Swirling 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?