John Baymore on sat 5 jun 99
Is it me, or is this really happening: Are art/craft shows getting boring?
.......... I could hardly wait for it, knowing I would see plenty of pieces
interesting, edgy, creative, wild -- dangerous=21 disturbing=21 new=21.
Now? White clapboard homes with white picket fences and colorful flowers
tumbling over. Lighthouses. Well, Cape Elizabeth lighthouse and Portland
Perfect(ly boring) pottery. Ho hum, could have bought that at Pier 1. And I
have to ask myself why anyone would bother making it. And how anyone could
make it and not just be bored to death.
Cripes, what is the problem? ............... So what's the deal? Jurors
who have spent too much time at Crate =26 Barrel? Show organizers who think
that pretty equals good? People insistent on making money? Because people
buy this crap, this mundane, sugary, matches-the-couch decoration passed
off as art, well, fooey, this is going to kill people who are actually
trying something, actually walking the fine line between success and
Makes me mad.
Yes....... I think that you are correct in your assesment. I am glad it
makes you mad. Makes me mad too...... and quite frankly, a bit discouraged
at times.....but I try to rise above it =3Cwg=3E. More of us need to fight=
raise the consciousness of the public in these matters. You are right that
this trend hurts those who make work that is not highly =22mainstream=22, =
as the mainstream flow gets more and more narrow.........being out on the
riverbanks is an easier and easier place to find yourself =3Cwg=3E. Easy to
get =22high and dry=22.
This discussion too went round a bit a few years ago on Clayart if you
check the archives a bit for more thoughts. (It seems like ALL the
discussion here goes in cycles ......might be a thesis in that somewhere
=22Mad=22 is good...cause =22mad=22 means =22reactive=22. First and =
for anyone that this issue concerns......... I think we need to take every
opportunity to do public education about crafts. Demos....slide
lectures....talking to customers...go to schools.... and so on. Not to
ourselves.....to the general public. We are currently one of the last
educational resources left to do this (see below). The broader the
public's education in the aesthetic realm... the more open they will tend
to be to more diverse work.
Part of the answer to the general decline you percieve comes from the
classic movie line from =22All the President's Men=22...........=22Follow =
money=22. Retail craft fairs are profit making businesses for the =
In general, the promoters will do whatever makes them the most money.
Particularly if the promoter is getting the gate on an event in addition to
booth fees..... they want to get the most people there they can. The goal
therefore is to appeal to the most people and keep them coming back year
after year. Few promoters place philanthropy, ethics, or craft education
ahead of cold hard cash.
That philanthropy, ethics, and craft education could be a ROUTE to cold
hard cash.....has not dawned on way too many of these people =3Cs=3E. It's
slower and requires a good fundamental knowldege of the arts (or the
willingness to have and listen to advisers who have that knowledge).
Thank god there are a few promoters left that DO have a clue........my
guess is from watching her work (from afar), that Wendy Rosen is one who IS
a bit =22clued in=22. (I don't do her shows...... and have no vested =
in pushing her here...the usual disclaimers =3Cg=3E.)
Fair is fair here........ it isn't just the promoters driving the general
decline. There are plenty of =22craftspeole=22 that are in the =22money =
alles=22 game too. Selling imports, or rampressed, and jiggered pieces in a
venue that is percieved by the public to have a lot more of the hand of the
maker involved is a totally money-driven focus too. The .......=22Don't
ask, don't tell=22......... philosophy is no defense, in my book. If the
person BUYING the work could reasonably EXPECT there to be more involvement
of the artist in the pieces and no ACTIVE effort is made to disclose the
production history of the peices....I think that is ethically wrong.
Misrepresentation. I am reminded from the Jewish High Holy Day
liturgy......... =22For the sin of ommission..............=22, and so on.
The recent discussion of the difficulty of selling woodfired pots in the US
fits in here a little bit. It would be much easier to sell them if they
were blue with flowers. Thank god that some potters still make something
other than that, cause plenty of potters are ready and willing to make blue
pots with flowers...... just look at the crafts fairs =3Cwg=3E. =
get me wrong here. If what you LOVE is blue pots with flowers ....that's
just fine. Make blue pots with flowers. But if you make them blue with
flowers SOLELY because the latest giftware newsletter trend column says
that is what's going to be the hot selling trend next spring.... then that
too is simply another money-driven decsion....just like it is for any
industry studying and responding to the =22market trends=22.
Things that to many of us (aesthetically broadened =3Cg=3E) are edgy, wild,
creative, dangerous, different, and exciting unfortunately translate into
the current mainstream American culture as basically =22unmarketable=22. =
doesn't fit the wants of the masses. There is a small segment of American
society that DOES appreciate that type of work..... but it is just that
.......small. And is that particular segment still attending general
retail crafts fairs (other than a certain few you could count on the
fingers of your hands)? I think not. Those people are now going to
upscale galleries....and depending a lot on the gallery director to tell
them what and who is =22hot=22.
Or is that person that this cutting edge work appeals to an artist
him/herself and can't typically afford the work? Often the case. That's
why we all trade work so frequently =3Cg=3E.
Mainstream America WANTS those =22......white clapboard homes with white
picket fences and colorful flowers tumbling over.=22 =22Perfect(ly boring)
pottery=22....... is comfortable, familiar, safe pottery. Pier 1 pottery
fits the latest 'in=22 thing as published in some mass media magazine.
=22......Why anyone would bother making it=22........ is because it sells.
=22.....How anyone could make it and not just be bored to death=22...... is
often because the paycheck is as or more important than the claywork
itself. Some people spend their lives putting mufflers on Fords in an
assembly line. Making blue flowered pots (or lighthouses =3Cg=3E) in your =
business HAS to be better than that =3Cwg=3E. For many..... owning their =
business is the real =22freedom=22 issue. That they get to make the decsion=
make blue pots to fit the market research is a huge, positive thing for
them. At that level, it is not about pottery...... it is about freedom
from working for others.
That safe stuff you mention is showing up in more and more volume simply
because it SELLS. It is the old way of supply and demand. Lots of
demand.....lots of supply. Demand is the REAL thing at work here.
As our American public educational system continues to cut art and music
from it's curriculum, the aesthetic education and sensibilities of the
general public atrophy furthur and further under the onslaught of the mass
marketing mentality. Mass media becomes the educator and arbiter of
aesthetics, good taste, and what's in fashion........ and the crap they
foist on the public becomes the standard by which =22good=22 stuff is =
by the majority.
As the quality and understanding of the buyers at crafts fairs declines,
the success of the people selling the =22exciting and different=22 pieces
declines..... they don't sell. So they look for other marketing venues
that are more worthy of the investment of time and money. They move on.
The promoters find more craftspepole to replace those who leave (there's a
seemingly endless stream of =22starry eyed=22 new ones =3Cwg=3E) that do =
in keeping with their mainstream market.
So the whole system starts to gradually seek a lower and lower common
denominator. Water flows downhill. Wa....lah....... you get the Walmart
of crafts. On the Compuserve Crafts Forum a few years back this particular
phenomona got dubbed the =22Pink Poodle Ketchup Bottle Cover=22 phenomona.
(Can't remember who coined that phrase....... but it is a killer =3Cg=3E. I
think it was Ken Russell who came up with it.)
It is my estimation that the retail =22craft fair=22 as a prime marketing =
for a serious professional (non-PPKBC maker) finally died about 15 years
ago. Any resemblance to life left in it is merely the nervous system
sending random nerve impulses making the muscles twitch =3Cwg=3E. In many
ways, this is a normal business cycle in a mature market. As they
say....we're kicking a dead horse here.
In the 60's crafts fairs were =22new and exciting=22, but were not yet a =
marketing venue cause the public wasn't =22on=22 to them. Then the retail
craft fair became a big thing by the early 70's. At that time, it was one
of the few venues at which a person could find a high concentration of
quality crafts in one spot. There wasn't the plethora of =22crafts shops=22
that now exists most everywhere.
By the early 80's, smart entraprenureal (sp?) folks saw the successes of
the craft fairs and addressed the main shortcomings........ the nomadic
nature of the vendors and the hassles of attending one. So they started
opening craft shops where the consumers didn't have to travel far.
Hometown crafts. Why go to a craft fair and put up with crowds, bad food,
and buy retail from a vendor you may not be able to find to return goods to
if you need to, when you can drive a couple miles and find handcraft at a
That change started the death knell for the craft fair. And it was started
a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.........
So-called =22handcrafts=22 are simply everywhere now. Just ask Martha =
=3Cwg=3E. American handcrafts are hot...... even if they are mass-produced
offshore in factories....... just ask the Target chain =3Cwg=3E. Or ask =
=3Cwg=3E...........they will have your handcrafts manufactured for you =
than you can make them yourself =3Cwg=3E. Walk into your local =22handcraft
shops=22 and just check out the slick jiggered pieces with those nice
throwing lines added supposedly =22...to catch the glazes=22 =3Cwg=3E.
We are even seeing the signs of the mature market beginning to start in the
crafts shop arena. The acquisitions and mergers and fewer but larger
players of the maturing market is hitting there too. The large People's
Pottery chain is an indicator of this starting to happen. The face of
=22craft=22 retailing is changing fast.
What is actually =22hot=22 right now is the handcrafted =22look=22.....as
interpreted by the mass media. It has nothing to do with how the work is
Yeah....... it's about money.
So.......... on to money. Unfortunalely, it IS important. Ya' gotta pay
the bills. Ya gotta feed the family. The kids need shoes. So each person
has to decide what exactly they are or are not willing to do for money.
That varies widely. Sometimes you are in a desperate time and have to have
more money....sometimes you are flush. For some, the need for money will
greatly vary the willingness to do certain things for money.....and for
others there is an absolute line they will not cross. (Isn't that the plot
of a major motion picture in the last few years? =3Cg=3E)
I make some blue pots....and they get the occasional flower. I certainly
know they will sell better to the average person in the average market than
the stuff stacked unglazed in the main firebox of my noborigama. But I
make them in such a way that I can honestly say that those are really nice
blue pots with flowers =3Cg=3E. With 30 years as a serious professional, I
can't make a blue pot with flowers any better. I actually like them.
No...... they are not my favorite pieces out of the kiln....but they are
good pots...... I would (and have) put some in exhibitions.
I could sell more pots every year if I simply started making them ALL blue
with flowers. No question about that one. THAT is a line I won't cross
for money. The =22crafts as business=22 advisors in books and magazines =
tell me that based on market research .....that is exactly what I should
do. But my work with clay is driven by an aesthetic that I wish to share
with =22the world=22 =3Cg=3E.......not by =22market research driving product
If I wanted to take that approach in life......I'd be selling stock in
POTTERY.INC.COM and making a killing on the hype of the IPO driving up the
share price =3Cg=3E.
I'll work doing other things if I have to, to offset the money need before
I'll cross that line. That's a personal ethics decision. I am not willing
to compromise certain personal aesthetic standards simply for money. I'm
lucky....... I have been fortunate enough to be able to accomplish this to
some degree. It has not been easy...and many lifestyle compromises have
been made along the way. I blend together selling pots, consulting, kiln
design and construction, a little PT teaching, giving workshops, and
teaching skiing in the winter into some sort of a whole that my wife and I
make work between the two of us.
But I don't think the real issue here is whether som many people should be
allowed to sell so much =22pretty=22 stuff at crafts fairs =3Cg=3E (pottery =
anyone?) ..............it is that if you not making that safe, friendly,
Walmart-ish type of work, should you be doing craft fairs much at all?
When you consider your TIME...... and few craftspeople value that FINITE
resource highly enough....... then you gotta make a real LOT of money at a
fair to make it worth it. LOTS. Doing a retail fair, you are a
retailer....not a potter..... and you should look at it as that.
To analize this, you gotta pretend you bought the goods you are stocking
the booth with at wholesale from yourself...that's a real cost of goods for
the retail fair. When you sell a mug at 15 dollars at the fair.........
the craft fair only really earned =247.50 of that gross income (before fair
expenses). The other half went directly to the potter (you) to buy the mug
wholesale (hopefully you paid yourself correctly).
So take 50=25 of your gross at any fair right off the top to pay the potter
(you) for making the work you are going to sell. Put that away at home and
don't consider it when evaluating a fair. You can go back home later and
see if as a potter (you) ....you are happy with what the retailer (you) has
paid you for your work =3Cg=3E.
THEN look at your time.....and honestly COUNT the time getting ready and
recovering from the show. Milage and depreciation on vehicles, meals, and
lodging all cost a pretty penney these days. Take all of the expenses of
doing the fair and subtract it from the 50=25 of gross. Then divide by your
hours of effort to see what you got paid for retailing. Subtract the taxes
on your wages you'll pay to Uncle Sam as a self-employed person. That's
your net take home hourly wage...... not counting any factor for =
You are certainly worth more than minimum wage...... even if you are pretty
new to this. If you've =22been around the block=22....... your time is =
plenty. Look at what other skilled =22craftspeople=22 in our society make =
hour for a guage to measure by. What does your carpenter or your plumber
charge you to fix someting? Do you have to work a week to pay their bill
for two hours? Shouldn't you at least be in the same ball park? McDonalds
pays pretty well these day for the simple skill of flipping burgers on a
Pretty soon a fair a hundred miles away that does less than =246-7 grand
overall gross for a weekend looks pretty bad. That doesn't leave many
fairs these days.
Then.......... just to put things in real perspective.......... how much
work could you have done in your studio with all the time, money, and
effort invested in the retail fair? Include the lost productive time just
before the fair and right after. That is a real expense of the show too.
Should you have just hired a rep to sell your pots to galleries?
If you are just starting out in selling, a retail craft fair can be a good
way to get your feet wet. It is the =22nursery=22 to allow the sprouts to
germinate. It gives you a chance to test the waters with your work and
guage public response. Sometime the REAL reason to do a fair is the PR
value....... and any pots sold are gravy. But it is REALLY important to
remember that it is NOT THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN....and probably should be way
down the list these days as the main sales effort. Once you gain a little
experience.....find other ways to sell your work.
Don't get yourself =22locked into=22 the craft fair circuit as the ONLY (or
even prime) way you get your money. Sort of like drugs =3Cg=3E. You'll =
hooked and then it is really hard to stop =3Cbg=3E. Before you know it, all=
your efforts will have been directred into a one way approach.
One reason the craft fair still seems to dominate the craft selling market
is that it is easy to get into. That alone should tell you something =
Another thing to think about here is the nine magic words that have doomed
many a business............... =22But that's not the way we've always done
Take the same money, time, and effort that you would have invested in a
retail craft fair and put it into some other marketing effort. For most
fairs (other than a local toss-off done mostly for local PR purposes), that
is a LOT of time, money and energy available. (Potters work their butts
off to do fairs.) Get creative. I bet that you'll reap a far better ROI.
And you'll probably feel better about what it is that you do.
=22Who does only one major retail craft fair per year....50=25 for it's PR
River Bend Pottery
22 Riverbend Way
Wilton, NH 03086 USA
=22Earth, Water, and Fire climbing kiln firing workshop Aug. 20-29,1999=22