Tuesday, January 28, 2014

State of the Artist Address

 On the day of the State of the Union Address, I am thinking about the state of my art for a statement that describes my work and the path it is scurrying along. We'll not go into the discussion of whether my work is art, craft, or neither and that I am not an artist but a maker. That can be saved for another time. I never pursued an official degree in the Arts(which I sometimes regret), and never really wrote an official artist's statement. A few paragraphs here and there, some lines on a post card, but not a full blown statement. It is that time of year though that applications are being filled out for various things, and some places ask for an artist's statement. Dan Finnegan was grappling with this recently too, and I commented that I always feel like my words come across as textbook-like and that I liked how he was relaying his work and passion.

To each his own, I know, and that every person's statement may be vastly different from one another. There are thousands of web pages and content for learning how to write an artist's statement, and it all depends on the media and the way you are relaying the information to the public.  I enjoyed this article on "Explaining the Unexplainable" in writing an artist's statement as an introduction to your work with clear language and not bogging down your readers. It reminds readers to remember that people have short attention spans, and that less is more should entice them to ask more questions, not run away (or worse, lose interest).

As I have watched my work over the last year really come together in a more cohesive way (as I think you can see in the share of photos from my work last fall), I find myself wanting to portray what it is that makes my work more cohesive now than it ever has been. My first full year of having a wood-firing kiln all to my own to play with I think really brought out a lot of strengths in my work and I am excited to share that with a broader audience.

I went for somewhat casual and conversational, but really tried to answer the questions that I get asked the most. It helped to think about my statement in that way- what do people ask about the most, what questions can I answer on paper if I cannot speak to them one at a time?

Here is what I am toying with, and input would be greatly appreciated:

My passions for pottery and history meld on the pottery wheel. My work is heavily influenced by my studies of historic ceramics and kilns, archaeology, and a background of working in museums. I enjoy the aesthetic of historic American pottery, the graceful lines, strong forms, and the fluid cobalt blue decorations on salt-glazed stoneware. Some of my favorite pieces of historic pottery are basic, utilitarian pots for the beauty of their function and plain artistry.

I have been making pottery for nearly ten years and began my pottery business in 2010. In 2011, I became co-owner of a farm, Emmaus Farm, which finally gave me the chance to have a place to put down some clay roots. In the summer of 2012, I built a wood firing kiln on the farm. Using this wood firing kiln, I primarily use a method of single firing, which avoids bisque firing and involves glazing pottery when still damp and firing the pottery raw. The decision to use this traditional method has given me the chance to experiment with glazes made from local clay, ash glazes, and natural clay glazes. My pottery is made with North Carolina stoneware clay and is salt glazed. This means that at around 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit I literally put table salt in the kiln which vaporizes and adheres to the pottery, making a glassy surface.

I focus on utilitarian pottery forms to bring pleasures and delights for daily use. Other than slip decoration, I allow the natural color of the clay body and the flashing from the flames to grace the surface of my pots and provide a palette of appealing earth tones. The farm inspires me to make compost crocks, pickling crocks, and fermenting jars as an extension of my interest in lactic fermentation, pickling, traditional cooking, and living a sustainable lifestyle. 


There are a few places where I question what I am up to, or what I am trying to get across. I am naturally a little wordy (if you have not figured that out from my writing yet) and often have a hard time cutting things down. For instance, I don't want people to think all of my cobalt designs come from New England, because a majority of them don't. However, I don't know whether to say the following and be called out for playing with a New York flower (because they do have some pretty flowers on their pots:

"My work is heavily influenced by my studies of historic ceramics and includes painting cobalt blue decorations based primarily on Southern American stoneware."

Or is including archaeology, historic ceramics, etc. too hoitey toitey or high falutin'? I worry that using the words "plain artistry" implies a word that I detest when applied to historic American pottery - "primitive"- because none of it was "primitive" if you ask me, and I do not want it to read like that.

Any input would be greatly appreciated. I hope you all are staying warm. The White Death (snow) is not upon us, and we shall see what comes! 


Jeffrey S. Evans said...

Very heartfelt. It has been a joy to watch you grow and succeed. Best of luck. Jeff and Beverley

Jonathan Rickard said...

Add "vintage" to "primitive" as negatives. I feel ambivalent about artist statements. The art IS the statement isn't it? Your work and passion are clear to anyone with open eyes so not a great deal has to be put into words. Make it smart and simple. Throw pots, not bullshit. :-)

Liberty Stoneware said...

Thank you all for your comments, I'm grateful for your support. Jonathan I agree that the art is the statement, and am conflicted about the new mode of selling art including the need to do constant social media and work in front of a computer. I think I might have to put "Throw pots, not bullshit" on the wall in my studio!