There it was again, another discussion of how to determine what a ‘real’ artist was. Shaking my head in utter dismay, I read a plethora of back and forth positions in the online blog. Oh so long ago, I had been introduced to this topic, had no idea what the term ‘real’ artist meant, and hadn’t found it necessary to evaluate whether I was real or unreal. But there it was again and still being discussed, so this morning I began to wonder why this real vs whatever-other-type-of-artist discussion exists and persists. To quote an awesome woman whose name escapes me, “can’t we all be fabulous?” Is a ‘real’ artist more authentic or true in some manner, maybe in skill, or in number of ideas, or simply in their prolific outpouring of repurposed and/or aesthetically pleasing matter? Could it be that the ‘unreal’ artist accrues lower than a certain level of occupational income, such as van Gogh during his lifetime? Or, is it some other distinction that drives this seeded vs seedless rye discussion?
What I can’t figure out is, who has the time and energy to bother with this distinction? Aren’t artists too busy making art?
That Chuck Close quote is my go-to saying, especially as a high school art teacher, but also as my personal artistic mantra. While I haven’t experienced Close’s seemingly life-long non-stop prolific profusion of ideas, I’ve encountered blinks of time when I believed ‘inspiration’ had eluded me.
When I look back on those snippets of idleness, I realize what appeared to be a lack of inspiration was in reality a form of quasi self-doubt. So I was curious to figure out how that doubt took up residence in my thought process in the first place. Why at times in my life, was there even the hint of a notion that I wouldn’t make art?
Well, that question brings me to another point, one I share with my art students all the time, specifically the difference between product and process. Usually it goes like this: I ask my students to identify themselves as either a product or process person. The product people tend to focus on the end result throughout their art-making, while the process people travel from one possibility to another, never wanting to finish. As an art teacher, this distinction of contrasts between product and process helps me tremendously to understand my students’ motivations as they engage in art making, and the preliminary product/process discussion also establishes a basis for dialogue when we talk about their approach to their work. Of note, I’ve rarely seen a student, who identifies as a process person, ever struggle to get going, although I’ve had countless long conversations with students, who identify as product people, to help get them started. More often than not, I’ve discovered through these conversations that the product person believes getting started requires them to have the finished work in mind; in a concept-driven art course, this rigidity of thought impedes the emergence of creative energy at the outset. The process person meanwhile, is off and running, allowing their creative energy to take them somewhere, anywhere. This brings me back to my question: why at times in my life, was there even the hint of a notion that I wouldn’t make art?
And there was the answer. These days I revel in my creative process and, in the spirit of Chuck Close, I just get to work.
Lately I’ve been considering pottery work with porcelain. Mostly because the translucent characteristic of this clay body lends itself to all sorts of interesting outcomes. It’ll be trial and error for a while I’m sure, but therein lies the joy. Curiosity for how this medium will respond to various hand-building, printing, and wheel throwing techniques serves as the driving force.
The porcelain arrived quickly from the Ceramic Shop (Philadelphia, PA), so I tore open the box to check it out. From the outside of the bag the clay felt a little stiff, but from what I understand from YouTube videos, once the clay is well wedged, it softens up. I was careful to wash the surfaces, tools, sponges, buckets, and anything else that had previously come into contact with stoneware. Again, a YouTube video recommended washing tools, etc. so that no iron bits would contaminate the porcelain clay body.
I used a brand-new wire cutting tool and wedged the porcelain on a heavy piece of clean cardboard, since my bamboo wedging table’s surface was thoroughly embedded with stoneware from previous wedging. With only a pound or so, tried throwing a little vessel with a tiny spout. The clay handled nicely, was very easy to center and form – left the bottom a bit thicker for trimming a nice foot. Next, I threw a little one pound bowl and tried to make the walls as thin as I could without risking collapse. Again, I kept the base thicker so I could trim a deep foot.
This question is not often asked, but rather shared as the statement, ‘I’m not artistic.’ Dictionary.com offers that artistic is: “1. conforming to the standards of art; 2. showing skill or excellence in execution: artistic workmanship; 3. exhibiting taste, discriminating judgment, or sensitivity; 4. exhibiting an involvement in or appreciation of art; or 5. involving only aesthetic considerations. So, it looks like there are several ways to be artistic. But how did ‘skill or excellence’ become equivalent to replication representation as a means of defining one’s artistic ability?
Usually when my students or friends share their perspectives about their lack of an artistic nature/ability, I discover that they’re referring to a perceived lack of representational replication skill in their completed or expected execution – notably of a final product. This eye-on-the-replication-representational-prize perspective can get in the way of the ‘space’ needed for artistic creation – for making and creating art may require decision making, a discerning eye, analysis, and modification, but more importantly, it demands the freedom of happenstance. While discriminating judgement is necessary, and confidence in that judgement needs to be nurtured, serendipitous discovery occurs during process rather than deliberate map-following to a pre-determined end product.
Confidence is the fuel that moves artists forward and allows risk-taking action that moves us past a simple conformity to the standards of art and catapults us into the realm of real artistic possibility. Confidence can be present in artwork long after the artist hand leaves the paper, canvas, clay, or stone; just look at Dali’s line drawings of well…anything. The confident energy of an artist’s hand is embedded in that bold line, daringly pounded brushstroke, or unrepentant application of glaze; for self confidence in one’s artistic nature documents concrete evidence of human creative energy.
Simply put, developing an artistic nature requires the ability to allow plenty of room for our self confidence, as we respond with our senses, to our surroundings.
A friend of my niece is going to set up a pottery studio in his new house and was asking what he would need to get started.
My work area has evolved since the beginning, so I thought about the basic components I gathered when I first set up my potter’s studio.
Besides a good potter’s wheel, having access to electric, adequate lighting and ventilation, and easy-to-clean flooring /horizontal surfaces are a must.
Speaking of clean, easy access to water, a bunch of hand towels, a good apron, sponges, and a scraper are working and cleaning essentials.
Storing work and ware makes bags for storing unfinished projects; crates and shelves for carrying and storing bats and ware; and vessels to stow tools an organizational necessity.
A wire cutting tool, ribs, sponges, a needle tool, and trimming tools serve as the very basic throwing tools.
A yard of heavy canvas, a rolling pin, a fettling knife, an old kitchen spoon and fork, and a slip container can be the basic hand-building tools.
As far as glazing brushes go, I used 1″ and .5″ hardware store utility bushes for the first couple of years.