Guess how many drafts of this letter I have written—go ahead, guess. Okay, it’s a trick question, because that first sentence has never been rewritten. Other parts have been extensively rewritten, but you’d never know it (I hope) because this is the final product. And in the end, who cares? Well, as the writer, I care. And in the case of visual creations like pottery and sculpture, the maker cares. For instance, how many mugs did you have to make (assuming you make mugs) before you got it right? It’s difficult to answer, because you may have had the form (body, lip, foot, and handle) just right, and then spent so much time testing and re-testing a glaze until you figured out how to tweak it and apply it and fire it just right, that the answer to that question could include all the mugs you made over the course of several months.
If you told someone it took you months to get that mug right, they may look at you as if they thought you were inept, and they might wonder why you would waste so much time at something you are clearly not very good at. Except that’s exactly how we get good, isn’t it? And what about customers, do they care? When asked by potential customers how long it took to make something, I’ve heard a lot of folks respond with “30 years,” or some similarly lengthy period of time. When the late Bob Ross—host of the PBS series The Joy of Painting—was asked how long it took him to make a painting, he said, “It took me 20 years—and 2 minutes,” meaning it took him 20 years to learn how to paint a picture in 2 minutes. I think the same could be said for throwing mugs—or any particular form, for that matter.
And there is always something we need to work on, isn’t there—unless we’re okay with just coasting along and not improving much. Based on what I’ve heard from a lot of you, I’m going to go ahead and assume that laziness does not, in large part, define the readership of this magazine (you may applaud whenever your ego feels sufficiently inflated). Pandering aside, I do think it takes a certain tenacity to master the craft of ceramics. It needs to be tied to intellect, and most certainly to passion, because if it matters enough to you to put in the effort necessary to make your work the best reflection of yourself that it can be, then others will likely see that and find a great deal of satisfaction that they can get out of it.
So, to put this to the test, I suggest you check out the work of our cover artist, Kristen Kieffer (p. 40) to get an idea of the level to which a maker can master every part of the process. Then go look at this year’s Undergraduate Showcase (p. 58). It highlights several people with a lot of passion, and it’s clear they’ve deeply invested themselves in their work (one in particular actually putting himself physically into it). Of course, there are many other examples in this issue, and I won’t list them all (that’s what the table of contents is for—p. 8), and I’m sure that each and every one of you could find an example of something that, for you, contradicts this claim. So, it’s fine if you’d like to point those out, but it would be preferable to me if you look for and point out those pieces or bodies of work that resonate with you precisely because you can see the investment of the maker in the work. Of course this is not the only (and certainly not the primary) criteria for judging creative endeavors, but I think it’s a good exercise for makers, and I’d like to know what you take from it.
As always, I’m never quite sure what I’ll get when I ask for feedback , but if you check out the letters on page 12, you’ll find a few of the better examples of what can result. In my last letter, in the June/July/August issue, I explained that I was experimenting with bottle glass to make glazes. And because I am trying to be less of a glutton for punishment when it comes to testing ideas in the studio, I asked for feedback from those out there who were willing to try this experiment with me. Thankfully, Bryce Brisco and George Drobnock came through not only with their process for cullet glazes, but recipes and images to boot!
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