Posted 13 May 2013 - 09:21 AM
I was hoping a good discussion like this would result from that article. It's not as easy a topic as many of us sometimes assume. As several have stated already, in very eloquent terms, things often look different from the inside of a practice than from the outside. The article on Scott Cooper originated from a discussion I had with him about a blog post he wrote on the topic of difficult choices he had made in his career (primarily the choice to "kill the dream"). His perspective encapsulated what I have been seeing in the course of publishing articles about folks in this field for about a dozen years now: that most people seriously working in clay are not able to, or have chosen not to, exclusively pursue making pots as a livelihood. I've also seen that the idea that this is somehow a failure of fortitude has waned. In it's place, there is (appropriately) the understanding that people build their lives and livelihoods in ways that make sense to them personally, that fit their family obligations and lifestyle preferences. And of course, it resonated with me personally.
I remember having a discussion with my brother once (he's younger, but wiser, than me) a few years after setting up my studio after college and trying to make a go of pottery as a profession, and I was lamenting how much work it was, and all of the potential hazards and difficulties involved (I probably just had a very bad firing). He asked me the very simple question, "Why do you want to do this?" I was honestly stumped for several moments, which surprised me. I had been so focused on making this happen that I never bothered to revisit my original motivation for pursuing ceramics in the first place, which was a love of the material and the satisfaction of making things by hand—a good deal of which I had lost in the course of being in business in just a few short years. Not long after that, I realized that, while I may be interested in making pots and selling them, I was not going to do well if I was the one in charge of running the business as well. My decision to stop trying to make a living at it wasn't a pottery decision, it was a business decision.
So I find the part of this discussion that has to do with our own personal assumptions and fantasies about what it might mean to turn our passion into a profession very interesting. I suppose what I think about Claypple's original question is that there are about as many types of potters as there are people pursuing that dream. That's overly simplistic, of course, and perhaps an easy way out of answering the question, but I hesitate to claim one camp or the other. I've been making pots for a lot of years, and when I'm in my studio I feel confident and assured like a production potter might. I don't really lose pots anymore, and I can be as efficient or as inefficient as I choose with my studio time. So, in this respect, I feel I have professional skills. But when I look from the outside (on paper, so to speak) it is clear that I am a hobby potter. I don't sell work (I make gifts), I don't spend much time (a few evenings a month) in the studio. So I guess I'm both—and I would guess that many of us are some mixture of both.
Thanks for posting, Claypple. And thanks to everyone for thoughtful responses.