Signature Style

 

There are a handful of questions that I am asked at every workshop: “How do you know when to dart?”, “How do you make your feet?”, and “How do you get the stamping to line up?!”, for example. The answers to those are fairly straightforward: practice, carving, and practice.

I’m teasing with the one-word answers, but alongside those simpler, technical how-to questions are toughies like, “How did you find/get/develop your style?” I love deep questions in workshops, the ones that are about being an artist. Those conversations are a big part of why I enjoy teaching. Workshops are a great forum for learning techniques and discussing quandaries like personal style, not for picking up “style tricks.” There is no sincere short answer to the style question during a workshop or in this blog (though “practice” is part of the answer).

 

A few years ago, while attending NCECA, I attended a lecture* that essentially encouraged the current generation of makers to look not to the former generations’ work for ideas, but rather to their influences. He stated that the prior generation, the WWII-era makers, looked at things (nature, gesture, history, architecture) not other people’s pots.  He expressed wonderment at a potential future in ceramics with artists referencing only the preceding generation.  This observation was profound to me.

To oversimplify with an example, if I like Linda Sikora’s work, rather than imitating her forms and surfaces, I could begin to develop my own voice by researching what has influenced her work. By delving into the handfuls of objects, cultures, and periods that have defined her style, my own work could become unique rather than simply referential. Who I am as a person and maker will affect how I respond to the exact same historic European porcelain pitcher that inspired her. That’s not to say I can’t appreciate, admire, and buy her work, but I am more likely to find my own voice by looking at what is behind her pots rather than just looking at her pots.

 

So that is one of the anecdotes I tell in a workshop to begin to explain how one might develop a style. I honestly think if an artist sets out with style as the goal rather than as a byproduct of making what he enjoys based on what inspires him, he will fail. (Though I’m sure there are artists who receive recognition this way, I don’t think they are happy, respected artists.)

Style is the amazing culmination of everything an artist has experienced, loves and is, manifested in an object. I touch on the wide range of things that have shaped my own work (and style) throughout this blog, and also discuss them in my Bio and Statement.

 

The images in this post represent some of the details—based directly on my influences and interests—I feel make my work unique, my style signatures: slip-trailed shapes that look like rolled fondant; ornate stamping; two-part cup handles;  and Kanthal wire as form. Vessels like my Corset series, surfaces like my satin color palette, and even an actual signature, like my name stamp (below) are also part of that design “signature”.  The best compliment I receive about my work is, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”  What I bring to the pots is something no one else has: my touch, my eye, my mish-mash of interests and my passion. That’s style.

* I’m sorry to say I don’t remember the speaker for that 1998 Dallas/Ft. Worth NCECA slide lecture.  If someone knows, please drop me a note.

61 thoughts on “Signature Style

  1. KK–You’ve touched, with a precise eloquence, on something I have been thinking about quite a bit these days.

    Very recently I participated in a local craft show and my ‘neighbor’ at the table next to me was most obviously influenced by my work. Honestly, I was not offended but I was left wondering why this person was replicating my designs, actually trying to make them her own. My friends wondered why I wasn’t mad or why I did not feel threatened and it was because as I looked more closely, I could see, in her work, that she was searching for her own voice by looking closely at my work. She was trying to capture an ‘essence’. This was obvious to me and I couldn’t be mad at her for that.

    With this new year, as I go out into the world and begin to teach workshops on my own technique for the very first time, (eep!) I have been thinking a lot about how to communicate ‘style’. Not just a collection of techniques but also as a development of our visual vocabulary. Gathering what influences us. What we are drawn to and searching deeper, asking why and what it is that thrills or repulses us? What do we find beautiful? What makes us feel emotion? What excites our senses and to use these things as our guide to creating. Style is not something someone can teach. It is an elusive creature, and for those of us who have a ‘style’ I think when asked how we came upon it a bit of mystery exists, even for us. I know with my own work, it came about as a building process and paying attention to what it was that influenced me, not in others’ work, but in the world around me.

    Thank you for this! It is thrilling to be thinking about these ideas. I can see how it is your favorite part of teaching.
    xo, df

  2. Kristen, this is very well put together.
    Finding one’s style is a process and it comes with time. I have been making pots for a while but it has been only in the last few years that I came to recognize my own style. It was there in my previous work too, but I just didn’t know it. What surprised me most was how different influences, different experiences, different likes etc… all came together. It was all in my subconcious. Earlier I found it hard to talk about my work but after knowing one’s style it is second nature to talk about it… because it is you.

    • Yes, to your last point Charan, I think of the old adage that’s it’s harder to remember a lie(over and over) than it is to tell the truth. This sounds a little harsh. When something comes from the heart, it flows.

  3. Kristen, thank you so much for putting such perfect words together to express a verbally elusive subject matter. Finding one’s own style is like finding contentment in yourself. When I “borrow” other people’s ideas my work never seems pure, but if I allow other artists to encourage and influence my work I pay homage to them in ways they may never be able to identify. Their inspiration coupled with surrounding myself with beauty & visual things that make me happy help launch my own style. You have so clearly hit the nail on the head. I hope those who aspire to copy current work in search of their own voice will dig deep to find the confidence to look to things that make them happy & ignite their soul. Thank you!!

  4. Wow, Kristen. Great post. I too have been thinking about this a lot. I just finished an article for Pottery Production Practices that describes my journey and how I found my voice. I did the same thing – studying the sources of those I admired. It comes out in March.

    And Dawn, you are correct – it takes confidence to not copy.

    As for how to address teaching this concept in a workshop, the best I have seen at it is Aysha Peltz. As a natural part of her dialog, she talks about her process of discovery and the things she experimented with to arrive at the place she is. Gay Smith also has a critique period (good for hands-on workshops) where she discusses how to critique and break down what works and doesn’t work about a piece. I think introducing students to this language and thought process is critical to giving them the tools to find their own voice.

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. Thanks everyone for the interest and comments. This was tough to write, and could easily have been much longer. I wrote it for a variety of reasons, and knew I could only scratch the surface.

    I hope I was able to convey the sense that you don’t “get” a style, it is something that develops and continues to evolve over time. Diana is right, it can’t be taught. It’s practice, exploration and attentiveness. When I teach workshops, I pointedly show slides of how my work has progressed over the past 18 years. I’ve confirmed it’s interesting for participants to see the threads of ideas (as Charan said, the subconscious things) that I have always been drawn to, and that I didn’t just start out making work as they see it now.

    Lisa Clague commented in the last issue of CM that she feels “we are spoon feeding ‘ceramic technique’ and personal style through how-to books and workshops. Painters and sculptors do not reveal themselves in this way. I feel there’s a need for more solitude and trusting one’s own inner spirit and intuition to develop work.”

    There are a lot of interesting and provocative conversations going on lately about copying, sharing, borrowing, and what’s right and what’s wrong. There are more workshops taught than ever, the internet makes images and artists very accessible to question, copy and inspire, and collectors are just as curious as artists about the origination of a style.

    I appreciate your all’s comments and hope this conversation continues.

  6. Kristin,
    A wonderful post indeed.
    I have marveled, coming from a sculptural background and to clay in middle age, how fellow students want to know “What kind of brush do you use” or other seemingly pertinent questions about the process.

    There has been a practice of art making that replicates that which the viewer/student/artist sees. Easels set up at many museums as a painting is “copied” is more common place in Europe than the US. This is not so easy in terms of many sculptural works. Something is learned in the process but certainly not one’s own voice.

    I admire the maker that shares the process because I think usually they are fully aware that sharing instructions is 1/1000 of what is really important.

    Keep making. Our world needs your work.

  7. Kristen – I really like your second posting. Coming into ceramics late but from another visual area (painting and sculpture), my experience coincides with your observation about how artists reveal/don’t reveal themselves. Painting is certainly NOT about revealing technique – conversations/critiques focus much more on message. Questions seek out what the maker is trying to say and whether it is coming across.

    I don’t think we ask enough of ourselves (as potters) how we want our work to be perceived or where our work comes from. Is it because we are uncomfortable looking at functional work from an “art” point of view? Do we split “art” and “craft” up too much?

  8. It always blows my mind when people look to someone else’ s personal style to LITERALLY copy. I have the opposite problem… Half of the time I am trying to “reinvent the wheel” because I am so focussed on the individuality. I have found that the best thing is to be true to your self, you cannot MAKE personal style. It is either in you or…well…I don’t really know. Influences are huge but usually they come from something in your life , not another artist…
    You can try various techniques but if you can’t make them work within YOUR specific framework, I think it is best to table them.
    Having been a fashion designer(and not COUTURE),I was actually taught to interpret and follow trends…and then make “what everyone wants” because it is the “trend”. In ceramics, I have found a way to express only for the sake of expression(and then reinterpreting for function…).I think we are always evolving and therefore our work will too…Sometimes I feel we become too trapped in what others expect from us…We must work freely.

  9. Shoji Hamada preferred “feeling” over “style.” It is similar to Coleridge’s imagination vs. fancy. When your inspiration comes from inside, rather than arbitrarily veneered from the outside, when the feeling of your work comes from your character, it is impossible for people to copy you. There will always be something missing, unless they draw on the same source. But when they get down deep, the work will not look the same as yours.

    But of course, we all copy while we are learning. But hopefully, we use the copying to dig down to the source. Just a vehicle to find genuine work.

  10. This was a great post Kirsten, and good to see so much feedback and thought-provoking comments. I’ve recently been invited to do a workshop and had hesitated based on the fear that my style and work will get copied. The approach of teaching people how to find their own style and their own voice is something I hope to learn how to do in a workshop or classroom setting. Thanks for the insight!

    • When I’m teaching I try to convey excitement and curiosity. If you can help students to shed self consciousness and recognize their own joy or pleasure in work, they will be well on their way to finding their voice. As they follow their joy it’s just a matter of time until they “emerge” in their work. Times flies when you’re having fun!

      That’s not to say it’s all fun and games, though!

  11. I agree, Michael. I frequently tell my workshop participants the real name of my workshop is “No Fear Clay”. At some point we all become scared about experimenting because of failure. I bring up the adage that if we don’t try, we won’t know, and our hands-on workshops are great fun. Style is the child of experimentation and play.

    There is a link in this post to images of my sketchbook (mish-mash), which is something I always pass around at workshops. The participants get a kick out of my eclectic influences and are excited about beginning their own idea book. I also encourage them to bring images of things they are drawn to and can frequently help them interpret techniques I am demonstrating towards their own interests.

    Heather, I wrote an article for Studio Potter’s Winter 2007-’08 Teaching and Learning issue titled Thoughts form the Road: Learning to Teach Workshops. (I’ll have to go back and re-read it, I’m sure I’ve learned more since then.)

    To Lee’s comment, and the common thought of copy-to-learn, I understand this concept and think it can be appropriate in a school setting and has merit, but have also witnessed copy-to-sell and copy-enough-and-it’s-mine.

  12. hi kristen, wonderful post and comments… this a huge subject to cover and your thoughts are very well written and eloquent. i believe that you’ve hit the nail on the head. my perspective is that of someone only in the game for the last 5 years and maybe i’m old enough to have that residual wwII idea already drilled into me. i certainly do love others works (i was personally blown away when i discovered yours) and i covet much of that work but copying doesn’t interest me unless by copying we are simply referring to the recognition that a technique could be used in the service of one’s own style. over the years i’ve talked to non-artists who always say things like… oh, i could never do anything like that etc., in fact i just had this conversation again with my sister. my position which is admittedly simplified for that conversation is that we all have an intuitive preference for the way that one thing looks over the way another thing looks. non art making people don’t have trouble choosing one “style” of automobile over another, in fact in this culture of hyper-consumerism, visual discrimination is practically indispensable. so the seeds of the process are already there and they’re subconscious which is where they might be better off remaining. the quote in your comment by Lisa Clague says it all… “I feel there’s a need for more solitude and trusting one’s own inner spirit and intuition to develop work.” Trusting this subconscious predilection and following it is the path to a distinct style. everyone already has a lifetime of influences and preferences. in the case of the person that diana refers to who was mimicking her work… maybe the person was merely copying something she likes to hone their technical ability but if i had to guess, they were more likely afraid to trust that inner voice that tells you that you like this and don’t like that. a blank canvas can be a frightening challenge. ok, i’m having that “this is rambling” feeling. great post

  13. This is a great post! I used to wonder the very same thing, I think it is part of being a student, to crave a ‘style’. It is the one thing that is the same about all the artists you admire when you are learning. They all have a signature, and so it’s natural for the student to want one, too.

    I think that a style evolves, is not found. You just continually experiment over and over and over, and stick with the things that really please you, the works that make you say ‘yessss!’ Over time, it is the accumulation of these details that define you and your work as an artist.

    I don’t totally agree with the ‘abandon the artists before you’ outlook. It is important to draw inspiration from all around you- packages you like, a favorite flower, a cultural topic that excites you, a rock whose texture you find gratifying… But I think it is equally important to look behind you and to draw from previous masters. They are after all masters and so, artists you should seek to learn from. The combination is this… life’s inspiration gives you the ‘what’ for your work… inspiration from other artists might contribute part of the ‘how’.

    Also, I think it’s hugely important to look at artists outside of your field of expertise. This can also greatly impact the scope of one’s expression.

    Anyway, enough rambling… Thanks again for getting my mind going on this subject. :)

  14. To Jesse’s concern, the NCECA speaker wasn’t recommending to “abandon all those before,” it was a suggestion to widen one’s view on where to look for influence. It is of course important to know what’s being made in your own field and outside, before and now. Ignorance is not bliss.

    Most of the commenters have said a big “Of Course!” to looking beyond another potter’s work for ideas (fabulous!), but many makers don’t realize influence CAN come from anywhere. It is a learning process to look at an object or idea, and translate that into clay. I find that potters tend to think their primary influence is and should be pots, period. While nature or pattern in general might be considered, the idea of looking at a wedding cake or water silo, is not. I had a close friend in undergraduate school who was a mixed media sculptor and was stunned himself that a potter may look outside of pottery for ideas.

    As I said in the post, this is a huge topic, and the answer primarily comes down to practice.

    Great dialogue, guys!

  15. KK, reading above I was taken off guard when you said “I had a close friend in undergraduate school who was a mixed media sculptor and was stunned himself that a potter may look outside of pottery for ideas.” I was like of course you look outside of pots for inspiration. I am CONSTANTLY looking for new ides outside of ceramics. I took a workshop with Deborah Schwartzkopf last fall and she said that she doesn’t even look at other pots for inspiration. I find that really hard to do myself. I’m also constantly looking online at the online galleries. It’s one of those things where I think of a great idea and then I see something along those same line. It’s then a question of well do I want to do it anyway and run the risk of people thinking I copied them? Or scrap it and do something else? It’s just one of those things you have to decide for yourself… again coming with practice. Also I think that if you find out what your favorite potters sources are and your interested in them too there is a common thread that will run through each others pots, but could be a slippery slope too… another catch 22

  16. Kristin,
    I think your blog about style is wonderful. I am a hobby potter who has skills but has been searching for style. I admit I look to other potters for inspiration but I also get turned off when I see a “wave” of style pass between potters. For example, when I first saw Julia galloways mishima birds, I thought they were frethtaking. Now it seems that every third potter has a bird on their pot and it’s no longer interesting.
    But there is and element to functional pottery that is more important as style and that is form. It the form isn’t right it will not work regardless of style or beauty. I own a collection of cups froom potters I’ve admired over the years. The 2 most beautiful cups I own are one by you and another by John Calver. My 2 most admired potters. In my cupboard however, these are the 2 least used cups of my collection. Why? They are too small for the average cup of coffee or tea and the flaired shape is too prone to liquid sloshing out. So these cups are beautiful…but lonely. I love your cup, but I wish it was taller and apparently so does everyone else who goes to my cupboard to choose a cup. So let’s not forget form and function while searcing for style.

  17. Thanks for your comments, Michele. Form is very important, and not always linked with function. Parameters such as size, lip flair, handle size and shape are fairly personal to a user/purchaser. And I do consider those elements of style by a maker. One potter’s “style” may be more functional than another’s, and that is part of what defines it (the style). This post, however, wasn’t placing a priority of style over any other goal, like function. I was merely commenting about gathering ideas.

    This is the last paragraph from my artist’s statement (which is linked in this post): “Form is my primary interest as an object-maker, followed by ornamentation and function. I am ultimately interested in formal investigations of line and detail to define form in my work.”

    As a maker, I strive to find the balance between form, beauty and decoration. While function is part of my interest, it is not my priority. I receive comments that the exact same cup is too large, too small or just right from people. Many people drink coffee and tea from my cups daily, and others are content to enjoy it on the shelf. I can’t please everyone, and ultimately choose to make what I enjoy.

  18. Fantastic post, complimenting and producing so many thoughts of my own!

    As someone who is still only learning, I too have craved my own style. I almost feel jealous of the style of others and often look at work and think “I wish I had thought of that”. To begin with I wanted to copy many peoples work (except yours, which I deemed impossible!!), but then I started feeling like I didn’t want to see anyone elses work at all because it distracted me from developing my own style. Now I realise that what you say is very true – my own style will only develop in time, influenced by many areas of life, and learning which forms I most enjoy making. And what pleases me most, is realising that in a way, this is what has been happening to me. I don’t have my own style yet, but I now feel content to let it take it’s own course.

    I’m also (slowly) learning that it is just as satisfying to simply admire a persons work, without feeling the need to copy it. I suppose as I develop my own style it will be easier to feel this way.

    I recall one of the above comments mentioning the torture of having an idea and then realising it’s already been done before – I think this topic of developing ones own style has been discussed on Whitney Smith’s blog (another artist I admire) and this problem was discussed. As I recall the thought was that since a persons style evolves it would be easy to trace back the devopement of such a piece in the artists work, and thus eliminating any suspicion of it being copied. (I hope I make sense) I really enjoyed making my little “goblets” and love to look at the shape of them, but I have no doubt that someone, somewhere, has probably made the same thing but using a different tecnique.

    Anyway, I too am beginning to waffle! (I’m also begining to phrase my sentances like Jane Austen, after reading so much of her lately!)

  19. Kristen, your post is so well-expressed that I just had to sit down and thank you for how carefully you are thinking about the work it takes to find a personal style when we are all so desirous of respectability. The unexamined impulse to make acceptable things really does (and does for me!) get in the way.
    So I’ve been sitting here quite a while. Meanwhile, my extra-sweet husband is hovering behind me, asking when the heck I will get off our dang Internet connection. So!
    You asked if anyone might have an idea who the NCECA speaker was. Robin Hopper gave quite a memorable lecture that made the same point during a workshop I attended a few years ago in Fayetteville, AR. I have been thinking about what he told us about looking for an artist’s original influences ever since. Could it have been him?

  20. I like Undaunted’s thought that you can admire something without copying it. I learned a long time ago to make in a way that suits my personality. For years, I tried to be “gestural” rather than what I am which is “precise”. My “style” jumped out when I embraced the precision and then paired it with the things and influences I enjoy. I tell my students if you really like another person’s work, buy it! Support a fellow artist. Make what suits your personality, buy work you admire.

    Celia, I’m just not sure, but don’t think it was Robin Hopper. I’m sure there is a way to see who was speaking about what at past NCECA conferences. Some day I’ll invest the time.

    • This discussion has been tremendously thought provoking and inspiring. My two cents worth starts with agreeing with your reply above: “Make what suits your personality, buy work you admire.” I feel lucky that I started collecting pots as soon as I became interested in making them, surrounding myself with things I liked and could learn from. It wasn’t that these were the pots I wanted to make myself, but each one seemed to have something important to tell me, and although my pots are obviously different they are undoubtedly influenced and indebted.

      I do have a question about most potters embracing what you call a “signature style” (and I too have a style that is recognizably the product of my own relationship with clay). With the variety and diversity of influences and interests that a potter has, I wonder why this seems to point in the direction of only one particular “signature style”. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, only that it is interesting. I love Italian food, but I don’t confine myself to eating it every meal. I like watching classic Bogart and Bacall films, but sometimes I want something different. Right? So, when potters make hundreds of individual pots every year, why are those pots mostly reflections of a single “signature style”? It may be expected of us by galleries and collectors, but these are external reasons. It seems that by embracing only one narrow manner of expression potters have limited themselves in a way that they rarely do in the rest of their lives. I wonder if “signature style” isn’t ultimately an unnatural restriction of an artist’s creative freedom. “The culmination of everything an artist experiences, loves and is” seems to indicate a sweeping variety of things rather than one mode of expression that all this has been shoehorned into. Thoughts?

  21. ah excellent train of thought and super post kristen….
    i would like to add to this conversation and from my perspective my college and uni training has influenced my work greatly, my 1st lecturer when i was 18 still influences the way i throw…. my photography, design, printmaking and graphics all affect the way i see imagery surface textures and form..and then there’s the cultural influences…our college culture in SA is heavily influenced by traditional asian ceramics…so you put all that together along with a journal of rambling thoughts and exhibition challenges and challenging commissions….its no wonder my work is eclectic… I’m thankful for all of the mentoring influences and i don’t think the ideas will ever cease…

  22. Carter raises an interesting point. Maybe others will address it too, and I’ll just give my rambling perspective. “Style” is a huge word and given the number of comments to this post, we all have different ways of interpreting the word as well as developing our own.

    I know some do, but I don’t feel the slightest bit restricted by what I make. I think that is part of what “discovering my style” means. The way that I work is so inherent to my being and what I enjoy, that it just is. There will always be artists whose work doesn’t evolve, but having a recognizable style doesn’t mean evolution isn’t possible. Change is in fact one of the most intriguing aspects of being an artist I think. I think it’s helpful to think of other media on this point. Fashion designers develop a completely new series for a season, but the underlying elements link it to them as artists and reflect what is inherent to their style. Sculptors may never use the same medium twice, but there is usually a tie that connects the work to the artist…style can include a moral statement, goal, size, environment, etc.

    A look at my Gallery page reveals forms that are hard edged next to curvy ones, some stamped and some not, etc. Style to me is as much an umbrella term as it is specifics within itself. My style could be labeled as contemporary Victorian, retro Art Nouveau, precise, decorative, elegant, ornate, electric-fired, porcelain, colorful, gaudy, functional, and sculptural. Elements of my style include detailed stamping, two-part handles, faux sprigging, gestural slip-trailing, slip-trailed shapes, soft curves and hard edges. I consider the Corset series and the wire pieces, for example, as forms that culminate these style traits. Just like most every other potter, I make covered jars. How I employ the elements above—which may be significantly different in 10 year—is what distinguishes mine from another’s. New characteristics may be added or subtracted as I uncover new interests, techniques and desires. When the building blocks that make up a style are looked at individually, I think it’s easy to see that what encompasses a style is just as broad as it is specific.

    This retrospective of past postcards post http://kiefferceramics.com/2009/05/31/postcard-retrospective/ shows an evolution of form, surface and ornamentation in my work. I feel my work has changed dramatically over the last 10 years. Without comparing images over that decade, many may disagree. Part of how my work and style has continued to evolve is through self-challenge. The Corset series and resulting clover cups came from pressing myself to make a form that wasn’t stamped. (In grad school, all my work had stamping and now it’s less than half.) The non-stamped work looks just as “mine” as the stamped (just as my handbuilt work fits in easily next to the thrown) because it shares the same style elements, just minus the stamping.

    I discontinue forms as they no longer interest me (like the Lady vase in the postcard post above), change forms significantly (compare the teapot in the postcard retrospective post with one I do now) and will only continue forms (like the Corset series) if they intrigue me. This has been a conscious path. I do not wholesale in part because I don’t want to be held to making a particular form. I feel like I’m continually adding as well as subtracting forms, surfaces and details from my repertoire. Evolution and what defines that change is the artist’s choice.

    Maybe someday I’ll be making something completely different and not in clay, but I think I will carry my “style elements” with me because they are part of who I am. (Just like if you walk into my house, you can see *me* in every room.) I admire Bobby Silverman, Kari Radasch and other potters (and artists) who have allowed and pursued abrupt shifts in their work. Potters don’t usually make dramatic changes. We tend to like parameters (like function)…until we don’t.

    I hoped with the original post to help others see how an artist finds a style and what may make up that idea. This continues to be a great conversation!

  23. Enjoyed the post, and the comments. I think there is some validity to copying, as long as one understands that it is done to understand the style and technique, and then continue pushing, incorporating the knowledge and taking more steps to make it your own. There may be remnants of the original maker, but the work should be wholly one’s own by then. I haven’t minded when I was copied – too much – but I did wonder when I saw pieces repeatedly copying another. Where is the maker’s soul and mind? Thanks for inspiring me to head to the studio now.

  24. As with life, in the studio there are philosophical words to live by and then there is reality. In theory, making what you love and all that it entails will lead to a unique and rewarding body of work. For some, that means drawing from their passion for making, and love of the material. For others, that also includes looking at tangible objects and ideas they love for inspiration. In reality, the starting point to that journey can feel too huge to grasp.

    As a teacher, I speak to my students about finding themselves in the work. As a maker, I speak to my collectors about what makes my work unique and what I have brought of myself to the work.

    There are INfinite ways to make, decorate and define functional pottery. There are only so many notes, but people still find ways to write new music and re-invent sound. The possibilities should feel exciting and expansive. We recognize certain artists’ work because indeed it has not been done just that way before. I don’t think anyone should worry about finding their style OR being copied, but awareness of both as a selling artist is important.

    People keep finding “new ways to tell the same story in a different way.” ~ Jack White, musician

    As I have said in my prior comments: You don’t “get” a style, and you can’t teach style. Style attainment shouldn’t be the goal. It is something that develops and continues to evolve over time. It’s practice, exploration and attentiveness. It is the result of experimentation and play.

    I understand a dictionary definition isn’t the answer, but it can be a helpful starting/re-starting point.
    Style (n)
    1. The way in which something is said, done, expressed, or performed.
    2. The combination of distinctive features of artistic expression or execution characterizing a particular person, group, school, or era.
    3. A sort or type.
    4. A quality of imagination and individuality expressed in one’s actions and tastes.

    Note: I have deleted three comments left by two people that I deemed to be nasty, inflammatory and/or unhelpful to this conversation. My comment above (which I have edited) and the following two were in partial response to those removed comments.

  25. Well…Lots of thoughtful comments! For my part, I’m wary of blanket statements, especially when I make them myself! Most of us have a pretty well-developed sense of what “style” means to us. Likewise, what we deem to be acceptable “copying” and what constitutes the ethical transgression of infringing on the “intellectual property” of others. Perhaps one perspective that opens up some common ground is the idea of a “school” of thought. Our “mishmash of interests” ;) may, indeed, be unique, but perhaps not exclusively. Similarities in “style” were once discussed in terms of a “school” (New York, Leipzig, Penland, etc.), to describe a similarity of interest in form, technique, etc. based on a shared or overlapping experience. In this way, we may find that we and/or others make consistent choices in response to a range of changing variables that never-the-less bridges to the work of others. Information is no longer bounded by geography, or even time. We may access so much of it anytime and anywhere we like. Distance learning, how-to tutorials, etc. have democratized knowledge within the field. What remains is the experience within the hand, and the significance of contributing new information to the field in order that art and craft surpass novelty and cannibalism and remain diverse, vital, LIVING traditions.

  26. Thank you, Kristen, for doing such a stellar job at communicating your beliefs with such care, insight, and clarity. You are a real bright light in the field!

    Because you are right on the money with so many things, I have little to add, except to say that I’m disappointed that some of the commenters have misunderstood and gotten critical about the copying thread. Yes, we all appropriate, we all remix, we have all stood in gray areas, but credit should be given where credit is due. There isn’t much that’s proprietary, but acknowledging another’s originality and influence does go a long way in keeping the field vital and generous. As Kristen has said, there are infinite possibilities with our materials and the way we use them, we are far from tapped out as a field. In fact, pulling in and setting even tighter parameters is often the biggest favor we can do for ourselves as artists. Honing into a certain style is expansive and it’s the depth that gives us the breadth.

    • These are excellent points, and I especially agree with you that Kristen should be commended for sharing her insights and her generosity in providing a place for us to discuss these thought provoking issues. Thank you Kristen!

      Ayumi, I absolutely agree with the point you are making in the last two sentences of your comment. There are real advantages to pursuing, refining, and narrowing a potter’s style. My question, I guess, is whether this makes us a different kind of artist from, say, a musician or an actor or a novelist. Musicians seem to float between styles and genres without difficulty or necessarily negative repercussions. Actors often see being typecast as a drawback and not a full reflection of their talents. Novelists seem comfortable expressing themselves in fiction, nonfiction, diverse genres, and not always beholden to a particular style. So while I fully agree that we potters do this stylistic honing for good and prudent reasons, I wonder whether we are lacking certain freedoms inherent in other forms of artistic and creative expression, or whether we potters just have different needs. Any thoughts on this? I hope my flogging of this issue isn’t becoming too tiresome….

      • Hi Kristen,
        I’m coming a bit late to the conversation, and so many commenters have already covered much of the territory with thoughtful responses to your great post. But after reading Carter’s reply above, combined with my own experience as a writer, I had to jump in!

        Right now I’m taking a writing class. The class is very intense and requires that we write everyday. Most of the people in the class are total beginners at writing, and at the beginning of the class we always do a “check in” about how our writing is going. Everyone there, by the way, is working on writing a book. Then, our teacher talks to us for several hours about different aspects involved in the mechanics of writing.

        It so happened that last night the topic was “style” and many people in the class during “check in” were complaining that they were really hating what they wrote. One even said she was totally deflated after going to see a famous writer speak and read from his current book. She actually said, “I’m never going to be that good!” Everybody is reaching for their “style” and frustrated at their inability to write as well as they want to write.

        Our teacher’s advice to finding our style was this: just keep writing, no matter how we feel or what our opinion is of our writing. Style, he said, comes from having the material to “play” with. The creation of style happens during playtime. Right now we are only to work, to gather the material, write it down, and keep writing. Later, we will go back in and start editing, playing, and honing our style. Bottom line: we don’t have enough experience at this point to really have more than a rudimentary style. Also, he encouraged us to “steal” the style of writers we admire as a way to challenge ourselves and exercise our brains.

        As our teacher was talking to us, I was thinking how everything he was saying could be applied to pottery. When I was a beginning student, I just wanted to make pots. I was not in the least bit concerned with style, I just made stuff that pleased my eye. My style didn’t start to emerge until a couple of years later, and THAT is a whole other story!

        To wrap up this very long response, I have to say that I think musicians, actors, and writers all have to hone a style in order to become expert at what they are doing, and it’s their recognizable style that people want. The same goes, I think, for pottery.

  27. Hi Whitney,

    That is a good perspective for me to hear! I’m still not sure this answers my question, though. After I posted that comment I ran into a musician friend of mine who reminded me that he was in three bands at the moment- a rock band, a swing/jazz band, and he just started a new klezmer band! This diversity doesn’t seem too unusual for musicians. Song writers also don’t seem to find it necessary to stick to just one style. Imagine the Beatles only writing songs that were elaborations of the style they had in “Love, love me do”. Whatever genius they were up to it certainly wasn’t honing a style. Could Peter Gabriel have written the soundtrack for “The last temptation” in just his ‘signature style’?

    Of course what you say about honing a style is true of perhaps every creative art form. And a mature and expertly applied style will always show a certain mastery of a medium. But rather than the burden being on developing ‘style’, I think many other artistic practices focus on honing creative ability. Style and ability are of course not the same things. Honing one’s ability is, as you point out, independent of developing style. It is through our expertise with a medium that we demonstrate our mastery. Style can be a side effect of that, but perhaps sometimes also a hindrance. An actor who showed us only one thing would be condemned as being too limited. Imagine Bogart playing “The treasure of Sierra Madre” or “The African Queen” in the style of his Sam Spade character. What if Keanu Reeves played essentially the same character in all his movies? Oops! (I like a number of his films, actually) A good actor moves beyond style and refuses to be typecast. Being identified with a style doesn’t seem to have the same repercussions for actors as it does for potters, clearly. Meryl Streep, the greatest actress of our age, is not so well though of because she has a signature style. Are potters then only as good as their styles? Do we want to say that?

    As far as the writers go, I agree that it can be advantageous to hone a style, but oddly enough, most of my favorite authors refuse to get categorized. Or, at the least, they will do work in a number of different styles and genres. I wonder what makes us potters so finite in our exploration? (and I should say that I am no different, which is perhaps why this question vexes me so) Not all creative work sees stylistic focus as a necessary virtue. Would it be so far fetched to imagine a world where potters worked in two radically different styles? Or three? Half a dozen? People didn’t stop listening to the Beatles after their first few hits. Maybe potters dipping their toes in multiple styles will be greeted as warmly. Any thoughts?

  28. Hi guys! I thought I’d inject yet another perspective into this great conversation. I am meandering my way through the latest issue of The Studio Potter (the Money issue) and just read the article “First People, Then Money, Then Things” by potter turned real-estate agent and studio pottery collector Michael Brannin. He eloquently touches on and almost summarizes points I mentioned earlier on in this conversation as well as the original post:

    “Hearing [potters’] opinions about pottery—which aspects they like and what are trying to achieve—has influenced my collecting and helped me to understand both the art and the artists. It is easy for me as a collector to put skilled and dedicated potters on a pedestal, so having a direct connection beyond a gallery’s information has really helped me to become more down to earth and ‘human’ as a collector, and to understand potters themselves in more human terms. After all, people are truly what pottery is about. The work becomes a signature or statement of the maker, and this is what endears me to both pots and potters. They are the work, and the work is them.”

    The thoughts of a collector bring a different perspective to this dialogue. The rest of his article is a great read as well!

  29. I want to address Carter’s question about potters usually having one style and how it could be seen more broadly through branding. There have been many good points I agree with about how to develop style through play, curiosity, introspection, repetition, and lots of plain hard work. In the end, after all those hours of making, we do come to something that can be seen from the outside as a style. Looking at a friend’s cupboard full of pots, I can often pick out who made what and sometimes at what point in their career they made it. Glaze and firing process can offer clues, but more often than not, it’s the potter’s touch that marks the pot as theirs. Touch, plus the aesthetic and psychological choices artists make define style more than anything else. It’s as Lee Love said earlier about Hamada preferring feeling over style.

    Style is also something more easily applied to others than oneself. In other words, I can identify the style of others, but when it comes to me, I make what I make without it being a conscious choice. In the beginning I did struggle with direction, but now my own style is as much about identity as it is about aesthetic preferences. I don’t feel that I have much choice in how I handle clay, because in the end, I’m simply making the way I want to make. When I push a line into a bowl, there is a certain feeling of “rightness” to it that has to do with the skill inherent in my hand and how the clay responds. We are in the most tactile of mediums so it’s logical that this is the definitive factor in style. Although musicians and actors are free of a physical material, musicians have their instruments and actors their voices and although they can explore other genres and roles, individual styles follow them as closely as they do potters.

    Style transcends mediums. I see this all the time in the cross pollination that happens between my ceramics, photography, web design, not to mention the renovation of my house and the objects I buy. All this stuff is wrapped up together and not easy to tease apart, especially in a work life that’s not 9-5.
    The other factor to consider with potters is the physical reality of a ceramics studio and the financial reality of being a small business owner. My studio is designed for what I make right now on a very practical level. Switching styles dramatically doesn’t make sense for the growth of my work or for the functionality of the studio. Streamlining my small studio and keeping it running efficiently is a major priority for me because it helps me make better work in the end. The same goes for using repetition to my advantage in order to make good pots. Like many others, I make small variations within the sameness, keeping my eyes open for new tangents. Earlier in the conversation, Kristen talked about feeling free to change her work at any time and for me, it’s the same. I’ve designed a life that has as much flexibility as I want so that I have license to evolve and grow as I wish.

    Lastly, as a potter making the majority of my income from pottery sales, I think about branding. This is not as simple as designing a logo or visual specifics or advertising on blogs. I want the stamp on the bottom of my pots to be synonymous with my values of quality as a maker and for the user to take in the whole picture of myself as a potter with many irons in the fire. My website and Facebook play major roles in getting this fuller picture across. If style is something that happens in the privacy of my studio, branding is a relationship that develops between my style and the user/consumer. I make work in equal measure because I love to do so and because people use my pots. I am inextricably linked to the user, so branding becomes the style I put out there in the world through my pots, postcards, website, and social networking.

    • Being that everyone has been so eloquent and thoughtful….

      A list of aphorisms regarding style (please augment if you like):

      1. The worst way to find a style is to look for it.

      2. Appropriation is always appropriate.

      3. The measure of your creativity is directly proportionate to the obscurity of your sources.

      4. Imitation then innovation.

      5. As is the gardener so is the garden.

      6. The only Zen you find on mountaintops is the Zen you bring up there.

      7. I am not the work I do but the person I become.

      8. “That looks like a fifth generation misunderstanding of Abstract Expressionism”.

      • Oh yeah,

        9. “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” I believe this one is from Oscar Wilde.

  30. I can’t stop thinking about this blog conversation…so thought provoking!

    I think that a personal style also comes out of our personal reponse to the particular materials we are using at the time. I work with porcelain and feel like so much of what I do is inspired by this material and is dependent upon how it handles. If I were to work with red earthenware instead, I believe that a new body of work would emerge. I’m sure it would relate to my other work, but suspect it would also have its own distinct personality.

    I’m not sure why, but it is easier for me to think about all of this in terms of creating a personal body of work, rather than finding a style. I think that we all potentially have a few different, yet personal bodies of work that could be developed. I think by changing our materials (clay, building techniques, surface techniques, glazes, firing methods), we would be come up with a different thread in our work, that might be a significant shift in style.

    For me personally, I need to stick with the same variables for a while to make any headway or development in my work. It turns out that I’m not as talented as Picasso and can’t switch everything up all the time and still gain mastery in my medium. Also, staying with the same materials and tools, and getting to know them intimately, allows me to stumble across the subtle nuances and improvisations that interest me. Sometimes the smallest shifts can make all the difference in making a piece or body of work sing. By making large or frequent shifts, I might miss these opportunities.

    I plan to eventually try switching to work with red earthenware for a while and see what sort of work emerges out of me, however I will have to do it later…one body of work at a time.

  31. I thought Ayumi’s answer to my question was outstanding. She should be admired for the honest and penetrating analysis of a process that effects all of us as potters. The influences and the choices that she outlines are very real and each of us would be well advised to consider them as our careers progress.

    I am going to put out one more thought for us to consider, and it relates to an interesting point that Ayumi raises. She observes that there is a very real difference between how we ourselves perceive what we are doing and how the outside world sees it. She points out that our long relationship with the medium of clay grants a “rightness” to how we express ourselves. We may not be consciously invoking a particular style, but through the sheer weight of habit our creativity runs in obviously related lines. So, when people look at potters they see the evolution of a signature style that informs their art. That totally makes sense to me.

    Where I would disagree with Ayumi is that artists in other media necessarily have these same experiences. Potters have so many reasons to work this way, but in point of fact almost every other postmodern artist sees style as something different. Potters may not be conscious of what we are doing as style, as Ayumi points out, but many other artists DO consciously use style to promote specific results. If we are unconscious of our style, sure it can follow us around in everything we do. But if we manipulate it purposefully it becomes a tool we can use and then discard at will. That was my point about musicians, actors and writers, but it really applies to every artist who has embraced the values of postmodern art.

    So why am I making such a big deal of this? Well, as Ayumi points out, others see what we are doing differently than we do. A photographer friend of mine suggested that potters are so fascinated with style because we lack content. I hope this is not true, but it does seem to be the way others view us. I think that many other artists just see us as lightweight artists. Certainly we are suffering second class status in much of the art world. Fewer university teaching jobs are going to potters. We show our work in specialized or specifically craft oriented galleries. And now museums are running shows on “craft” that intentionally exclude functional art! One of my ceramics instructors in school even told me that making covered jars was an anachronism. And that was a CERAMICS instructor! Every time I see a potter go to grad school and come out making sculpture it breaks my heart. Without dedicated potters teaching students, just how much encouragement and pertinent advice are they getting?

    Right now I see the field of pottery as a place where there is an incredibly vital exploration of our medium. I don’t know if there is another era of pottery making that can compare to the brilliance of the artists working in our field these days. And I commend Ayumi and Kristen for standing in the forefront of this. Paradoxically, at the same time it seems to be the case that our art is moving steadily toward becoming little more than a well paying hobby. As opportunities dry up there will be fewer and fewer professionals earning a living making pots. Perhaps it is impossible for potters to answer the challenges of postmodernism and still make pots. Perhaps they don’t need to. I don’t know. I guess I am just haunted by the knowledge that they used to teach basket weaving in college back in the 70’s. Will there be a future where someday someone will say “I remember when they used to teach pottery in colleges”? Can we afford to stand by and let this happen? As long as we are currently making a living is it just tough luck to future potters?

    Perhaps I am overstating the case, but what Ayumi says IS true. We ARE perceived differently by outsiders, and unfortunately that sometimes means we are seen as lightweights in the art world. Postmodern art values aren’t the whole of the story, but our failure to address some of these issues perhaps gives the impression that what we do is style, and nothing but style. So while a signature style is something we potters have for very real and important reasons, is it necessary, is it always a good thing, and isn’t it a topic that we need to discuss so we can be clear on the implications? I have already learned so much from this conversation, and I hope we all can continue it with other potters and other artists in our own lives. Any thoughts?

    • Carter,

      If you haven’t read it already, you may check out two Garth Clark essays on functional ceramics. The first is called Bernard’s Orphans; searching for the “neo” in Classical and the second is titled with a Dutch phrase which I can’t remember but which refers to ceramics in terms of a design practice which takes advantage of the studio art model of production and appropriation of small scale industrial processes. They are both included in a collection of essays by Clark called Shards. In the articles, Clark distinguishes two types of contemporary ceramic artist/designer/craftspeople. The first is the Neo-Classical or performance based artist. This type of expression focuses on how a known composition (ie medieval european jug or sung dynasty ewer or “yunomi”) is referenced, quoted and remixed with contemporary life experience (architecture, digital culture, decals, etc) to yield a historically referenced yet contemporarily relevant piece of functional art. The second type of maker is the focus of the second article. This type of maker is exemplified by such design based practitioners as Klein/Reid, Modus Design, Matter Factory, Non Fiction Design Collective, Drooog Design etc. The point of this type of practice is to be innovative with ceramic process in a very different way than that of the studio potter. Actually Clark doesn’t make reference to Matter Factory, Non Fiction or Drooog but I see these as similar in spirit so I am including them for you to check out. The second group is different because it employs a model which mixes industrial design processes and thinking with that of studio craft. In truth, reality is not as clear cut as Clark makes it out to be. I remember him conceding “you have to exaggerate or your point doesn’t work” when I once had the opportunity to discuss this with him. In any case, the essays touch on some of the topics that you seem to be most interested in. There is a great documentary called Craft in America where they interview Sam Maloof about making furniture in the way he does and I love how he responds. Along this same line of thought I remember Mark Pharis at the 2005 Celebrate the Object Conference at Arrowmont being asked by an audience member: “How do you feel about your work being located within the realm of the ‘decorative’?” I loved his response! Slow and steady with deliberate cadence, he said: “I don’t care so much what you call it so long as I get to make what I want to make”. I think when it comes down to it “voice” and direction in one’s personal body of work is more deeply engrained than what we commonly refer to as “style”.

      …..

  32. Oh yeah, A couple of other things…

    1. http://www.richardcarterstudio.com/residency.html Richard Carter Studio and an essay I wrote about my time there which talks about these very issues:)

    2. http://www.amazon.com/Ceramic-Design-Course-Principles-Ceramicists/dp/0764137336 Ceramic Design Course a book by Anthony Quinn which nicely breaks down not so much “how to” with ceramics but “why to”.

    *I also know that the two articles by Garth Clark were reprinted in a past issue of Studio Potter along with responses to the articles from Clary Illian, Mark Shapiro and other prominent studio potters.

  33. “vorge gemeinschaft”? I hope this is not a false memory of the phrase for “design/craft” and really means “jelly doughnut”. Though I mean no disrespect the craft of jelly doughnuts:) One can still go to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in New York or California and learn the craft and art of pastry cooking and go out into the world and be taken seriously. I remember a Robert Arneson piece from ceramic art history class depicting the artist as a chef. He astutely pointed out that both ceramists and chefs are makers of “baked goods”. I’ve got to get away from this computer. I’m starting to ramble.

  34. More interesting articles on contemporary pottery style and thought:

    1. http://www.uwic.ac.uk/icrc/issue009/articles/01.htm

    2. http://www.sofaexpo.com/chicago/2004/downloads/essays/CHI2004essays_Stair.pdf

    *Please disregard my incorrect guess as to the Dutch phrase for “free design”. I actually entered the phrase into an English/Dutch translator and it gave me a phrase that definitely wasn’t the one Clark sites. You’ll just have to find the Shards book and read the article. For whatever reason, the Studio Potter issue only included part one of The Future of Functional Pottery: Bernard’s Orphans Searching for the “Neo” in Classical.

  35. In case you missed it here is the direct link to the other article on function and design in that symposium where Sanam Emami spoke. It’s interesting that the organizers have chosen a functional history referencer in Emami and a design based object maker in Ruhwald. This seems to follow Clarks dichotomy. Stair talks about making sculpture but returning to function for the specificity of how it relates to the pragmatics of human existence. He quotes Philip Rawson who Tim Mather back at IU would always quote as saying “Good pots always evade the tyranny of their technology”. The other striking thing about the Stair piece is how he talks about ceramic discussions in terms of polemical versus analytical. I think it is interesting too how he seems to balance his role as critic/writer/thinker
    with his role as an evolving artist and maker.

    3. http://www.uwic.ac.uk/icrc/issue009/articles/04.htm

  36. Emami’s passion for tradition does not extend into an appeal for a new standard. Likewise, Byrd’s dismay over a current lack of discipline by students does not expand into a call for a new program. Nor does Ruhawald’s critique of craft carry over into a plea for a new agenda. Each panelist shares an emphatic distrust of a single standard, specifically critiquing Leach’s Song ideal that buoyed so many in the ceramics field after the World War II. Indeed, these five emerging artists show a profound reluctance to create a new ideology; they were careful to phrase their responses to questions as personal replies and not public declarations. In a world of internet browsing, they work on multiple pathways and keep their options emphatically open. This reluctance to demarcate the field, however, does not diminish their vibrant nature or their ardent fervor for their chosen discipline.

    THIS IS THE LAST PARAGRAPH FROM THE OPENING REMARKS OF THE PANEL DISCUSSION AT ALFRED CAA CONFERENCE FROM 2007. IT’S UNCANNY HOW IT REITERATES WHAT CARTER IS ALLUDING TO WITH THE USE OF MULTIPLE PATHS WITHIN A COMMON DISCIPLINE.

  37. The last post is talking about contemporary ceramics through the work of five emerging academic artists. Though each individual is digging deep into their particular are of research, the field as a whole seems to be defying pigeonholing in its continuing evolution and diversity of approach. Walter McConnell’s opening statement is pretty good too in its relevancy to this discussion.

  38. This response will threaten to go slightly off course, but continues some of the thoughts I was wrestling with in my last comment. Kudos to Ryan for pointing out Garth Clark. I wasn’t able to get my hands on the articles he mentioned, but was able to listen to Clark’s address to the American Crafts Council conference in 2008. In it he states that “craft is more marginal and irrelevant than it has ever been” and that “craft… today is a less influential part of the visual arts than ever”. The title of the address is “how envy killed the crafts movement” and the argument he gives is that this trouble is the result of crafts pretending to be Fine Art. And as of 1995 he asserts that “high craft as the peer of art was now clearly deceased”. The direction he points out for crafters (potters) may be more clearly stated elsewhere, but his sentiment seems to be that it has NO place in the world of academic Fine Art. So what are we potters supposed to feel about this state of affairs? What are potters to do?

    Raise your hand if you feel that what you do is legitimate art and deserves to be taken seriously as such. Raise your hand if you feel that talented potters such as Ayumi and Kristen deserve the opportunity to teach in a Fine Arts department in a university if they so choose. Raise your hand if you encountered pottery as part of an undergraduate education and are grateful for the exposure you got. Raise your hand if you feel that it would be a mistake to eliminate the teaching of pottery from academic universities. Does anyone feel it was a mistake for Warren McKenzie to have taught for so long in the Fine Arts department at the University of Minnesota?

    I had the great fortune to arrive at clay just before Ron Meyers retired and was able to take several semesters of courses with him. The transition to a new hire was filled by Linda Christianson one semester and by Michael Simon another. Can there be any doubt that I was inspired to become a potter through the examples of those great artists? Would I have found pottery without them? Ayumi and Kristen went to Alfred, studied ceramics, and went on to get MFAs elsewhere. Would they have ended up as potters without this great education? What will become of our field when these opportunities dry up? How many of you reading this regret Garth Clark’s assessment that craft’s “institutions have failed and/or are failing”? Do we need to do something about it? Can we?

    Ryan’s quote of Sam Mallof is, perhaps, telling. “I don’t care so much what you call it so long as I get to make what I want to make”. Will potters “get to make” pots when the Fine Arts world fully excises us from their embrace? If no one is teaching pottery in colleges anymore how many future potters will there be? Should we care? I think Ayumi’s point is vital. We ARE perceived differently by outsiders. Realizing what those perceptions are and confronting them would seem to be a step in the right direction. I think that being clear about issues like signature style is a way that others will take us more seriously. Am I overreacting? Am I boring people? Do we even need pottery to be taught in schools?

    • Carter,

      Get a hold of yourself man! I think you’ve had too much blogging:) Go read Simon Says on Sawdust and Dirt if you must and then get to the studio and make some pots. In the making is the truth. Thinking about and writing about is always a step or two removed! It’s funny you reference Warren MacKensie who I believe was the teacher of Linda Christianson and Michael Simon who you mention next as great people to have studied with. Maybe they learned some things from Warren? Anyway, truth is in the making. I need to hear this as much as anyone. Listen to the Elvis song Little Less Conversation while in the studio; that helps me:)

      Ryan

  39. Ryan,

    I think you misunderstand me. THAT WAS THE POINT OF REFERENCING WARREN! I happen to see the disappearance of pottery from mainstream academia as an important issue, and maybe that makes me a little unusual. I can accept that. But the truth is not JUST in the making is it? Do you think anything that the other people in this conversation has said counts as truth? I do, and I’m glad they and YOU have given me food for thought. Thanks! :)

    I’ll stop now, and perhaps I am embarrassing myself, but as surprising as it may seem I actually DO CARE about these issues. Call me crazy! But Garth Clark seems to care about these issues, right? If you and I are the only people reading this the worst thing to come out of it would be that we wasted a little time. Right? So no real harm done, I think….

    Anyway, thanks for the advice Ryan:) I promise to stay locked in the studio for a while:)

    • Oh,ok. I just took it as the usual dis on MacKenzie for promoting humble potter mingei cliche while at the same time drawing a University salary and benefits. As Clark points out too, MacKenzie plays both sides of the fence on the Gallery/Collector/Museum scene and the “come to my pot luck studio sale leave the money in the box, I don’t sign it because I’m humble scene”.

      Personally, I think it is important for craft to be taught at the college level just as I think it is important for it to be practiced by potters who go through traditional apprenticeships with potters like Jeff Shapiro, Mark Shapiro, Mark Hewitt, Silvie Granatelli, Simon Levin, Ruggles and Rankin etc. One can also be a core student at Penland, resident at Penland, Arrowmont, Archie Bray, etc. Are you familiar with Sequoia Miller’s work? I had this breakdown in 2003-2005 and looked into internships in the field of product design, furniture design, architecture, etc. Ironically, the person I was referred to as a contact from the local Portland Ad Firm who had been the creative director was himself switching fields into ceramics! Check out Adam Silverman and the LA store for Heath Ceramics. That’s pretty exciting too! Mark Digeros of LA works as a Model Shop Manager for Frank Gehry and makes pots too. Wayne Branum is an Architect and Potter. Akar Gallery in Iowa city is run by Architect/Designers. I think Garth Clarks ideas are interesting but we have to test the strength of theory against the empirical evidence gathered in each of our studio practices. As Clary Illian points out, every young potter has to confront old debates and issues and find a personal resolution in their own work. One can’t help but be a product of the time where they are living. As the folk singer Greg Brown puts it via the “Great Swami Prisnadigerapi” “This world a’int what you think it is it’s just WHAT IT IS”.

  40. I copy and pasted this from Don Pilcher’s website. He references “signature style” directly.

    Don Pilcher

    Since 2002 I have been pursuing a body of work I call Rascal Ware. This project involves a fictional company, the Rascal Ware Pottery, and its several employees. They include Junior Bucks, Georgette Ore , Mosley Bunkham, Hairy Potter (on and off), Shakespeare, the studio dog, and myself. In actuality, all of these characters live in my mind and each presents a talent, point of view or quirk I’m willing to own.

    Together, this group discusses, debates and then gives form to their collective imagination. They/we make a wide variety of clay things that relate to a host of ideas which might interest people both inside and outside of the ceramics world. Our motto is: WE’LL MAKE ANYTHING. I have found this approach to be a simple way around the popular notion that a person’s work should look a certain way – a signature style some call it. That popular notion is not appealing to me.

    The changes in the work from Rascal Ware are driven by the unfolding narrative. Each period is a chapter; each chapter has its own body of pottery…or something. Junior and Mosley are frequently the makers of the “something” while Georgette and I make the pots. Each chapter appears as an “ad” in Ceramics Monthly. The narrative at Rascal Ware is actually my biography, with some exaggerations, and the prose is an attempt at comment, humor, irony and some half-baked philosophy. I intend this project to be both a ceramic and literary expression. The work is always shown with its text; it’s all one effort.

    I can conclude with this: I’ve never enjoyed my work more than I do right now. I hope it shows.

  41. In his article in the latest issue of The Studio Potter, Pilcher (as his alter ego “Junior”) also says, “…value, all value, comes from authenticity and that the value increases if you can marry it to something unique.”

  42. So here is an excerpt from the Rascal Ware story and a Wikipedia explanation of Postmodernism in Art. If Junior is interested in Authenticity and Value it may be only because Pilcher is using him as a foil. As a whole, Pilcher seems to be following the wikipedia definition of postmodernism verbatim. By not committing to a stance but rather lampooning ideas of authenticity, uniqueness, and sincerity he throws us into a state of uncertainty and leaves us there. That may be the point to it in the first place.

    From Wikipedia:
    Postmodern art holds that all stances are unstable and insincere, and therefore irony, parody, and humor are the only positions that cannot be overturned by critique or revision. “Pluralism and diversity” are other defining features

    From Rascal Ware Website:
    Pilcher said we could knock this show out in three weeks. He suggested one clay, two throwers (him and me), three glazes and four shapes; bowls, plates, jars and vases. Yuck! He also noted that wood firing was very hot right now. I’m not sure he got the pun. Sad. I told him “Wood fire’s plenty fine, but not all the fucking time.” It took some doing but I eventually sold them on this: As a first exhibition we should do something out of Genesis…like the story about the ark. So we made all the pots in pairs- two of everything. We included earthenware, bone china, porcelain, lead glaze, salt glaze, overglaze, underglaze, lusters, oxidation, reduction, single fire, multifire, overfire. No raku…I hate raku. Junior said I threw 467 pots in all. He would know.

    Which brings me to the “Thrown Thrown” pair. Junior hums constantly; usually the old Gershwin standard, Do It Again. It’s ironic because he has a pretty clear case of obsessive compulsive disorder. I bought him a book on OCD, which he’ll keep forever but probably won’t read. In response to his humming, I thought I’d double throw some pieces, first on the wheel… and then on the table. Since I was hired at RW to provide the creative spark, I thought the idea had some merit. And kind of funny too. Junior didn’t agree and said, to my face, that these pieces had exceeded anything like a creative spark and were now mired in a godless trench where they could be rescued only by the ghost of Peter Voulkos.

    I told him these pots were actually in honor of his agreeable ways and the perfect propitiation of the RW motto- “We’ll make anything.” Junior bought it. He sees himself as an intellectual and all you have to do is wrap your argument in a six-dollar word and he’s yours. It’s kind of sad. But he pays on time and his check is always good.

    In the end, what we have for you is a potter’s primer, an exhibition for other potters. Our work may be easier to appreciate when illuminated by a remark Shoji Hamada once made when viewing a diverse group of pots, “Yes, they are all the same…all different.” We find his conclusion inscrutable and improbable, but amazingly potent.

  43. Pingback: Retro Month, In Progress « Kristen Kieffer

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