Define… “hand made”

SlipSwirling slip always makes me smile. The sense of anticipation, that this could turn into ANYTHING. This can be… ANYTHING. I can make it into whatever I want. Opportunity. Anticipation. Expectations (or not). The desire to create. Actually, visually, spatially, that photo is very similar to one I took a number of months ago of a friend of mine’s then-pregnant belly… which is also appropriate for a discussion of creating something.

Recently (and by the way, I’m not calling her out directly so if I’ve spoken with you about this in person please don’t mention her or her shop’s name in the comments, thanks) I was talking with someone who was interested in carrying my ceramics in her shop, until she discovered that I do slipcasting, not throwing. Then she said she didn’t want them, because they weren’t handmade.

Now, I – amazingly – chose that moment to keep my piehole shut… (although I did arch my eyebrow so high that I may have pulled a forehead muscle) … because someone with that kind of narrow-visioned world view and attitude already knows she’s right (snerk), and any discussion I start with her is going to sound like I’m trying to defend myself, not trying to use this experience to teach or learn something. She’s not going to hear what I say, she’s going to hear what she’s expecting to hear. I know this because I’ve had this conversation with people before.

I’ve been told that because I am not taking a block of clay and forming it with my fingers into a bowl/cup/whatever, that because I am taking a liquid slip and pouring it in the mold, which will shape the object, that the object is no longer made by hand. That makes me want to ask about ceramists who throw, but who use slump molds to shape their objects so that all of their bowls, or dishes, have the same size, shape, and thickness. Or who use stamps and rollers rather than carving a design by hand. Why is someone who throws a bowl around a mold, and runs a roller over it, is considered to be making something by hand – but by my pouring it, and then cleaning it, painting it, and glazing it… is not? Why is what I do considered… less?

Although, if you can judge by my sales, it’s not considered “less” by the people who support me, so someone who was never going to buy something from me in the first place…? Does their opinion really matter? (Hint: not to me, no.) The opinions that matter to me are the opinions of the people who have in the past, or are planning to, purchase my ceramics. Are they happy with it? Does it function? Is it pretty? Does it make them happy? Then I’m happy.

Did you know that a lot of art shows/fairs do not allow poured ceramics? Because it’s considered “cheating” in that you can make so many things that are exactly the same. Because, you know, I’ve never been to an art show with thrown mugs and bowls that all look the same (snerk). I can make ten mugs a day, if I have ten different molds. But they all look different. Someone who throws can make ten a day, that all look exactly alike. But what I do isn’t “made by hand” in someone else’s eyes. Because I use tools. To which I say, anthropologically speaking, if none of us ever used tools we’d still be running around naked and eating grass and berries. Yum.

Overall, this experience made me a little angry (really? really? who are you to judge what I do?) but I got over the anger pretty quickly (I don’t want my things carried where the people who are selling them don’t feel 100% excited about them), and it faded into feeling sorry for this woman, and for people like that who also have the same narrow vision of hand-made. What must it be like to go around being so judgmental about other people’s crafts? I mean, and I’ve said this before, I have a lot of friends who make jewelry; but they buy all of the supplies they make the jewelry out of. They’re not alchemists, down in their basements turning wood into gold so that they can REALLY be said to have made their jewelry from scratch. Does that make their jewelry any less hand-made? I know people who sew beautiful garments; are their costumes and every-day wear any less hand-made because they don’t weave their own cloth and spin their own thread? I have seen amazing statues and yard art made from found objects. Are those any less hand-made because the things used to construct them were cast-off pieces of broken, previously-made things?

How do you define “made by hand”…? Do you think there are rules, limits, dividing lines that define one thing as hand-made and another thing not hand-made?

10 thoughts on “0

    1. Right?! I mean, I will admit there’s a whole long discussion I could have on craft vs. art; but whether something has been made by hand? Sigh.

      I must say that the type of people I’ve had this conversation with have fallen into one or more of the following categories:
      – People who can do exactly one thing, and are afraid that if someone finds out how they do it, those people will do it better; thus, they both guard their knowledge and put others down in order to make themselves feel superior.
      – People who see the other person is more talented, and try to make them feel bad to make themselves feel better.
      – Talentless hacks.
      – People who need medication for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with creativity.
      – People who are just mean.



      1. This list nails it.

        I had a great conversation this weekend with a friend who’s becoming a lawyer. She was looking at my work and saying “you are so creative, I would have never thought of that”. I ended up talking about my process as being a fluid one, but that had a logic specific to me and my training and not only that, but she too was exerting creativity in how she approached law, we just chose different mediums to manifest our creativity in. She kind of cocked her head to the side and said “my professors do sometimes say “I hadn’t thought of it in that way.” (Seriously she’s kind of my hero at the moment, she’s raising 3 kids alone and going to law school, and doing really well gradewise)

        If I never hear “oh I’m not creative” because someone with such a narrow view of the world had spit filth in their ear, I’d be very happy.

        Honestly though, my definition of handmade is probably left-of-center and full of shades of grey, but I’m happy with that.

  1. I love this post.

    I think there’s a really easy trap to fall into (I know I can fall into it readily) that if someone thinks they understand how you do what you do, they can say, “Oh, I could do that” and dismiss it. And lots of people get off on dismissing what other people do, to make themselves feel better. As if success is a zero-sum game, or something. I think it’s bullshit.

    What you’ve done is made a business and kept it going and growing for…what? Two years now? Almost that, at any rate. Before you, there are raw materials. After you, there is beauty and function.

    Also: people are the worst.

  2. I love this post. I knit, but I don’t spin. If someone told me my sweater wasn’t handmade, I’d probably punch them, chase them as they ran away, pull their hair and then sit on them. So, there.

  3. I hear you. I’m in the “make jewelry but I’m not a metalsmith/blacksmith” category. I don’t work with molten metal or mine and drill my own gems. But It’s still handmade. I take “raw” materials and turn them into something. So do you. Some people will never understand that or, more like, willfully chose to deem it somehow “less” than their perceived standards. But eff those people. They’re not the target market anyway.

    1. Exactly. These are the same people who say things like “why would you want to knit socks? You can buy that shit at WalMart!”… which is why they are dressed in shitty clothes that wear out soon and have no meaning. Whatevs!

  4. I’ve had a similar reaction to cross-stitch before. “Oh, you just followed a pattern?” Yeah, and it looks fucking awesome. You go off and make it and come back and tell me that because I followed someone else’s pattern that the work and end product are any less my own.

    1. I think my eye just twitched a little. 🙂 Seriously, why do people who have no talent (or no patience to learn a craft, even if they have no talent) have to shit on other people? I mean, other than the obvious reason of if they make us feel bad, they feel superior. It must be so horrible to have to live one’s life by only feeling good by making other people feel bad (she says, judgmentally).

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