I love clay as a material, I’m curious about it, and I need to spend time just putzing around with it, waiting for it to introduce me to my next project. I’m not necessarily trying to maximize time and processes for the greatest efficiency (not that there is anything wrong with that), and I’m hopeful that project doesn’t end up being a pig with a cork in it, even if it may sell for thousands of dollars long after I’m dead. Even though I don’t sell my work very often, I do want it to be salable and attractive to the marketplace—today’s marketplace. I don’t care if it actually sells (I have a day job that I like quite a bit), but I do care that it is valued.
In this issue, we’ve asked several makers to describe not only their process for making one of their functional pieces, but the value they hope their work carries that is beyond its basic function—and we hope you value their efforts as much as we do.
Check out the rest of the December 2012 issue!