Question 1: I am excited to understand industrial techniques and to see how others will use it.
Question 2: All a matter of the idea in the end.
I have lived in Marshall, TX for over 5 years and have never until recently took a tour of Marshall Pottery (once Ellis Pottery) one of the oldest and still operating potteries in the country. The reason they are still operating is because the company has embraced industry to mass produce Terracotta Flower Pots -- Derma (an Italian company) has many plants around the world, but you can still buy a few plain fragile Terracotta pots made right here in the USA. Their goal as a company is to feed the demand of these (once durable) classic flower pots to the masses at cheap prices. The more efficient they can make them -- and that plant is pretty efficient the cheaper people can buy them so when they leave them out and they freeze and break they can afford to go buy another one.
The clay they use is a mixture of three from around Marshall. They still dig their own clay -- imagine that! The dry mixed clay gets scooped onto a conveyor belt, run under a magnet to remove old bolts and a coins, run up 3 stories under a water spray, separated to 8 stations, de-aired and mashed into blocks which are dropped into a metal die, drizzled with kerosene/diesel mix, then ramp pressed into shape, moved to a lip trimmer, then set on another conveyor belt and rides an elevator into a 10 story-football-field-length drying rack and stacked to go into a kiln. Marshall Pottery Produces 100,000 terracotta pots each day.
It was amazing seeing these machines in action. Those pots were not handmade but at one time they were. The computer technology used to create them are astounding and there is almost no wasted clay. All the scraps are dropped back onto another conveyor belt that goes under ground and back out to the clay piles that are longer than a football field.
I never had the desire to go to Marshall Pottery because most of the goods in there were all imports -- which makes sense -- Derma makes them all around the world. The Old World pottery -- white with blue stripes is still hand thrown by performance potters -- they make about 40 to 100 pots per hour. By Performance Potter I mean they throw behind glass for viewers. For this the clay they use is no longer local -- it's produced in Dallas. The potters there only know how to throw, trim/clean up, paint, glaze or load the kiln. They do not know how to do all of those things. But are still potters.
The ideas are passed down from generations ago. They are made to last and be used. And people buy them and use them. And they are affordable. Technically they are made by hand. They fit all of the criteria of this discussion. Personally I would never have anything like that in my own possession -- but I understand the process and respect the jobs of these folk potters - they do it for a living and get paid by the piece -- the more they produce the more money they receive to provide for their family; the faster they produce either the less they work or more money earn.
This is the same for all of us. If you do not sell your pottery, then argue on. But really each of us chose Clay as a career because we love it -- the process, the modest lifestyle, the community, or the instant gratification of creating something by hand that someone else will use or appreciate.
Going back to the questions that helped spark inspiration to this discussion:
Small Industry used in small studio: I am going to create a couple of slump molds to create my bowls for my squiggle/coil series. Is it cheating? Depends on who you ask. I know it will be easier for me to handle them and they will not take as long to produce which in reality will keep the price down so the demand stays high for them. My goal is to make money on my work so I may continue to make more (because I love working with clay) and so I may help provide for my family. I do not choose to work in an office, sit behind a desk, pick up trash or dig ditches -- I would if I had to, but since I sell my work I don't have to choose otherwise.
We as studio potters should embrace all ideas that make our jobs easier, even if we don't use them personally. It is never a good idea to attack someone else's work no matter how it is produced. Kidergarten rule -- treat others as you would like to be treated. What comes around goes around.
Maybe it is our insecurities as artists/potters that we do not know how to make someone want to purchase our work. Maybe the industrial notion makes us queasy because we can't compete. Of course we can't compete there is no comparison between the two. Our hand made work is in a different category than the $1 mugs you purchase from big box stores. But this is why it is so important that we educate the majority and show them what we do and how and why. It is a piece of ourselves that we are selling -- not just a pot. Well maybe to some it is.
I know that people purchase my work because of the connection I make with them. The retailers sell it because of the personal connection they make with me. I can only reckon that learning about industrial technology can only further our own imaginations in the studio even if we do not use the techniques ourselves.
I had pottersblock for about 4 weeks before I headed to Marshall Pottery and saw the space age machinery cranking out pots at 4 seconds at a time. It would be the same as entering a GM or Ford plant. Someone thought of all of those steps in creating a more efficient way. That is something to be respected. If Andy Brayman wants to explore industrial equipment and bringing that down to a level of expressing his ideas then fabulous. Another way of doing things. His work is very inspiring -- and I wish I would have though to make cups with gold leave that wares off and shows a message to the user years later -- brilliant! Selling a pot for exactly the amount of change that it took to literally create the mold for the pot -- another idea I would have never thought of, but it does make you think.
The connection you make with your work is as important as the connection the person has with your work they purchase. Technology is out there to learn about and understand it. It doesn't mean you have to like it or use it, but it may influence your own work. Seeing those machines was amazing but I got home and decided I needed to slow down my process not speed it up.
It is my goal to make the best pots I am capable. The pots I make now are better than the pots I made 10 years ago and the future holds even better ones. The more I learn and educate myself of all aspects of clay and pottery the better off I am. Watching the discussion (has been around for a while but first brought up with Andy at the Clay Symposium at Arrowmont) and feeling the anguish in the "threat" of industry to the handmade object is absurd and rational all the same.
Fear comes for the lack of knowing and understanding what is known. It is better to know, understand, and move on.