March 14, 2015

Playing The Pro

sanggam korean pottery influence inlay process
new inlay slip test tiles

I had an interesting conversation with a student who is taking Cynthia Bringle's concentration at Penland last night. We made introductions and she said she was more of a hobbyist than an artist. I chuckled to myself and said that "I think I knew what she was saying, but aren't we all hobbyists at times?"

I think she was using  the word hobbyist as a kind of code, but I guess I took it in maybe a different way than intended. I thought, "Great! We should all be hobbyists, we should all just do this pottery/ceramics thing for the pure joy and curiosity!" I thought about the great qualities of a child's drawing and the unencumbered act of joy and un-selfconsciousness. I thought about the best flow in the studio happens when, as my friend John Simmons would say, I'm "goin' n blowin'"  and I'm lost in the flow of making stuff.  We should all be so lucky to be able to sustain this way of working  as much as possible.

Or maybe she was using "hobbyist" as a kind of code to mean, "I don't get paid to make art, like you do, so don't judge me or my work too harshly". (which would be the opposite of what I would think or do)

[I don't know, I'm maybe making a big deal when I shouldn't. I do that sometimes, making things WAY more complicated in my head than the reality on the ground.  But I'll try to go on, of course, hehehe.]

Maybe labels are more about expectations and ambition? Once we are considered as a professional in our field does it guarantee the work that we do to be successful, of high quality, a kind of tenure? Maybe. Who's to know.

Which brings me to the point I'm grasping for, that the cycle of life, of creativity, or whatever, goes through waves, highs and lows, successes and failures. Periods of joy and periods of boredom.  Just because I call myself an artist or I call myself a hobbyist, doesn't mean there is any guarantee of brilliance or of mediocrity. We're all capable of both.

I have certainly recognized the latter in my work! I am super critical of my work, but at the same time I have to cut myself some slack. I'll be the first to admit, I'm no genius. Brilliance doesn't just come naturally. (I can just see the emails and comments rolling in.)
[the ramble continues]

OK, I guess what I'm trying to get at is that to get to that place of unselfconscious creativity, as an adult, takes a LOT of work.  A lot of us  have to work to overcome our burdens of self doubt and expectation.  It may take us hours to quiet the voices in our head, maybe years.

So here I am, today. Working on some test tiles of some  completely  new work. Well, almost. During the last firing session I got completely obsessed with a technique that I had seen in a bowl at the Freer Sackler last Fall.

Korean Bowl Freer Sackler Gallery Smithsonian repaired gold

In exploring this technique and trying to "figure it out" I realized that "I" was getting completely lost in the process. Those voices in my head were being silenced by my complete joy and curiosity.  The voices in this case were the rational ones, the ones telling me it would be a safer bet to stick with the work that was familiar to me and my clients. The voices that said "don't take too many chances, there are orders to fill"

It has been a little while since I've been taken with a curiosity like this. I've let those other voices speak too loudly. But all metaphors aside, maybe I was just a little bored and needed to change it up a little? In a recent episode of the podcast, The Tales of the Red Clay Rambler, John Balistreri says that an artist has to "put it all on the line, you have to be able to take risks and the failures you have are the most valuable things." [Episode 95, @16:58]

Lucky for me, I got the opportunity to hold that beautiful Korean bowl last fall. Maybe I just fell under its spell? I do believe that objects can have this sort of magical power to change us as makers or as humans. But it is the time we put in, laying it on line, taking risks, risking failure, that are of the most long term value.

So, for now I am a hobbyist, dabbling with this new found joy. Just as it should be.