August 31, 2009

Creative Crossroads or "Art"life Crisis?

While I usually find myself keeping my blog to more positive and newsy entries, I feel like I need to write about what I’ve been struggling with the last few weeks. So, I’ll get up on my soapbox. Whenever I complete a big production cycle and take time to regroup and get organized for the next phase of deadlines and events I always go through a period of reflection that can be positive (what worked, what sold, what I’m excited about working on) but often (due mainly to my nature) becomes negative (what didn’t work, what the heck am I doing? I need to go back to a “normal” job, etc.). I’ve been having a hard time getting myself through the sea of angst after this summer’s art fairs and I think I’m having some kind of “art”life-crisis. I’m not 100% sure why. My shows were actually pretty good, I won a couple of awards, I got lots of good feedback and had decent sales in light of the economy. But, I feel like I’m at some kind of crossroads and can’t figure out clearly which direction to go. I’ve come from a tradition of making functional work, but my current work has moved into such a decorative and time-intensive process that the model of making lots and lots of functional pieces (mugs, cereal bowls, etc) is becoming unrealistic with the amount of work that goes into each piece. As I’ve developed my illustration and decoration process, it’s become a meticulous series of steps to get the results I want. I don’t feel like I can compromise on this—it’s what makes my work special. Unfortunately (at least in this region) as long as your work is functional, no matter what kind of time has gone into the piece there is a definite ceiling on what you can sell a pot for. If it’s a mug, it should be $25. My mugs should be $100 based on time. I sell them for $36. When I raised the price to $40 this summer they stopped selling. I moved the price back. I hate to make creative decisions based on sales, but the reality is, this is my job. I need to contribute to my family’s bottom-line. I need to pay the bills. I need to save money so my kid can go to college some day and I won’t be bankrupt at retirement age. Just because I love my job and get to make beautiful things doesn’t mean I don’t deserve financial stability. My reality is this: I can only sell my pieces for as much as the market allows. I can only make so many pieces in a given amount of time. They actually are made by hand, from start to finish. If this doesn’t add up right, something has to change. So…then I start over-thinking the options. One possibility is to develop a “wholesale” or production line that is less time-intensive than my one-of-a-kind stuff.  Still, how to make enough of it and market it is opening another can of worms. Another option is to focus on moving my work farther from functional and closer to “art.”  People will spend more on a piece of art than than they will on a mug. I know other potters who have made this transition and found some success. This is a hard leap for me to make though. I’ve always made dishes and I love that connection to daily use. I really don’t know what the answer is, but I know I haven’t found the magic key yet to both making what I love and making a good living. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this!


Annemarie Yohnk said...

I usually don't comment on questions like this. However, I understand your dilemma. I think the answer doesn't have to be all or nothing. Why not start small. Pick one of your product line...say the tiles and try to market them to tile companies. There are tons in the twin cities. If there is interest search out a manufacturer that would mass produce them or you could hire a person or two to increase your production volume. I know there are a lot more 'steps' in the process but starting with one of your items might get you through the door to a whole new world.

dahlhaus said...

I know this is an old post for you and you have most likely resolved some of this, but I feel the same way at this point in my practice. I just got 2 molds for slip-casting my 2 best selling mugs for wholesale purposes because I've been wrestling with how to make my process a little easier for myself. Will see how it works- It still takes time to pour the molds/take them out/clean them up/put handles on not to mention glaze them, but they do dry a whole lot quicker. I also can be doing other things in the studio while my molds are setting up...just a thought for you.