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Why Is Our Work Better Than Imported Work?


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#1 GEP

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Posted 15 May 2014 - 11:14 AM

Hi everyone, I'm starting a new thread with an important question that was asked in another thread:

http://community.cer...gnment/?p=58507

 

Why is our work better than imported or mass-produced work?

 

As far as I'm concerned, the basic answer is "it's not." We are not exempted from competing with imported work in terms of functionality, attractiveness, and yes ..... price. Just because I make my living as a handmaker, do I expect myself to buy nothing but handmade clothing and shoes, or nothing but hand-crafted locally produced food, just because buying anything mass-produced would take away from these industries? Heck no, I can't afford that. So I certainly can't expect the entire US marketplace to reject mass-produced ceramics, in order to gratify my needs. This would be silly and unrealistic. Not to mention narcissistic.

 

So does this mean we're doomed? Absolutely not. Again, it's just a matter of acknowledging that you have tough competition, and overcoming it. I still buy handmade things on a regular basis, but in order to justify spending the extra money, they need to knock my socks off.

 

In other words, handmakers can surpass mass-producers in the following areas: quality and buying experience. People buy my somewhat pricey pottery because it is better in terms of functionality and attractiveness. And I make sure the experience of working with me is fun and rewarding.

 

On the other hand, I'm afraid I see a lot of potters who are struggling to sell. Tact prevents me from asking "do you think it might be the mustard yellow and green glaze combo?" or sometimes "why would anyone want to buy from an anxious sourpuss?" For potters like this, I think it's totally reasonable for a customer to prefer something mass-produced.

 

These are my answers to this question. I'd welcome everyone's thoughts about this: Why is our work better than imported work?


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#2 JBaymore

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Posted 15 May 2014 - 11:49 AM

On the other hand, I'm afraid I see a lot of potters who are struggling to sell. Tact prevents me from asking "do you think it might be the mustard yellow and green glaze combo?"................

 

Thanks for addressing the 900 pound gorilla in the room. I applaud you going out on this limb with your comments. 'Political correctness' often prevents useful and honest dialog and critique, particularily in places like online forums. Too bad really. It limits the effectiveness of that kind of venue. And it doesn't help improve " the field".

 

Good pots is good pots. I also often come back to the old Alfred comment: "A pot without a soul is just clay around a hole".

 

'Our work' is only better than 'imports'.... when it actually is better. Far too often... it is not. Skilled handcraft is functionally and aesthetically better than unskilled or poorly skilled handcraft. Unskilled or poorly skilled handcraft is not necessarily functionally or aesthetically better than mass produced work (heresy! :P ).

 

Here's the really hard and politically incorrect statement coming: Too many people want to start being a "professional" in the ceramics field way before they are really ready to do so.

 

Since there are no standards that prevent this from happening, and "free enterprise" tends to rule (at least in America)....it is very easy to do this. In "years gone by" I think folks tended to self-censor such inclinations much more than they do these days. More folks would not even consider 'hanging out the shingle' until they had spent a lot of time learning the craft to a pretty high level of technical and aesthetic skills. These days.... two community ed classes, and the financial ability to buy a wheel and a kiln... and bingo.... instant professional potter.

 

This practice is hurting the whole field.

 

Personally I always return from Japan, Korea, and China feeling incredibly humble and a 'babe in the woods' when it comes to my own knowledge and skills in working with clay. You can only understand the broad level of ceramic skill that resides in those cultures with such huge histories in the field...... by having the chance to see them first-hand. And I've been doing this full time for 40+ years, and have been teaching it for almost as long.

 

There are some darned nice "imports" being made and imported. Alluding a bit to that CapitalOne credit card TV commercial...... "What's in your kiln?"

 

 

best,

 

 

..................................john


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#3 clay lover

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Posted 15 May 2014 - 12:38 PM

Thanks, John.  That needed saying. I won't participate in many pottery flavored events because of the lack of quality in the work.  I don't want to be the best by far in anything I am involved in, it's limiting.  And In the long run , devalues my work. 

 

NOT a PC statement, but still true.



#4 williamt

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Posted 15 May 2014 - 01:15 PM

You know, someone is always better than you. Whether it is someone over seas that make a hundred bowls a day or someone who has a cool one off technique that people like. There always have been and always will be "inexperienced" professionals, intermediate and pro professionals and mass producers. Sometime the difference is marketing. I've seen some really expensive work that I simply do not like because of form or surface treatment or whatever, but people oooo and ahhh over it because the person has "made it" in the art world and folks buy it. On the other hand, I've seen local unknown potters who may do some things that don't meet someone's standards, but the work is cool, relatively inexpensive, and people buy it.

I have sold some things that I just shake my head and think "I can't believe someone bought that". But they like it or it goes with their decoration scheme or whatever. There are as many aesthetics out there as there are people. If you think, "well they are just uninformed or ignorant", you are cutting that buyer short and being a bit arrogant. I don't care who you are, someone is going to think your work is just not to their liking and not very good.

I try to price my work based on my experience level, asking people what THEY would pay for something like that, and being mindful that they can go to their local superstore and buy a mass produced, handmade piece cheaper than I can sell something similar.

Our work is not better or worse or more valuable than an import. In the end it is what a consumer is wiling to pay for a piece of work.
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#5 Pres

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Posted 15 May 2014 - 01:17 PM


Personally I always return from Japan, Korea, and China feeling incredibly humble and a 'babe in the woods' when it comes to my own knowledge and skills in working with clay. You can only understand the broad level of ceramic skill that resides in those cultures with such huge histories in the field...... by having the chance to see them first-hand. And I've been doing this full time for 40+ years, and have been teaching it for almost as long.

As much as I would love to go to Japan and practice in the studios, it won't happen. Does this mean that I know it all, or that I am like a seedling just getting leaves? The latter for sure. Reading all of the information here, trying to follow leads on flocculation/deflocculation, Obvara firings, and the many discussions of glaze chemistry leave my head swimming at times. Best to sit back read, and then take a nap! :) No, I am a babe in the woods, not proud of it, but do know it.

 

So is our work better or worse than imported of mass produced work. No as all have said. Thing is, there is excellent work being imported, and being mass produced. There is also excellent work being created by great potters in the US. However, as we have noticed in several threads the potter has to charge for his time and trouble, and many times the mass produced or import undercuts him greatly. On the other end of the coin, people are always looking for purchases that fit their needs and tastes. So if the US potter found on line or in a show has a distinctive style that stands out from the crowd or if it is so comfortable to hold or use, then he has a market.


Simply retired teacher, not dead, living the dream. on and on and. . . . on. . . .                                                                                 http://picworkspottery.blogspot.com/


#6 Chantay

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Posted 15 May 2014 - 01:24 PM

 

I won't participate in many pottery flavored events because of the lack of quality in the work.  I don't want to be the best by far in anything I am involved in, it's limiting.  And In the long run , devalues my work. 

 

NOT a PC statement, but still true.

 

Clay Lover, I'm sorry, I'm trying to follow along here. But I have no idea what your trying to say.

 

I find this thread of great interest.  I just recently started selling my work.  I am fortunate that I have met someone who likes my work a great deal and is working with me to learn the ins and outs of retail.  She has made several suggestions regarding my display and such that I have found baffling.  But she knows her stuff and her ideas work. 


- chantay

#7 GEP

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Posted 15 May 2014 - 01:49 PM

Actually, my comment about the "mustard yellow and green glaze combo" was NOT referring to inexperienced potters. I was referring to highly educated potters, with decades of experience, who are lacking a current sense of design and style. Possibly they are working in a style that sold like crazy in the 80s, and have never evolved. And this combined with a disgruntled attitude is the reason they don't sell well, not because the "imports" are driving them out of business.

 

I really don't have a problem with students and up-and-comers who want to try selling. Everyone has to start somewhere. There are appropriate venues for this level of work. But I think what claylover was referring to is to recognize when you have outgrown these venues, and move on to bigger and better adventures.


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#8 Stephen

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Posted 15 May 2014 - 02:00 PM

Mass produced is, I think, perceived as less, much less, in value.

 

While almost everyone feels perfectly comfortable wrapping and proudly presenting a $20-$50 artisan made coffee mug to someone special in their lives, almost no one above the age of ten would feel the same pride in giving someone a $2.99 mass produced mug, they grabbed off the rack at Target, as the same gift. It's different, it's a lot different. Should it be? dunno, but everyone knows it is.

 

Regarding new potters with substandard ware, I would offer that the market does work as even the most entrenched hopeful will eventually stop bringing their crappy pottery if no one is buying it. They will either work hard to improve and bring better work that people will buy or give up. Of course the quality of the work is often very subjective to ones take on it and I have seen what I perceive to be absolutely dreadful work by potters that have been doing it at a 'professional' level for decades and I am sure they have plenty of customers that find their work to be absolutely stunning.

 

A thirty-forty year career always starts in year one, for everyone.

 

I waded through the Smithsonian's archival interview yesterday with Paul Soldner that was done when he was 82 and was just pulled in when he talked of his early days in the 50s & 60s and starting Anderson Ranch. He spoke once of how he shied from wanting to critique others work because he found it to be pointless and not productive to the artist being critiqued. Since it was a transcript of an hours long interview I really got caught up in his 'voice' and his explanations of how he got from one place to another at so many different points in his work, and work was what he kept calling it, and he always talked of blocks of times he spent on this or spent on that.

 

I think that's what people buy in to, the 'work' behind it. They get that it's special and that there really is a bigger connection going on. We all live in a high tech world but we all get and appreciate the human side of things as well. Even if it's work that has not evolved over three, four decades, a lot of effort and thought has gone into it nonetheless and at least to the artist that presents it for sale, it is worthy.



#9 Tyler Miller

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Posted 15 May 2014 - 02:01 PM

 I think the issue of being "better than imports" is a function of a number of different factors.  As far as the technical aspect, the ceramics engineer is probably better than anything I can hope to accomplish.  Three hour fast-firing cycles, purpose made bodies and glazes to optimize fit, functionality, and durability.  I don't think the studio potter can even come close to competing with what happens at the industrial level.  Maybe some of you can, but I can't and likely never will.

 

It also has to be said that most studio potters will, at best, match the functionality of import pottery.  It would be irresponsible to mass produce less-than-useful ceramics of any kind (though it does happen), and so I have to believe a great deal of testing and consideration goes into the making of any particular design.  Likely a lot more than I've ever put into my pots, or could ever hope to reasonably put it.  I think instinct and experience  at the wheel or handbuilding table are wonderful things, but the industrial design process is a step above.

 

But I don't think that's the point, either.  I think there's something to be said for a kind of technical-aesthetic fluency.  There's a (likely apocryphal) story about Lou Reed that might be relevant.  He apparently had only one (partial) guitar lesson, learned three or four chords, one song, got up, and said "that's it, that's all I need."  Whether you've heard of him or not, if you like popular music, the people you like liked or like him, and he's had more influence on modern rock than the Beatles.  He wasn't a great guitarist and he didn't have a good singing voice, if you can call it that.  What he did have was a knack for getting at emotions through sound and a mind for story telling.  While this comparison may raise a few eyebrows, I feel there's a certain affinity between the protopunk Lou Reed gave us and the restrained aesthetics of a fine Raku chawan.  Nothing technically unnecessary, just a bowl that makes you feel.

 

I think this is where the studio potter can best the imports.  The aesthetics.  It has to be said, however, that the designers of these imports are likely just as fluent in aesthetic principles as the studio potter, but there's something else at work.  Consider the tailor made suit vs. the one you buy off the rack.  Off the rack is likely to be more stylistically current, cheaper, and easier to buy on a whim or in a pinch.  But the tailor made suit is made to fit you.  That's important, I think.  The studio potter can be commissioned to make a small run of pieces.  Or, with the increased exposure and accessibility the internet has afforded us, the consumer can find the perfect piece for his/her unique aesthetic/functional purpose.  I think this is where we can best imports.  Nothing fits or wears better than a finely made suit, nothing feels as good as a pot that lives in your dwelling.  There's also nothing worse than getting a suit made by a shoddy tailor, or drinking from a wobbly mug with a thick or angular rim.



#10 ChenowethArts

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Posted 15 May 2014 - 02:44 PM

Back in the dark ages, when I studied architecture by the light of a candle in the communal cave, there was a saying, "The Good is the Enemy of the Best".  The essence of that adage is that growth in your profession should be a continuum of transitioning from good to better to best...likely discovering along the way that your perception of  "best" today may become your "good" sometime in the future, thus the continuum of a cycle.

 

There are many days that I honestly do not know where I am along the good-better-best cycle in the clay world.  I see work in many of the images on this forum and say "Wow, do I EVER have a way to go!".  At the same time, I'll  see work (some,not all) in magazines like Ceramics Monthly and shake my head asking, "Really? Is this the best they can do? I'm already past that!"  So much is a matter of preference and perception...and each maker and each shopper/buyer/user has their own set of preferences and perceptions. We are not pawns to someone's opinions of whether handmade is better or imported is better, whether cheaper is better than expensive, whether handmade is better than mass produced. Those are all personal preferences and perceptions.

 

I prefer not to compare what I create with imported or mass-produced work. I am not so sure that it is the question that needs to be asked unless you are a clay professional that is going head-to-head with imports & mass-produced items.  People purchase jewelry at Wal-Mart and some at Tiffany's...I dare say that the right set of customers can leave one or the other retailer quite happy with their purchases.  The market is a matching game of customer, product, and placement, and not always just a matter of inexpensive mass-produced import vs. expensive domestic handmade.

 

Shocking as it may seem, I am still OK eating off a favorite set of dishes that is both imported and mass produced (gasp)...but if I am drinking coffee, you can bet your reduction kiln that I'm proudly slurping from a handmade creation.  You'll find me over in the corner, clutching my Potter's Council membership card in my non-coffee-drinking hand...eagerly awaiting more discussion on this topic.


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#11 JBaymore

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Posted 15 May 2014 - 03:09 PM

There are many days that I honestly do not know where I am along the good-better-best cycle in the clay world.

Me too. I'm just chasing that "mechanical rabbit" that always seems to be somewhre out ahead of me. Don't expect that I'll ever catch it. The importance is in the active pursuit... not stopping :).

 

best,

 

.......................john


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#12 Chris Campbell

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Posted 15 May 2014 - 05:19 PM

Mea, I think we saw the same booth load of pottery ... sad to say. The forms were fine as the potters were very experienced, but the colors were ghastly. Avocado Green and Harvest Gold. Their second combo was some kind of magenta mixed in with each of those two colors.

If those pots had been blue, the shelves would have been empty.

 

Also, I don't see the question being whether or not our work is better ... the work on both sides is all over the place quality wise.

 

All of us choose when and what to buy local, North American, or imports. We all set the bar for ourselves every day about what we care about and what we don't.

What factors set the customers bar at " Pottery, 'Hand made' by a local crafts person or bought in a local gallery or craft fair"?


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#13 Chris Campbell

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Posted 15 May 2014 - 07:48 PM

Ok ... Might I propose one possible answer?
YOU
Because they like you.
YOU took the time to share your story and let them into your world.

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#14 Tyler Miller

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Posted 15 May 2014 - 08:06 PM

I think that might be the best answer, Chris.



#15 Babs

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Posted 15 May 2014 - 09:11 PM

Are we comparing apples to oranges here?

Do we create solely for the customer?

Do we fulfill our needs as workers in clay independant of the expectation of a sale?

Horses for courses?

Perhaps we could handicap the experienced potters to levle the playing field!

Room for all?

Comparison for what purpose? Putting you down places me higher?

AND what was Paull wearing before I go out to buy the video. and another jar or two of cobalt



#16 Chris Campbell

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Posted 15 May 2014 - 09:28 PM

> Do we create solely for the customer?

The best answer for a potter who wants to survive financially and creatively is "Some and Some".
Some for the customer to keep them solvent, some for them to keep them sane.

> Do we fulfill our needs as workers in clay independant of the expectation of a sale?
It is a luxury many do not have to be able to create without thought to income.

> Perhaps we could handicap the experienced potters to levle the playing field!
You cannot assume experience equals anything that needs leveling.

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#17 JBaymore

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Posted 15 May 2014 - 09:42 PM

You cannot assume experience equals anything that needs leveling.

 

Amen.

 

best,

 

......................john


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#18 clay lover

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Posted 15 May 2014 - 10:12 PM

I like Chris's comment, "Some and some". 

I do both.  If I don't enjoy making it or seeing it when I open the kiln, I don't make it, but I do keep track of what sells well and remember to have plenty of that item.  I also have the one offs that are the results of a day's inspiration.  Those things have a juicy price and I don't care how fast they sell.

I have to have both sides.



#19 Babs

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Posted 16 May 2014 - 12:16 AM

I guess my point is that often there is no point in comparing, different pots for different folks and different reasons for the  pots made. No one suit fits all,  know your market, know your dream and dream on!

Look at other peoples' work in a non judgemental way unless of course you are the judge!, mindful that the pot is but a spot on the landscape of that artist's way, a moment of pause before moving onward.

Comment about leveling was entirely tongue in cheek.



#20 Mark C.

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Posted 16 May 2014 - 01:06 AM

sticking to the question 

I do not feel its better work-its just different work-I have seen no imported work like mine-not saying its not out there just unaware of it.

As far as making what I want thats a yes to some degree-would I make 100 sponge holders a month well no I do that to make money with clay

I make what sells as well as what I like-its always a mix.

I would not be in business after 40 years making just what I like-thats a fact-I like brown clay and earth tones-those do not sell well for me compared to bright colors on porcelain-so thats what I use and thats what sells best for me.

Its a compromise-I made this choice back in the early 80's when I had a rack of each type of clay and saw what worked-never looked back.

I would not be making a living with clay if I stuck to my own taste in pottery-I got over that-many do not and are not successful with clay.

If something works I follow up on that-some forms come and go and you need to be in touch with that. 

My 30-35 form list has always changed over the years with the trends-Thats what  keeps it working for me.

Mark


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