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the cost of a career in ceramics (was: average of a potter's income)

updated sat 7 dec 02


Janet Kaiser on sat 7 dec 02

It depends entirely on what is understood by "a pottery career". What
parents, accountants, divorce courts, ex-husbands, etc. deem possible and
sensible versus what the person who wants to make a career or establish a
business (=3D their only source of income /subsistence) making ceramics...
Well, I imagine ne'er the two shall meet in their expectations and
projections. Quite possibly neither will be correct either way.

I do not know about the USA, but $50,000 average GROSS PROFIT p.a. sounds
wildly optimistic to me! That would be an awful lot of pots to make and
distribute! We sell work by 40+ makers and artists and the ANNUAL TURNOVER
in ceramics may be about that... And the trend is downwards... average 30%
down this year country-wide.

I hate to say this, but most people who enter a career in any of the Arts
have expectations far exceeding what is reasonable. They are incredibly
ill-informed and totally starry-eyed, so they are usually blind to the
costs. Many budding visual artists, including potters, suffer from that
near relative of self-delusion: being stage-struck. The dazzle, allure,
glamour and sparkle of the end product (wether a show or an exhibition)
convinces them it would suit them down to the ground. Simplicity itself...
"I could be up there, I have the talent, I could do that..." They do not
realise the quantities of blood, sweat and tears involved. They also have
no idea what sort of back-up team has produced that show... The manpower
and teamwork. Plus the resources, the investment, the work, the talent, the
stamina, the good health, the cussed single-mindedness and the years of

The sheer physical and mental slog by the individual performer/maker. Not
to mention a large portion of what can only be called "good luck"... Being
in the right place at the right time, meeting the right people, making the
right contacts, getting the big breaks...

Equally, I know of very few potters who survive as a "single-person,
ceramic production and marketing unit". Those who do make it have some
sort of a secondary income. Either (A) their own through a day job,
part-time teaching, workshops, or (B) parent/s, partner, alimony,
trust-fund, pension, other private income.

The one and only potter I know, who appears to be making a comfortable
living/solo career, actually comes from a very rich family, who quietly
cough up the necessary funds "at times of emergency" like when a new car is
needed or the children need school uniforms... I am almost positive they
pay the odd utility and grocery bill too. Certainly there is some sort of
financial safety net, even if it is not a regular "income".

Like anyone from the 1960s/70s, I have known potters who happily and
successfully lived and worked in communes, which is the pooling of
resources for the good of the whole group, but they are pretty rare these
days. Except for folk like Ababi! Even then there is some security, often
provided either directly or indirectly by the state.

But 9 times out of 10, a combination of teaching + second person/external
financial input are vital to the survival of a lone potter or artist. Even
with the most meagre, parsimonious and self-sufficient life-style, a second
income is vital to keep one's head above water. There is also everything
from physical, hands-on to emotional support... Indispensable, but that is
not what this post is about.

There are a great many potters (the majority?) who just about make ends
meet financially... They will have nothing once they hang up their tools
and close their kilns. No savings, no pension, no maturing insurance, no
stocks and shares. Nothing. Zilch. They will work to the day they roll over
and die... Now that the population is aging and the State is
"restructuring" and private pension schemes have failed old age has
suddenly become a grim prospect for many in most European countries. But
the effect on artists & makers who have never been able to pay into a
private pension or any other "top-up" scheme is going to be devastating.
And they will not be able to sell their business, which is how most other
self-employed "entrepreneurs" provide for their future or can realise
capital in times of trouble.

The cream on the pot so to speak, are those very few full-time potters who
have made a successful and lucrative career. Yes, there are some on this
list too! Usually those who have been in business 20-30 years... They
established themselves professionally in the good times of the 70s-80s and
have been pottering on ever since... (sorry! couldn't resist :-)

But, I bet there are very few children of artists or potters around here!
That is a small indication of how society treats and enumerates this whole
sub-section of society! (BTW It is also the reason I am not an active
potter! I do all I possibly can to support others who have chosen this
career, but I am just not made of "what it takes". I objected at a very
early stage to living off lentils, whilst working in a cold miserable shed
with no heating and worries about paying those endless bills... Call me
chicken if you will, but that was not the life for me. I did not find
financial worries and physical discomfort at all conductive to either
production or business development... Some will naturally accommodate all
that and take it in their stride, with purposeful single-mindedness, but I
could not).

Now, compare the whole scenario with every other "career" from doctor to
plumber... All self-employed too... Even the mediocre ones who do not
invest a huge amount of energy or enthusiasm, will tick over quite happily.
Send their kids to school, pay all the bills, have a nice home, regular
holidays, buy a new car when it suits... They only have to hang up a sign,
put a few classified ads in the local newspaper and Yellow Pages, get a few
referrals and hey presto! People will beat a path to them, from the day
they open their doors to business... But then people NEED the services of
plumbers and doctors. Let's face it, most people go through their whole
life without ever requiring, let alone actively seeking out the services of
a potter.

I am sure no one wants to hear all this, especially when thinking of
starting out at a time of emotional and personal upheaval, but it is the
truth. It is sad, but it is not about to change. IMO full-time solo careers
in The Arts are a "pie in the sky" for individuals who do not have some
sort of financial backing and/or a very sound established basis, including
a good track record or reputation on which to build. Starting out cold is a
formidable step and for every success story, there are far too many
examples of those who tried and failed. That usually costs more than mere
money... the loss of physical and/or mental health from which it takes many
years to recover. It is OK if youth is on your side, but think long and
hard before setting sights on a full career in ceramics if more mature and
with an established life-style, which would be missed...


Janet Kaiser - who is absolutely gutted... I have apparently deleted my
whole CLAYART mail folder!! My poor over-tired brain obviously
malfunctioned at 4 a.m.... What a twit! If I owe you a personal mail...

*********** REPLY SEPARATOR ***********
>So, you're saying my ex is correct and a pottery career is "pie in the
>sky"? I'm not expecting to make $50,000...this was just a figure that
>someone posted to me. Out of our 3,000 members on this list, does only a
>handful support themselves without hanging on the coat tails of a spouse
>or a "real" job?

Janet Kaiser

The Chapel of Art =95 Capel Celfyddyd
8 Marine Crescent, Criccieth LL52 0EA, Wales, UK
Tel: 01766-523570 URL: