Well it is indeed the case that pottery lacks instant access appeal that something like, say, phuttsing around with photography might. Someone interested in photography likely already has a camera on their cellular phone, the software to edit and manipulate images is free, and everyone and their brother likes to write about photography and how it's done on the Internet. What I noticed about throwing, right off the bat (so to speak) is that it was really expensive to start learning. A passable wheel is several hundred dollars, and a kiln is much more, to say nothing of glazes, grinders, brushes, etc... Even classes seem expensive to beginners in my neck of the woods, which cuts down on the number of those that would consider a formal education. It's quite sad classes can appear so expensive at first, as I find the classes available around here to be quite reasonable. $9.50/hr. to be at a wheel, with clay, community kiln access, and all the glaze you can eat is an amazing deal. Still, to a twenty year old who can't necessarily pay for gasoline, $200.00 seems like a lot of money; even that very reasonable figure is enough to scare away those casually interested. We are discussing those who have more than a casual interest in ceramics in this thread, but I'd be willing to bet that lots of people take up their professions because of something they tried once just to experiment, and subsequently decided they wanted to go significantly further. I don't believe, however, that it's the work ethic of young folks. I know several who work almost constantly. Some of the skills I have pay me pretty well, but I can't remember all the people I meet who are just out of college and desperately seeking work, usually just able to pay the bills by laboring at McDonalds or minimum wage retail jobs. Besides, the argument that the young generation is spoiled and lazy is pretty old and tired; each generation levies the same argument against the next generation to follow it. Nor do I believe that the young lack interest in ceramics. I'm pretty young, mid thirties at the moment, and I'll be the first to admit I'm fairly green ... but I can say the interest of young people is defiantly there. Each class I go to is packed with 20 somethings; they are easily the largest age group ... college age people, usually female. Heck, I felt like an old man in my classes, and I was only 32 years old at that time. In retrospect, it's a pity I didn't develop an interest in throwing classes a little bit earlier; they would have been a most excellent venue to ask young women out for a date.
I'm not sure I have all the information needed to construct an informed answer, but I believe a few things are at play when one contemplates the situation. Automated production of ceramics, and near-slave labor wages paid in foreign countries, has dropped the price of functional ware to such a minimum that the average person in the United States finds such pieces to be almost disposable and inconsequential. You can get a place setting of usable earthenware at Walmart for less than ten dollars. Now I'd prefer something with more of a soul myself, and I believe that most folk of substance would agree with me in that, but these days it seems most people don't really think much about the things they buy or own. I have also noticed a kind of art ware snobbery in many pottery circles, and even vendors. 'Oh, you just want to make functional ware' is a phrase I've heard a few times when I've asked this or that vendor for some glaze or clay specifically for functional ware use. In a broad context, it feels like many folks suppose any of my pieces must be less worthy because I make them to satisfy some practical purpose. I can't really explain it, other than the usual human divide and differentiate agenda. Maybe there's more profit in art ware for the average vendor or studio? Every class I've ever taken in pottery, aside from those I've taken at The Craft Alliance (a wonderful organization, full of wonderful people), has pretty much focused on artistic aspects of ceramics and nothing else. Most Universities and Community Colleges classify pottery and ceramics as a fine art, not as a practical or industrial art, and from what I've seen of the display pieces in their departments, the classes appear to be biased toward generating art more so than usable items. Last, the economy is so horrid right now it's difficult to make it as a tradesman or artist of any stripe, especially with the competition from foreign markets and the rising domestic prices of pretty much everything under the sun. I think most young adults are more interested in trades and skills that pay maximum dollar, especially since a college education has become outrageously expensive, and often requires itself to be financed by expensive loans that many young adults can't pay back until their mid fifties ... if indeed they ever can. I know a handful of teachers and social workers that live in low income housing and eat crappy low cost food (which is sending them to an early grave) and they still can't pay back their college debts on time. Life is much rougher still, at least in the financial sense, for those that get a degree in the arts. I for one don't really make that many pieces that have no practical purpose. I tend to make lots of incense burners, mugs, plates and the occasional bathroom specialty item like a tooth brush wrack or soap dish. I'd like to get better at making jars and narrow neck bottles, especially for bottling my home brews. I'm not, however, a full time maker of any one thing in particular â€¦ I have to resort to web design and other odd artistic and/or technical jobs for my daily bread. That's just my two cents, for what they're worth.