Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Advice on making work

This was a response to a friend who wanted some feedback on their artwork. I have some fairly strong viewpoints on critiquing artistic vision because I feel like we are putting ourselves on the line every time we put something out for view. It takes courage to put artwork out there and only a little negativity to inhibit goals and dreams. Ultimately I believe the artist best knows how true to their vision they have been. It is just a matter of learning to observe. No one is teaching that in school anymore. It has gone the way of grammar and spelling. But until you can observe, you really can't think for yourself. Everything remains being based on another's opinion, other knowledge, etc.

First: I hate critiques. I don't know that they are effective at anything except making people get too introverted about their work. So, I'm not going to offer you a critique. What I will offer you is some advice that has worked for me, so take it and use it if you find it's worthwhile. Disregard it, if it is not.

You have a vision--either contained in your head or on paper about the pieces you have made and the ones you are going to make. Take a look at that and see how closely the work that is made has reached the vision image. See what works in real life and make changes based on that. Gravity doesn't seem to exist in our visionary world, but it sure happens when we make things out of clay.

Look at your work objectively. Look at feet, handles, spouts, lids, etc. as parts (on their own merit, does the part look good, make you proud, etc.) and then look at the piece as a whole. Do all the parts work with the whole? Do any of the parts detract from the whole? You may have to tone down or bump up parts to make it all work together.

Decide about usage and technical craftsmanship. Do you really want people to use the teapots, vases, etc.? If you do, then make it work functionally. If you don't, then why bother making things even pour? It's really about function or sculpture. Deciding what you want will clarify how you need to work.

Work in a series or go back to things you have made before and make them again, trying to solve problems. The first of anything will present you with lots of food for thought and explorations of changing one thing in order to see what will happen to the idea.

We can make one of a kind pieces of art, but that doesn't mean we have to only make one of something, then move on. Michelangelo worked on body parts and cloth draping on most of his sculpture, figuring it out, pushing limits, exploring.

Work as much as you can, whether you are inspired or not. Work, work , work. Something happens in the doing that you can't anticipate in the thinking.

Set goals for yourself. My personal goals began when I looked at pottery that Doug Knotts (an instructor at Gaston College around 1998) brought in from California. I looked at the way the potter treated the feet of his pots and got inspired. I gave my pots' feet more attention. That led to giving the handles more attention. That led me to thinking about where lids and tops met and how I didn't like the look of the bare clay next to glaze. That made me think how I could solve that by making lids differently. Which led me to thinking about how I wanted to deal with glaze and color as a whole. I think those thoughts began to move me into a deliberate way of thinking about making pots, and I was the one making the deliberate decisions, rather than just letting everything kind of go where it would.

So that's it for the advice. Hope it helps.

I do make explorative pots and funky pots and I have tried to save pots that shouldn't have been fooled with. Sometimes they work and often they don't. Then you are back to observation and some deliberate decisions about whether to celibrate and learn or consign them to the throw away pile.


Jerry said...

What a wonderful and helpful post. Thank you so much. I really like appreciate the advice to look at all of the parts individually for their own merit in addition to their contributions to the whole. Excellent words of advice.

As a somewhat novice potter who does not have a studio of my own, I often get trapped into the mindset of "I need to make as much as I can during this class session to get my money's worth." I find myself putting pieces in for bisque that probably should go into reclaim. Keeping a critical eye on my work at all times helps to improve both my skills and the artistry of my pots. Your advice will be helpful in that effort!

Ron said...

Well said, and a very good reminder for me.

Jen Mecca said...

Boy, you've been busy!

You know, if you do have to crit something here is another way that I've found works well with students.

Ask them:
"What is working on this piece"
"What is not working on this piece"
" And how can I improve it".

Good luck with the open house!jen