Monday, July 2, 2007

But Seriously, Folks

Pictured; Sea Star Mugs

The below list has been circulating around potter's groups for some years and yes, it does make it look like you're only dealing with one mug instead of in reality, multiple pieces of work. When I make mugs or bowls or anything in groups, I always make extras just in case some quirky thing happens and one sticks to the kiln shelf or I drop it on the concrete because it burned my fingers while trying to unload my kiln too fast. (Yes, I am learning to be more patient.)

The Real Point: There is very little understanding about the process of making things by hand. Meeting the general public at shows makes that very apparent. The whole complex of skills it takes to make anything by hand? Most people haven't a clue. Sure, I'd say 99% have seen a potter throwing on a wheel or will tell you they saw "Ghost". Throwing is just one tiny part of making pottery. Occasionally, someone will tell me they took some classes or had done pottery before. These are kindred souls who really understand.....

"How long did it take you to make that?" is a question artists are always being asked. There are any number of responses that spring to the tongue and twitter the mind. You could go the James McNeil Whistler route and say, "All my life." But that seems a big flip and you're likely to turn the questioner off Big Time. Some people are trying to equate the answer with Time X Hourly Wage = Reasonable Cost. But I can tell you right up front, if potters charged even the minimum wage for what they do, nobody could afford to buy handmade work. If you start enumerating steps as in the process list for a mug, you will see an immediate eye-glaze and an equally fast drift-off. They don't really want to know.

What I recognize is this: The customer is trying to make contact with you. And the "How much time?" question is really an opener, since they don't know the technical stuff and therefore can't ask a technical question. A good artist-salesman (unfortunately, we must all become that if we want to keep making art) doesn't have to answer the question directly. I usually answer with another question like, "I'm curious. What is it about the piece that attracted you?" It's a great non-threatening response and a way to get to know the person who is interested in what you're produced.

And they're curious about the person who makes the art. After all, it is rare you get to meet the creator of any art on a one-to-one basis. Museums are not run by artists, unfortunately, and rarely are galleries. Shows seem to be fading. Some artists still do them, but most of the time it's a whole lot of work for very little return. Artist's costs are going up yearly. Many shows have changed and lost their edge, becoming a 'free entertainment outing for the family' kind of event. It can be very discouraging to spend 4 demanding days in a booth surrounded by your best work watching plastic-looking-garden-art-bubbleblowers go by in the hands of customers. It can be a real heartbreaker.

With the advent of cheap goods flowing into the marketplace, the artist's niche is getting smaller and smaller. So where does the artist go? They join co-ops, open their studios to the public, join groups, get a webpage. I don't care for co-ops because of the requirement to be on a sales floor-type schedule. I do only one or two shows each year just because I like the particular shows and enjoy being in touch with customers and getting valuable, immediate feed-back. But I'm going more and more into the direction of selling on the internet and seeking out galleries.

No comments: