Saturday, February 16, 2013

invention versus innovation...

I've been thinking about this a lot lately as I work on some new pieces.  I spend a good amount of time looking at what I am making and thinking about where the ideas come from and what they lead to, which is why I titled this post invention versus innovation.  Seems while they are both related, still very different nonetheless.

Not sure where my thoughts on this began, but wouldn't be surprised if it came from long ago, like grad school days (a very long time ago) when studying with Harris Deller at SIU-C.  Harris was very good at asking the hard questions, and as I have moved through my career as a ceramic artist, I continually realize how much he helped me formulate the questions I needed as I probe deeper into what it is I make and who I am as a ceramic artist.  I think everyone needs a person in their career path that helps them sort it out, and Harris was certainly that for me.  A very good teacher!

But back to invention and innovation...

I recall years ago a comment from David Hamilton, professor of ceramics at the Royal College of Art in London, who I met after he had just returned home to London from the U.S. (while we were living in London briefly ourselves).  When I asked what he remembered the most about clay in our country, he commented that he thought everyone seemed to be trying too hard to be unique.  That comment stuck with me, and over the years, when I think about it while working in my own studio, or looking at the work of so many others, realize he is right.  But I think he said it in a bit more pejorative manner (thinking we ignored, or didn't care about the past, only wanting to be recognized in the world of ceramic art).  Whereas for me (and I am sure others as well), I am just scratching around at the sand (or is it clay dust?) looking for a new way to see things that were already familiar to us.  Is that really bad?  I don't think so.  And with regard to invention versus innovation, I think it is the innovation that I care about the most.  I love the history of pots and clay, yet my voice is probably realized more by adding to that vocabulary rather than re-inventing a new one.  Maybe?

I tend to think of artists like Picasso, who 'invented' a whole new way of seeing (Cubism) as what invention really is.  Or closer to home, maybe Volkous, who invented a whole new way to look at pots.  For me to cut a piece in half and rearrange it has been made possible through what Volkous did, but that does not mean copying at all, but rather digging deeper into the meaning behind this new way of seeing pottery forms.  Innovation?  Maybe?

And then there are those great writers and painters in history.  Gertrude Stein, for example, did not invent language, but what she did with words was true innovation ('a rose is a rose is a rose'...not really about a rose, but more the sound of the word in repetition).  And painters who painted views of the landscape (Van Gogh, Bonnard, etc.).  Why do it if it has been done before, and especially now since we have cameras?  Well, for me, I think these painters saw the landscape different than anyone else, and wanted to make that a reality for themselves and the viewer.  Not inventing the landscape, just innovating a vision of it.  Same as someone wanting to share their vision of what a pot (vessel) is, not trying to invent anything new, just innovate on what is already there.  Maybe?  Yes!  Invention versus innovation, and it's place within the context of my own work.  Something for me to keep thinking about as I make new work.

Anyway, here are a couple of images of new work in-progress, using the present to influence my understanding of the past.  One is a cup and saucer with handle, and the other a pre-columbian inspired vessel.  Enjoy (or not)!

Friday, February 15, 2013

studio question #3

Back again with the Blogwatchers studio questions group.  They are now on #3, so I'll work on answering that one, even though it is only my second (I missed the first one!).  Here is this week's question:

Please describe a typical day, being as specific as possible. For example: what time do you get up? when do you come to the studio? Do you have specific clothing you change into? Do you listen to music, radio, TV when you work? If so what, and does
it affect your work?

Typical day?  What's that?  I try to get studio time whenever I can.  Unfortunately there are times when the gap between studio work is long, mostly because of other things, like teaching, committee, travel, etc. that get in the way.  But like most artists, if I have a show or a deadline for work I make time.

Lately however, I have been getting a good amount of work done.  I started over the Christmas break and made a commitment to maintain it once school was back in session as best as possible (usually the start of school stops, or slows any studio momentum!).  So far so good (but of course, that is what the man who jumped out of the 50 story building was heard saying as he passed every floor!).  We are over a month into the new term and I am still making time, almost daily, for studio work.  I find if I can keep work moving along, (which in clay means having it ready to tend to at the various making stages), I have reason to return to the studio.  Sometimes I think I am only going there for a quick visit to check on things drying, and then three hours later I am closing shop for the day.  Feels good when I do this as it means I am generating more work.  More work spawns more work, which also means more ideas bubbling up.  So while I do have a rhythm going now, in the long run, I would never claim things to look like a typical studio day.  Again, not sure what that is, but what I just described is working for me now.

I tend to work more in the evenings, after classes and I am home, more often after dinner.  That's also when it is tempting to become lethargic, so getting off my ass and into the studio gives me more energy, once I am there working.  Funny how that happens, huh?  On weekends, I try to get into the studio during the daytime, sometimes for a couple of hours, other times longer.  Again, whatever I can muster.

Clothing, yeah, right!  I tend to work in whatever I have on, which works because I really never have anything on too fancy.  I teach in the clothes I work in, so they are all the same.  And when I am working in the studio, I often have clay on me at school too.  Since I am in the studio teaching, doesn't make sense to have two different outfits now does it?  But if I need to go out, or to a meeting, I may try to be more aware of what I am wearing, but really, even at school, most folks know what we do so having clay on me is accepted as part of my job.  I can get a bit messy (on my clothes) when I am throwing, so if I am ever aware of how I look, it is generally after that.  Otherwise, not a problem.

As to what I listen to while working, well, I do sometimes listen to public radio, but more often, I listen to music I have on my iPhone.  The talking heads on public radio can get a bit tiresome, so I get my fill of that pretty fast.   I have listened to books on tape from time to time, but generally I lose focus on the story as I am engaged in my work, so it does not work all that well.  Music is the best.  None of it really affects my work, and if I had nothing on, it probably would not matter all that much.  But again, I do like the music I have.

Below are some images from the studio, like tools, equipment, etc.  Not really sure why I am posting these here, but I like the way they look, and they do play an important part in my studio activity.

Monday, February 11, 2013

studio questions...

A while ago a painter friend (Brandon Smith at www.brandoncsmith.blogspot.comasked me to participate with a small group of artists who all had blogs, asking each of them the same question, one a week.  So, here is my first attempt to participate in the exercise, even though I must admit it might get sort of strange since I am the only potter in the group while the others are painters.  The questions, all coming from the book "Inside the Painters Studio" by Joe Fig, are rather specific to painters.  But hey, who knows, maybe I can twist it enough to make sense for those of us working in clay.  We'll see.  Here's the question of the week:

How long have you been in this studio? Did you have a plan for the layout of your studio or did it develop organically? Has the studio location influenced your work?
I have been in my current studio for about six years, and it was built for me on our property in the country.  I used to have a studio in Lexington (where we lived at the time).  I shared a studio with two other clay artists there, and it was located about 4 blocks from where I lived.  I really liked that as it was close by, spacious, and very functional.  I liked sharing it with others too as it allowed for an exchange of ideas from time to time.  Since I teach I am comfortable working with others in the studio, and when I went off by myself as I am now, I was a bit concerned at first that I might not like the isolation.  There are times I might like to have another person to work with, but generally, I  have adapted well to working alone and now seem to thrive on it.  I find it allows me to be more contemplative about what I am making.

My studio is where I live, even though it is not attached to the house.  This can be an advantage for a potter as it keeps the dust and mess isolated, and not having to deal with messy footprints across the entry way.  I know some like a studio in the house, but I tend to not be too clean most of the time, so it is better for everyone in the house to keep it located a short walk (1 minute) from our house.  And I actually like the separation.  It is both physical and mental.  Something that seems to fit with the way I think and work in the studio.

I planned the space myself, but did keep in mind that if we ever moved it could easily be modified to be a garage like structure.  I have a work area, a kiln area, a material storage area (where I also mix clay), and another space that I hope to eventually use as a small gallery space.  The material and gallery spaces are still not finished (needing more drywall installed, etc.), but they are still rather functional.  The 'gallery' space is where I store finished pieces for now, mostly on shelves or in boxes.

The work space is fairly functional, at least for the type of work I make.  When I am actively using it, as I am now, it really gets messy, but works fine.  I am not the most organized in how I use the space, but hey, it works for me.  There are times I clean it up and it looks really good, as a studio, but when it is
dis-shevled, it seems to still work just fine.  And since we live in the country and have some land, I can store a lot of things just outside my studio if needed.  I do both throwing and hand building there, and have spaces allotted for each.  Since I do not produce functional ware, I am not easily over run with pots.

My kiln space is attached to the studio, yet it is outside, although covered.  I have a gas kiln and an electric kiln there, along with some shelves for storage.  So that helps a lot!  The pictures I am attaching, with the exception of the kiln space, are all the same just taken from a different angle in the room.  Hopefully this helps you see the overall work space, and confirms what I say about it being messy!

I do wish I had more storage space for work in-process.  More shelves would be helpful as it does get a bit cramped since I often tend to put off glazing and firing too long, making it seemed more cramped as time goes by.  Kind of how many of us work in clay, making pieces for a while and then having to stop and glaze and fire.  I do not have a glaze area per se, so I need to clean things up to do that, which does not encourage me to stop and glaze as it also means I am not making new work.  Of course glazing is an important part of the process, and certainly just as valuable as the actual making of work.  But having to 'change' your work space does not allow you to keep your head in the game with new work being born.  If I had a larger overall space, I would be able to simply move from one to another, allowing me to glaze when I need to, and then turn back to wet clay just as easily.  So, not ideal, but I make it work.  The danger is when you stop making things only to then glaze, you have to re-ignite the fire inside you to start a new body of work afterwards.  Sometimes that can be a challenge!

The last part of the question, has the studio location influenced your work, is not real applicable.  For me, it should read:  has the studio 'space' influenced your work.  My answer to that question is yes.  I am not able to work on anything too large, but honestly, I have little desire to do so anyway.  There are times, however, where my ideas take on a little larger scale than normal. but this is most often realized by working in parts, or sections (different sections that all comprise one piece, not attached to make one big piece).  So I guess the answer is yes, it influences what I make, but I designed the studio to fit the way I work anyway, so what came first, the chicken or the egg?

In the past I have worked in spaces not much larger than a big closet, to spaces that I could park a vehicle in.  In each case, I adapted and made work I felt was important and serious, and still seemed to generate ideas that ended up to be about the same size in scale regardless of where I worked at the time.

So to conclude, I think we conform to what we have, and continue to dream about the ideal space yet to come.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

random thoughts...

While working in the studio the last few days I saw postings of pots on FB from people showing what they believe to be 'treasures'.  I found myself wondering about how they became 'treasures'.  I recall seeing a piece that I simply thought was not that good, yet so many people responded with likes and comments stating how much they loved it.  It all got me thinking about where is taste developed?  Is the golden rule really golden?  How many people have to agree that a piece is good for it to exist as something meaningful in art?  Do we often check the 'like' box of appreciation simply because others do?  And while we might say they meet certain established standards, who set those in the first place?  How far back do we go to find the person, or culture, that had the answer we all now accept as aesthetic truth?  And if we do think we found the answer to what is good and bad art, who do we know that has ALL the answers so we can check to see if we (or they) are right?  Very confusing.

I still do not like the piece I saw posted on FB, even though many others thought it was good.  For me, it was not.  And if I really care to find truth in what I create, I must also find the courage to stand up to those pieces that simply do not work for me despite others making claims to the contrary.  I only hope I can remain open to the possibility of change in both my understanding and appreciation of what I see within the world I live.

Boy, this title, random thoughts, sure fits!

I am posting a couple of in-process images here that are quietly speaking to me.  I do not own them completely as they are the products of what I have seen in the study of other cultures outside of my own, as well as thoughts on faith that come through a lifetime of reflection.  I find it a slippery slope to try and identify feelings in my work about spirituality and faith in the face of all the religious hoopla around us in society, most of which I find extremely troubling.  Still, I hope to have a thumbprint on what I create, while paying homage to the work that resonates for me in a most personal manner.  And I am not troubled by others not 'liking' all the work I create, for when art becomes everything, it also becomes nothing.