On selling

This weekend (Dec 11-13) is the second half of Thurman Street Studios’ holiday open studio and sale. The first weekend went pretty well–lots of visitors, including visits from friends I hadn’t seen for a while. I sold some pieces, which was nice too. But the whole selling thing has me thinking. (What I’m about to say is about my feelings about my work. Please don’t read this as a judgement on the work of other artists who create work to sell. We all feel differently about our art, and that’s a good thing.)

Since I was a child, I’ve identified myself as an artist of one sort or another. My medium of choice has changed over the years, but one thing has remained consistent: I’ve never wanted my artwork to be dictated by the need to sell. That’s why I went to a state school rather than art school for undergrad, why I have degrees in biology and library science, and why I have a full-time career-type job outside of the studio. (Whether those have proven to be good decisions is a topic for another post.)

Pottery started as nothing more than a fun hobby. It cost a little and I produced a little bit of work, but never enough of either to worry about too much. Ten years later, it’s grown into an addiction that produces more work than I know what to do with, and costs more than I can justify spending on a hobby.

I still feel the same about not wanting my work to be dictated by what will sell. I don’t want to compromise my artistic integrity for a few bucks–that’s why I have a day job. But I’m spending more and more time and money on this “hobby” that has become a “business” and accumulating more work than I can pawn off on friends and relatives. I’m at a point where I either need to scale back or start selling enough to defray my expenses a bit. I don’t think I can scale back, so that leaves selling.

So what does that mean exactly? Well, I can make whatever I want, put price tags on the results and hope for the best (that’s what I’ve been doing). Or I can deliberately make pieces that I know will have a better chance of selling: mugs, bowls, glossy things with lots of color and pictures of birds. It would be nice to sell some work. Nice to be appreciated, and nice to defray expenses.

A former studio-mate told me once that selling is an integral part of her creative process. Obviously, I don’t feel that strong of a need to sell, but I also don’t want to create work in a vacuum. As I’ve said in a previous post, part of creating “art” is expressing something to an audience. Selling a piece shows that the piece is effective on some level. It communicated something to someone enough that they felt the desire to posses it. There is something to be said for that. There is also something to be said for being able to afford rent on my studio.

On the other hand, is there a point where the work ceases to be “art”? If the only objective of the creator is to make work to sell, I believe that it crosses a line. It may be wonderfully hand-crafted, well-designed work, but if it is not created with the intent to convey some sort of message or viewpoint from the artist to the audience, it is not art (by my definition). I don’t ever want to stop creating art.

I have to admit: the more I sell, the more I start to think about what will sell. It’s beginning to guide my creative process more than I might like. Maybe that’s ok. I don’t ever plan to go into production-mode, (my mom should know by now that asking me to make a set of dishes is fruitless) and I’m not going to give up my “if you don’t like it, don’t buy it” attitude. But I have my own electric kiln now, and things like mugs and bowls are great for practicing technique. This winter, I’m going to spend some time working on my throwing, playing with some cone 6 clay, and figuring out if I can get anything out of an electric kiln that doesn’t make me cringe. I’ll let you know how it works out. :)


Filed under business, decisions