Sunday, May 31, 2009

For All of the Art Teachers Out There

This is a true story.

I was 20 years old and I had been working for Odell Pottery for a couple of years when a funeral home director came in and wanted to buy a cremation urn. Bruce had a contract with a casket company and we always had orders for high end hand thrown urns, so occasionally people from the community would come and see if we had any extras that had not been shipped out. The man came in and Bruce showed him around and showed him the choices that we had in stock. He happened to pick out a beautiful copper red urn that I had made a few weeks earlier. After he paid for the urn he called us to his car to show us something. Bruce and I walked outside and the man pulled out a small plastic bag with about half a pound of human ashes in it. He was giving us an example of the size of a bag of human ashes. The urns that we had been making were completely closed in at the top and the only way to insert the ashes was through a hole about 2 inches wide in the bottom of the urn. After the ashes were inside a plug was screwed in so that the piece would be completely sealed. The man began to show us that the hole was just a little too small for the ashes and bag to fit in together. The ashes would have to be removed from the bag. He handed the bag to Bruce then Bruce handed it to me. I held it for a second trying to register that this had actually been a person at one time then I handed it back to the man. As he was driving off we walked back to the building and I asked Bruce who had died. Whose ashes had we held? His response was, “Jackie Vaughn. She was an art teacher for a long time.”

I could not believe it. She was my art teacher from kindergarten to the fourth grade, my first art teacher. I went to a small private school and art soon became my favorite subject. Mrs. Vaughn was very strict and no one in my class liked her…except for me. I thought she was great and looked forward to her class everyday. She retired when I was in the fourth grade and I remember painting her a picture for a retirement gift and leaving it on her desk before school. Later that morning she came into my class and gave me a big hug and a kiss in front of my class and thanked me for my gift. I was a little embarrassed. I did not keep in touch with her after she left but she contacted me one more time about a year before she died. She had found out that I was making pottery and she wanted to buy one of my vases. While we were talking she told me that when I was in kindergarten I had told her that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up.

Fifteen years have now passed since the man came in to buy the urn. This year at Easter my eighth grade teacher called me and said that he had something to give me. I went to his house and he brought out a large painting of some flowers that had been painted by Mrs. Vaughn. They had been good friends and he told me some stories about her and said that she talked about me often and would have wanted me to have the painting. I now have the painting hanging in my pottery studio.

Mrs. Vaughn made a great impact on my life by passing on her love for art to me. I will forever be grateful. For all of the art teachers out there, teach your kids everything you can, one day you may be buried in something that they made.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My Thoughts on Molds

I use no molds in my artwork, yet I see nothing wrong with molds. I made many molds when I worked at Round Tree Pottery. It is good business. It reduces the amount of labor involved in creating products to sell and in business a new design is seen not as art work but as a way to make money. Molds simply increase the supply of the design so more people can buy and enjoy it, but as economics tells us with an increase in supply a decrease in price follows. In a pottery business, most of the time, you can get about the same amount of money for the item whether it was molded or hand-made. With art pottery, one-of-a-kind pieces always bring larger amounts of money initially, but a lifetime of copies will bring far more wealth. The same is true with original paintings with their Giclee or lithograph copies. The artist will always make more money from a lifetime of copies than from just selling the original once. From a purely business point of view, molding is a good direction to go, but there is a price to pay if an artist jumps into molds or copies too soon. Nobody is ever trained to be a great potter from working with molds, or becomes a great painter by working with Giclees. The very act of making and selling molded copies is an enemy to the skill development and creativity of the artist. The artist ceases being creative and passes into the business realm of just turning a profit. The mind does not think anymore about the next great creation, it only thinks of how do I make the payroll or pay the rent or sell or market the products better. The knowledge is never passed on either. It is a one-generational process. I was fortunate enough to work as a production potter for 12 years before I learned anything about molds and to learn to make pottery from one of the greatest, Bruce Odell. I never became wealthy and most of the time I was in survival mode. But it created a set of skills in me that I will use for the rest of my life. I wouldn’t give this up for anything. Bruce Odell was, and still is, avidly against molds. That was not great for his business but it was great for me in my process of learning pottery and sculpting. It takes a lot of repetition to develop the skills of a master potter. Once mastery of the material is accomplished – molds become OK. That is good business. But too much business too soon in a field of art will choke out creativity which is the very thing that makes the business possible. I use no molds in my artwork. I may one day again use molds in my business.

My Thoughts on Creativity

I find after putting a new piece on EBay that my business mind and emotions fluctuate based on the bids and prices that the piece goes for. My business mind is more fulfilled the higher the price goes. An artist gets his fulfillment from the act of creating and from reflecting on what he has just created and seeing other people reflect on what he has created. I believe that creativity is a higher and more fulfilling calling in my life than the business of making money. But we all need money to live. For an artist to truly find this calling, he must shuck many desires that the rest of the world thinks are important. He must live simply, stay out of debt, and stay away from other things that drag him down and don’t add anything to him (Drugs, alcohol.) These things and the problems that they bring hinder the true act of creativity in its purest form. TV is another thing that squashes creativity. It is like a drug.

As I walk down the street of my neighborhood at night and see the dim flickering blue lights coming from the windows and no other people in site, I wonder how our life and community would be without TV. Maybe we would see more people sitting and talking on their front porches or playing instruments to entertain themselves leading to new creative forms of music. Instead, I don’t know many of my neighbors. If it were not for TV a man may come home from his job and work on a creative side project instead of sitting for 4 hours to being entertained to death. It is a slow death of the true calling and potential of that man. What about the writer who never writes but spends 4 hours a day watching TV. Are we missing something? I still love CSI, which I watch over the Internet, but that is pretty much the only show I still watch. I got rid of cable, even though it still comes to my house for free. I did this just to see how my life would change. It has changed for the better. I have spent more of my time on creative projects and thus have become more creative.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My Thoughts on Art and Business

I've been wrestling with two lines of thought in the last few days regarding pottery. Should I treat it like art - creating what is inside of me and giving no thought to the money, or should I treat it like a business - creating things that will sell the best. Round Tree Pottery was a business. At Round Tree the more business-minded I became the less creative I was and if I spent too much time creating one-of-kind pieces and new glazes the business would suffer. As an artist my ultimate goal is to create something that has never been seen, bring it out of my spirit and mind into the physical realm. As a businessman my ultimate goal is to make money. An artist must train his hands and learn the limitations and possibilities of the material which he is using. When an artist is first learning - they should copy the masters to learn the proper techniques, I copied lots of drawings when I was learning how to draw and lots of pots when I was learning pottery. But the ultimate goal was to take those skills and do something new.

On the other hand business has lots of grey areas for the purpose of making money. I have a friend whose dad worked for Kohl's finding American designers of purses and shoes and taking their designs to China to copy and reproduce without their permission. That's business and legally they took advantage of another person's hard work and ingenuity and made alot of money from it. But there is no pride in that or self fulfillment or being true to one's self. As an artist the pride and sense of accomplishment comes from the act of creating that new thing. Yet, how many artists or musicians have you seen create something new, make alot of money from it and then just try to create the same thing or repackage it differently just to make more money to maintain the lifestyle that they get use to.

It is an interesting cycle, an artist or musician wants to be creative so they will be famous and make lots of money only to loose the creative edge after being in business and making lots of money. I've seen it over and over again. Now don't get me wrong there is a sense of fulfillment that comes with making good money on a piece of art. But that should not be the goal of an artist. That should be the goal of the businessman. I think the result is that I'm a little of both. But when it really comes down to it -if I was broke or if I was a millionaire I would always find a way to try to create something new - ART. I guess that makes me more of an artist.