Saturday, January 4, 2014

life with an anagama is hard to figure out

 I'm in my mid-thirties.  I had the dream of building an anagama kiln, and after a decade of ups and downs, I have now constructed and fired the beast four times.  I have a couple of shows on the horizon, I've received a lot of community support locally and abroad,  and yet, I am barely making any money from the enterprise.  At the outset of the project and throughout my education as a ceramic artist in college there was never any talk of making a living outside of academia (or even making a living in general). In the world of my small liberal arts school and supportive and intellectual parents, knowledge and education were supreme and I undertook this kiln project to do things that had little to do with the making of the dollar.  I intended to reconnect people with nature through primitive technology, I wanted my work to be used in the homes and lives of people in my community, and I wanted to feel the fulfillment of participating in a tangible and powerful natural  process.  I have accomplished these things and they have incredible value.  But I now find myself needing to adapt to make this enterprise a sustainable economic reality.  I ask very often, "What did I get myself into?"  I see the value in the whole process, I have my mind in every molecule inside my kiln and in each piece of split wood, but at the end of the day I'm left with bunch of brown pots to sell.

How do people make a living and maintain the kind of high standards of integrity that inspire one to undertake being a wood-fire clay worker in the first place?  One immediate answer is: They don't.  There is almost no one that I know that makes a living exclusively from making wood-fired ceramic work without some serious outside support or other income.  I'm sure there are plenty of people that are making wood-fire work and have done it with out the kinds of support that I have had and many others have as well.  One only has to go to a large ceramic conference to see that the majority of academically trained ceramic artists do not have easy opportunities to set up studios, make work, and make a living.  Most ceramic artists, and especially young ceramic artists, are nomadic and shuffle around from residency, to craft school, to post-grad program.  They are all hustling around the world to find facilities to support their work.  Truly, wood-fire pottery (or pottery in general) isn't a money making endeavor and one normally gets into it for reasons other than making a living.  So how does one go on to pay the bills and support a family doing this labor of love?

Lots of ideas come to mind on how to make a living as a ceramic artist, and perhaps I'm really just on a rant of self-doubt, fearful of the future, and ashamed of my naivety in the past.  I'm not sure if I'd be happier doing anything else either.  Maybe I'm just baffled and caught off guard too late in life on the realities of what is valued in our society.  Even among ceramic artists, I hear people claim not to like wood-fire ceramics on aesthetic merit, and my inner zealot becomes enraged at their lack of ideals.  I became involved with wood-fired kilns because wood-firing is the antithesis of the modern technological disconnect in our culture of manufacturing and consuming. Wood-firing is a powerful technological reconnect that quickly changes one's perspective on how humankind has gained ground in this world.  The aesthetic merit of wood-fired is miles more than skin deep.  It's beautiful because it has radical integrity and tells the story of that integrity for those with the slightest inquiry into its process.


I am really baffled by how little people know about the ceramic process.  As modern Americans, many of us know so very little about how things in our life have come to be, and we don't seem to know what to do with the information once we are presented with it either.  Most people are impressed with the wood-fire process once it is explained or especially if they witness or participate in it.  But I often wonder if they see the anagama process in the context of their own lives as consumers and within the context of the marketing of skin deep beauty.  


No comments:

Post a Comment