Today I’ve been working on a few small teacups. This has me thinking about the relationship of the marketplace to my work.
It has been close to a year since I had made cups like these. I was inspired this time, if that’s the word for it, by an email from a fellow in Texas who had picked up a teapot of mine only to discover that my typical yunomi style teacups feel too big for my teapots. He’s right, and astute! I like to pair my little teacups with my teapots, but I just don’t make many.
So I am making pots today that I would (likely) not be making if this guy had not asked for them. Am I being driven by the marketplace?? A mercenary to others’ desires?
Well maybe, but the fact is I’m happy to make these teacups, happy to be reminded to make them in fact. If the idea of making them sounded unpleasant I probably would have said no. Why am I writing about this?
I guess because those of us who make pots for a living always feel some sort of tension between what we ‘want’ to do and what we can sell. While this is often a negative tension for folks, it can be a positive one. The fabulous Mary Barringer wrote an article about ten years ago to this effect, and I remember it significantly affected my thinking at the time (did I really use effect and affect in the same sentence?).
This positive, productive input from the marketplace is a hallmark of craft – utilitarian craft. Market forces don’t spoil pots, they make them real. Or wanted, and therefore used, which to me means real. Surely one can slip into negative impact from market forces, like adding too much salt to a dish, but that doesn’t mean any salt is bad in cooking.
While I was throwing these cups yesterday I actually felt guilty about making them. I’m working now toward the Smithsonian Craft Show in April (link here) and I kept thinking: I can’t bring these little cups to the Smithsonian show… Why am I making these??… I should be making something grander… etc.
The more I show work in galleries and high profile craft shows the more self-conscious I am about making these little pots. They are not quite the show-stopper, collector pieces, but they are also at the heart of my work. Market pressures push both up and down, I guess.
I do love making over-complicated pots as well as little, straight-up ones. If I could only do either I’d be bored. As usual, it comes to finding balance. What I’d love is for little cups like these to be seen as being as potent and as interesting as my more overtly complex pots – because they are, you just need to learn to perceive it.