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Tyler Miller

Why make functional ware?

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It's really hard to be original or stand out in a craft that's as ancient as pottery.  Especially utilitarian kitchen type wares, that have been in continual use for time out of mind.  Ceramics just isn't cutting edge because frankly plastic is better at a lot of the traditional uses and mass produced mugs are ergonomically better than most if not all handmade mugs.  Not really even a debatable subject, since the mass produced item is specifically designed to appeal to the broadest populace.  Besides that number one criteria, price.  

You can do ceramics for yourself to a point, but unless you're trying to fill a ditch with your finished product, it has to be marketed.  New markets pop up all the time.  50 years ago, no one grew the kind of plants for enjoyment I'm making pots for now.  Maybe it will be a big thing in the future and maybe not.  Maybe no one thought bonsai was a thing 500 years ago.  Best to look for a niche where ceramics has an advantage.

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10 minutes ago, CactusPots said:

It's really hard to be original or stand out in a craft that's as ancient as pottery.  Especially utilitarian kitchen type wares, that have been in continual use for time out of mind.  Ceramics just isn't cutting edge because frankly plastic is better at a lot of the traditional uses and mass produced mugs are ergonomically better than most if not all handmade mugs.  Not really even a debatable subject, since the mass produced item is specifically designed to appeal to the broadest populace.  Besides that number one criteria, price.  

You can do ceramics for yourself to a point, but unless you're trying to fill a ditch with your finished product, it has to be marketed.  New markets pop up all the time.  50 years ago, no one grew the kind of plants for enjoyment I'm making pots for now.  Maybe it will be a big thing in the future and maybe not.  Maybe no one thought bonsai was a thing 500 years ago.  Best to look for a niche where ceramics has an advantage.

Ergonomically better eh, I think you mean ergonomically average since there's no way to please everyone with the same size and form.  I think that's probably the one thing handmade ceramics has over mass produced things. And that's variation and the ability for anyone to find the mug perfect for their hand

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I have just completed a few mugs for an order, and not  a single one is like the other when you consider form, surface, handle position, and glazed effect. Each is a labor of love that requires the potter to make judgments every step of the way, each leading to a different form and a different fit to the hand, and hopefully a different owner. Love the work.

 

best,

Pres

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17 hours ago, CactusPots said:

It's really hard to be original or stand out in a craft that's as ancient as pottery.  Especially utilitarian kitchen type wares, that have been in continual use for time out of mind.  Ceramics just isn't cutting edge because frankly plastic is better at a lot of the traditional uses and mass produced mugs are ergonomically better than most if not all handmade mugs.  Not really even a debatable subject, since the mass produced item is specifically designed to appeal to the broadest populace.  Besides that number one criteria, price.  

You can do ceramics for yourself to a point, but unless you're trying to fill a ditch with your finished product, it has to be marketed.  New markets pop up all the time.  50 years ago, no one grew the kind of plants for enjoyment I'm making pots for now.  Maybe it will be a big thing in the future and maybe not.  Maybe no one thought bonsai was a thing 500 years ago.  Best to look for a niche where ceramics has an advantage.

I don't necessarily disagree when it comes to mass consumption - the label says it all. But on the one hand you say "hard to be original or stand out in a craft that's as ancient as pottery" and later you state "50 years ago, no one grew the kind of plants for enjoyment I'm making pots for now." Why not buy a plastic pot at Home Depot - does the job, mass produced, cheap, etc. ? You can be original no matter the age of the form or format. You can even create a need. What you produce with your hands, your eyes, your sense of form, engineering, and color is unique.

The downside is that if you find a growing audience for your pots, you're going to try and produce as many as you can as quickly as you can. Maybe you start an assembly line, producing the same piece over and over again, same style, size, colors, etc. Maybe you hire a couple of people to help you reproduce your designs. Ever see those landscape paintings in the department store? They have somebody on the line who does nothing but paint clouds all day long.  The bottom line is the bottom line.

I'm going to take a SWAG at it - most here are not interested in just making money. I'm not. I'm happy when someone pays me in negotiable currency  for one of my pieces. And it helps me buy some groceries. But providing something unique, even a simple bowl, that I made with my own hands, and watching someone turn it over and around, sensing it's shape with their hands as well as their eyes, is really what gets me going.

My contention is that strictly functional pottery no longer exists. A line has been crossed to take the functional piece to design and art. And that's not recent. Japanese, Chinese, and Korean tea bowls go back to the 13th century - they're strictly functional yet they were revered as part of rituals and ceremony. Interestingly, they raised the level of form and design of the everyday bowl. Why is that?

I don't know if this answers your question. But the potters that I met, who depend on their craft to make an income, both teach and sell their unique wares. And I think they do it because they want to and generally enjoy what they do. Has little to do with what's practical.

As the old joke goes -
This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, 'Doc, my brother's crazy, he thinks he's a chicken.'
And the doctor says, 'Well why don't you turn him in?'
The guy says, 'I would, but I need the eggs.'

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On 6/11/2019 at 10:17 PM, CactusPots said:

It's really hard to be original or stand out in a craft that's as ancient as pottery.  Especially utilitarian kitchen type wares, that have been in continual use for time out of mind.  Ceramics just isn't cutting edge because frankly plastic is better at a lot of the traditional uses and mass produced mugs are ergonomically better than most if not all handmade mugs.  Not really even a debatable subject, since the mass produced item is specifically designed to appeal to the broadest populace.  Besides that number one criteria, price.  

You can do ceramics for yourself to a point, but unless you're trying to fill a ditch with your finished product, it has to be marketed.  New markets pop up all the time.  50 years ago, no one grew the kind of plants for enjoyment I'm making pots for now.  Maybe it will be a big thing in the future and maybe not.  Maybe no one thought bonsai was a thing 500 years ago.  Best to look for a niche where ceramics has an advantage.

It's a very debatable subject. You've basically just told all of us that we're wasting our time making functional pots. Why is a handmade bonsai pot any better than a cheap mass produced one? For the same reason a handmade mug is better than a cheap mass produced one.

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On 6/11/2019 at 11:17 PM, CactusPots said:

It's really hard to be original or stand out in a craft that's as ancient as pottery.  Especially utilitarian kitchen type wares, that have been in continual use for time out of mind.  Ceramics just isn't cutting edge because frankly plastic is better at a lot of the traditional uses and mass produced mugs are ergonomically better than most if not all handmade mugs.  Not really even a debatable subject, since the mass produced item is specifically designed to appeal to the broadest populace.  Besides that number one criteria, price.  

You can do ceramics for yourself to a point, but unless you're trying to fill a ditch with your finished product, it has to be marketed.  New markets pop up all the time.  50 years ago, no one grew the kind of plants for enjoyment I'm making pots for now.  Maybe it will be a big thing in the future and maybe not.  Maybe no one thought bonsai was a thing 500 years ago.  Best to look for a niche where ceramics has an advantage.

Hmmmm.

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I think my problem is that industrial  pottery often doesn’t do functional better.  They make cheap. They make identical. They make shiny.  They make inoffensive.  They make boring.  

 

It’s like, why eat at a locally-owned restaurant? Friday’s has a good selection of food.  There’s one 20 minutes away from everywhere.  It’s consistent, cheaper, often faster, and clean.  But, it’s also pretty much aimed at the inoffensive middle of taste in every dish.  Life is more than that.  

In pottery, I want variety, visual interest, consideration of the user’s comfort, pleasing design, natural appearance, and superior function (not just average function).  I want a little imperfection; because perfection isn’t beautiful to me.  These are all thing industrial production struggles with, but handmade functional potters are magnetically attracted to those things.  

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And then there is the artist who designs to have her ware mass produced the answer to the prob?

I guess it frees the artist to go on creating new forms.

There is a pleasure in creating pots that people pick up and take to become part of their life.

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28 minutes ago, Babs said:

And then there is the artist who designs to have her ware mass produced the answer to the prob?

I guess it frees the artist to go on creating new forms.

There is a pleasure in creating pots that people pick up and take to become part of their life.

I think those designed by artists but mass produced are just as soulless as an Ikea design. Wouldn't touch one, because no one put anything into it.

Rae Dunn for example.  Mass produce her "designs" and they're pointless.  And from what I can see, it freed her up to do more of the same exact thing.

Would be funny if she came out with a line of things that had the word "soulless" written on them 

Edited by liambesaw

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On 6/11/2019 at 11:17 PM, CactusPots said:

unless you're trying to fill a ditch with your finished product, it has to be marketed

I have to disagree.  No finished product (in this case, art/craft/functional ware/ceramics)  "has to" be marketed. Everything an artist does in making that item/product is a conscious or unconscious decision--a choice, or an abdication of choosing.  Nowhere is it "written" that marketing (selling-expanding exposure-advertising-promoting) is essential or necessary to justify making the product. 

I would argue that for some artists/creatives/craftsmen, marketing per se may not even be desirable-that there may be a higher value in not doing so. Value is not just whatever money or prestige attaches to an object. Value, in my view, must be determined first by the maker--everyone one else is secondary.  The value to the artist may actually be increased by choosing not to do marketing of one's products. (I give most of mine away, including donating for use by non-profits for their fundraising.) 

Marketing  inherently either supports (look at Mea Rhee's success, for ex.) or diminishes (look at Liam's example w/Rae Dunn) the value of the creative drive that results in one's making something useful out of clay! But the absence of marketing our functional ware does not in any way mean that those of us who aren't big into retail are merely working on filling a ditch!  

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I would argue that donating and gifting is in fact marketing,   there is in fact a return.  Your return simply isn't monetary. You still have to identify a need/want target.  Frankly, I find using my product as a gift can be rather presumptuous.  Because I make a specialized product for a specialized crowd  that makes my giving  is pretty well received.  But I'm pretty uneasy about whether my taste will line up with the now obligated receiver if we are talking strictly decorative, or even kitchen use.  The basic point is that as a potter, I need quite a bit of repetition and volume to achieve competence.   I suppose it all depends on your production output.  You can build little sculptures on your kitchen table, use commercial glazes, have some one else fire them and still fall under the same "ceramic artist" label as an invested studio "ceramic artist".

Whether you sell it or give it away, you can't keep it all.  Well maybe you can, see the show "Extreme Hoarders".  My understanding of the history is that George Ohr was a full time production potter who didn't sell any of his "adventurous" pieces.  They were all stored in a barn and after his death, his inheritors put them to market.  If my understanding is correct,  is this what  you consider to be  a working model of your point?

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21 minutes ago, CactusPots said:

I would argue that donating and gifting is in fact marketing

I would argue that gifting is the opposite of marketing. Marketing is defined as: 'the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising'.  A gift is :'a thing given willingly to someone without payment'. The end goal of marketing is profit. A true gift is selfless, with no expected return on investment for the giver. Yes, you may feel good about making someone happy, but the givers happiness is not the purpose of a true gift. It's all about the receiver. Yes, in both marketing and gifting you need to know your audience in order to do either successfully, but that does not make them the same. You need to know your audience with any type of contact or communication.

34 minutes ago, CactusPots said:

 Frankly, I find using my product as a gift can be rather presumptuous.  Because I make a specialized product for a specialized crowd  that makes my giving  is pretty well received.  But I'm pretty uneasy about whether my taste will line up with the now obligated receiver if we are talking strictly decorative, or even kitchen use.

I just see my pots as being one option for gift giving. You give a gift that you think the receiver will like, which may mean giving a pot, but maybe not. It depends on the situation. It would be presumptuous if you just gave them out willy nilly.

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I still see a primary connection between gift giving and marketing in that a proper gift does include market research.  You know a reason this particular gift is appropriate and will be appreciated by the recipient.   You really can't make mugs for the same people for 20 years.  That's the point that Neil made.  The payment I receive is emotional and the strengthening of the personal relationship.  Yes, there is a difference, but the problem is the same.  To  find a destination for all these great pots.  If not so many pots, not much problem.  If a lot of pots, marketing, sales and turnover are required.

Seems I read somewhere that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at any particular activity.  My point is that that much time is going to result in a LOT of pots if we are talking anything like traditional ceramics.  Ceramics has evolved in our culture to include something quite different from traditional ceramics.  So it just depends on where you are on that scale.

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For me its simply being creative. i dont care if its clay,oil paint, latex , charcoal.. if im not creating, im not happy inside.. I make functional wares because i love the idea of people using them in their daily life.. i seen a post about the form or forms being hard to create or recreate as these have been around for so long now.. yea that may be true but how about the glaze's..  all the layering that can be done.. The Glazes are endless.. a person can use the same form and use different glazes etc. for years n years and still be creative..

if someone wants a new area to dabble in, i made Marine Ceramics for reef tanks.. create the forms and bisque fire only-Done.. very good biological filter- the price for live rock vs the price of bisque, you will make a profit..

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I just think it's the ultimate reinforcement of my path, when someone I don't have a personal relationship with says.  " I dig what you're doing so much I'll part with my life force (money) to acquire it."  Seems to me like the ultimate complement.  That's the beauty of capitalism and the free market.

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