On Deciding What to Make

by noelyovovich on February 27, 2011

Before I get down to the real subject here, let me mention that I just finished my teapot– here’s a little video.

Now.

Since my most recent post, Musings on Working Hard, I’ve gotten some very great comments—it is very gratifying to know people read and respond to my writing and my artwork. So, thanks!

Yesterday, I received a comment that I think is worth a longer response. I’m answering because the question itself implies that I might be different from anyone reading this, and I really doubt that (in keeping with embracing my Everyman).

A reader commented:

Hi Noel,

I’ve seen your work and really enjoy your style and craftsmanship. When doing a teapot such as you’re working on, do you feel like you’re making it for YOU? Do you also make items to sell? Do you specifically have items you make to SELL, and items you make for CRAFT? Or do you not have to or want to worry about selling and only make what inspires you? Or, are they the same thing?

-Dana Evans (http://stoneaddict.etsy.com)

Ah, I wish I didn’t have to worry about selling. I think. I don’t really expect to ever know for sure—like I think I’d like to be stinking rich, but I’ll never know for sure, not in this lifetime! But, yeah, I’m pretty sure I’d like both of those.

Seriously, though… The act of making things is for me, the same way that eating, sleeping and breathing are for me. The teapot design has been in the works (in my head and on paper) for a couple of years, so, obviously, it is important to me.

If you mean, am I making it to put on a shelf in my own house and keep, then the answer is a clear-cut “no”. I do make a few things for myself, but not many. For me, having others see and appreciate my work is a necessary part of the process, and that would be true even if I were stinking rich. And having others appreciate it enough to plunk down significant amounts of money in order to be able to take it home and make it a part of their lives, that is a validation of my effort that I absolutely need.

That doesn’t mean that selling is my only motivation, of course. But it is always there in my mind to one degree or another. People seem to want to believe that artists work sheerly for the love of it, unsullied by concern for payment. Well, if anyone out there wants to be my Medici, that would be fantastic, but as it is, I have to earn my way in this world.

But here’s something I have learned along the way. There’s nothing as humiliating as deciding to give in and prostitute yourself, only to find out that nobody’s buying.

For a long time, I thought I was resisting “just making what would sell”, bucking some kind of pressure to do the salable, commercial thing. Turns out, when I decided to try to actually do that, it was a total flop.

I am now convinced that there is an authenticity in the things I make from my heart that people pick up on and respond to. If it isn’t there, somehow it lacks something (soul?) and it doesn’t move people, and they don’t buy it.

Still, I do pay attention to what sells, and that influences my decisions. There are always a lot of different things I could make—I have way more ideas than time. Though there are times when I get in a funk and have trouble drumming up enthusiasm for any of the things I should make. Then I have to go through my stones, or my sketch books, or my brain, until I find an idea that seems like fun, to get me moving again.

So it is always a balance, a dance, a give and take, between inspiration and practical necessity. I suspect it has always been this way, from the Anasazi ruins or the caves at Lascaux right down to you and me.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Peggy Wilson March 7, 2011 at 8:54 pm

I really enjoy your work as well as your perspective. Mine is by neccesity much different, as I am a partner/owner of a tiny jewelry store with another goldsmith. To stay afloat, and to keep our customers happy, we do repairs and restorations. Anything and everything, all week long. We specialize in custom work, but a customer’s vision may not always be ours. We do the work that the customer wants….and it pays the bills. Our inventory consists of all one of a kind pieces….our vision. Sometimes weeks go by during which we do not have the opportunity to work on “our” pieces, we take satisfaction in knowing we have given each repair or custom order our very best attention and skill. Not always art to your or our way of thinking, but to the customer, it is. Oh but to only worry about what to make next!

Bentiron March 2, 2011 at 6:31 pm

I have way more ideas than time………Oh, how true! Now that I am of offical retirement age I am finding this to be very true. My doctor says I could live for another twenty years of more, or less. I still have so many ideas and yet there are days when I can’t dredge up a one! And then there is the problem of money, do I make what sellls or do I make My statement, sing My song, do My thing, leave My leagacy, even if it doesn’t represent a finacial success now. Who Knows maybe what I make just might someday be held in awe, Naw, I’m getting way ahead of myself here, let’s not get all big headed about it. If it is made of precious metal and not that good it will not just sit around in someones drawer or on someones desk or dresser it will be sold for it cash value and melted down. I think however your teapot will survive for a good many years down the road and be looked upon as a cherishe heirloom. Nice work, Noel!

Jane Walker March 2, 2011 at 12:07 am

This is simply gorgeous, Noel!

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