As I write this letter from a hotel room in Seattle, while attending the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts conference, I am thinking back to the week before leaving for the conference and how the editorial and production staff really stepped up their game in order to get this issue done ahead of leaving (except me, of course—because I’m still writing this). This is unusual and typical at the same time. It’s unusual in that, when you publish ten times a year, there is not a lot of room in the schedule to simply cut out a week, but that’s what they were able to do. It’s typical in that, in addition to being a group of people who are passionate about ceramic art, they are people who know how to get things done. More often than not, they get things done by working well together and relying on each others’ strengths. When deadlines loom and unexpected issues arise that require creative solutions, I often find out about them after they are done. They work well together, and it’s not just because they have dream jobs, which I enjoy reminding them of—especially in a public forum such as this—and it’s not just because they like each other, which they do because good and smart people tend to gravitate toward other good and smart people; it’s because they take pride and ownership in the product of their combined efforts. They realize that their efforts (and the products of those efforts) reflect upon the larger group, and while some of that kind of motivation can be based on pressure and fear of failure, I see proof every day that the motivation for this staff is based on each person having genuine care and concern for the others. It’s inspiring, if you want to know how I really feel about it.
This happens outside of the office as well. For instance, just the other day, after setting up all the booths for the expo at NCECA, the editorial staff pitched in to help attach hundreds of porcelain flowers to associate editor Jessica Knapp and her husband’s piece in the Projects Space. They didn’t have to do it, but I could tell by how the work proceeded that it was not done out of a sense of obligation; it was done out of a sense of fun and a desire to encourage Jessica in her success with her studio work.
I think we all experience things like this in the larger clay community, whether it’s a group of wood-firing potters who need a community of people in order to make the loading, stoking, and unloading even close to possible, or places like Mudshark Studios who provide specialized ceramic production services for artists, designers, and pretty much anyone who wants to make something out of clay. Given the fact that studio work can be so solitary and isolating, it’s encouraging to know that, when we need each other to get something done, it gets done.
I would venture a guess that every single one of the fourteen Ceramics Monthly 2012 Emerging Artists have had help from unexpected sources, simply because someone cared enough to see one of their peers succeed, and they knew they had the tools to help. It’s not about payback; it’s about paying forward. We as a community tend to understand this from the core of our training and experience within the field. The résumés of these Emerging Artists are filled with proof that they did not get to where they are by themselves, but be sure that they also constitute bright spots in the careers of others.
We are all unsung in some way, just as we are lauded in others. And we will likely never be able to properly thank those who have been instrumental in guiding us, supporting us, and helping us realize our true potential. But remember, that’s not why they helped us in the first place, and the best way to acknowledge that assistance is to internalize that lesson of support and realize that you have tools that others need, whether it’s time, experience and expertise, advice, money, space, or perhaps just the acknowledgement of someone’s struggle along their own creative path. We work in studios, not in vacuums.