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handmade vs whatever

updated tue 30 mar 99


Janet H Walker on mon 29 mar 99

I've been following the discussion about "handmade" vs whatever the
alternatives are. Very interesting problem.

There's something we tend to forget about
- Most people don't care in the slightest how we make it.
- They have no idea what the possible techniques even are.
- If it isn't what they want, they won't buy it, no matter what
kind of pedigree it has.

As I have to keep reminding myself,
- If they don't want it, it doesn't matter what it costs.
- If they do want it, it doesn't matter what it costs.

I believe that this is pretty much true. If all someone wants is
plain function, something to keep the juice off the table, then they
really don't care whether you took days to make the plate. It just
has to be 82 cents (to use Tony's price point). If they "fall in
love" when they see the piece, they will probably pay whatever you
ask (within the usual ceramic/function price constraints).

Instead of carping at each other about "the one true craft" and
whether it is still handmade if you have help making it, we need to
turn our attention to the job of educating consumers. No need to
say anything about which way is "better". They are all just
different and each person chooses a technique according to need,
market, chance, or something. Somehow, I bet that chance is the
biggest determiner.

While I have the soapbox, I'll just record the following thought,
which I came upon today while reading Kenny's book "Ceramic Design".
(Got it from the out-of-print-book lady at NCECA. Excellent, as are
the rest of Kenny's books.)

"When a potter shapes clay with his hands and fires it, his
work bears the marks of his fingers. Things made in molds do not
have a handmade look; they have a different kind of beauty, a
distinctive quality of their own. Some are so light and delicate
that it would be well nigh impossible to make them by hand. For the
most part, we don't especially want our teacups and dinner plates to
look handmade--but we do want them to be true and beautiful, showing
evidence of good design and craftsmanship. Designing with Plaster
of Paris for mold production is an important field for the ceramic
artist." (p. 119)

Now go re-read that paragraph again. Written in 1963.

Those of us who make things from clay may possibly feel differently
about how we want our dinnerware to look. (But I have to admit that
my Minton's bone china is simply in a different class from even the
nicest stoneware plates.) And I expect that the vast mass of the
buying public still feels exactly like John Kenny did in 1963. (By
the way, his work as shown in this book is quite marvellous:
handbuilt, cast, slab, and "other".)

Next time you go to revise your "artists statement" or hang tags or
brochure, think about it from the customers' point of view. Do they
care why you make your work the way you do? Why should they? Or
are they looking for something that speaks to them from their own
point of view? How can you get inside their heads and understand
how to pitch what you make so that it appeals to them? Why should
you? And so on.

Well, that's my 82 cents worth for today.
Jan Walker
Cambridge, MA USA