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A recent look through the classified section provides an interesting cross-section glimpse into our profession. Aside from the sections that include materials and equipment for sale, travel possibilities, and study and employment opportunities, the real estate listings are also chronicled . Many listings tout beautiful, rural homesteads with land and well-equipped attached studios, hardwood floors, acreage, and great retail opportunities with a solid customer base. What interests me is the back story.
Those of us who entered the profession as baby boomers are, yes, aging. We realize that our occupation as potters is one that is fraught with risk on many levels. The least of these risks is financial. Health issues, or perhaps even malaise and boredom after years of making pottery (and being on the street at shows), can take their toll. Are the many listings in the real estate section an indication of this? I think yes. This prompts some serious thinking about our field, especially in the areas of schooling, training and lifestyle choices.
There are many who espoused certain lifestyle choices when choosing to be potters, without knowing how taxing and hard it might be-especially on family life. Many of us entered the field for a host of other reasons, and now, as we age, we are taking another look at what we started 30-40 years ago and seeing it in a new light.
There is nothing wrong with wanting a change. We have all read stories of senior citizens returning to law school or medical school after careers in other professions. But what interests me is: What causes individuals in our field to desire a change of venue?
Let me offer some possible reasons. I think financial burnout is a major cause for change, not only in our profession, but in others as well. The arts are a difficult field in which to build financial stability. A few potters have built thriving businesses, but they are in the minority. Most potters balance on a very fine edge, and even if they are accepted into a prestigious craft event, sales can be marginal (especially in the current economy). Wholesale purchases are certainly down.
An analogy that puts this into perspective might be to imagine the commerce of ceramics as a pie. Thirty to 40 years ago, there were fewer of us competing for a slice of that pie. Fast-forward to the 21st century, and the size of the pie has not grown, but the slices within it have multiplied a hundredfold. More potters are entering the field, causing more of us to compete for a diminishing disposable income. The nature of collecting has changed because the nature of Generation X and Generation Y buying habits are different. Many gift stores and craft galleries are also closing up shop.
Economic realities affect us all. How are ceramic artists and potters crafting their careers to provide not only economic independence but also to maintain a certain lifestyle that is equally valid? How can academia still provide the necessary training to encourage ceramic arts students to enter the field after graduation?
The arts are a crucial part of our culture, and ceramic arts are an integral element of that big picture. How we step forward to continue to do what we love is certainly worthy of dialogue.