Sunday, January 25, 2009

You are who you are and where you are (book draft)

“Do you mind if I copy you?” That is a question I am asked a lot by students. I consider it a compliment so be my guest. It is my job to stay a few steps ahead and not be threatened. If you are not a stagnant artist this is usually not a problem.
I used to try and be as original as possible. I did not want to make anything anyone else had ever made. And then I learned no matter how hard I tried that was impossible. There are too many other people on the planet of similar culture of similar influence doing the same thing at the same time. That is our culture and you cannot really jump out of it.
In graduate school, I wanted to be different. I wanted to be the only one making what I was making. It was the late 70’s with hanging baskets and teapots and lot more utilitarian ware. Then the energy crisis hit and they turned our natural gas off. So much for firing in that big gas kiln.
I turned to history. I went back to the basics. I studied Native American, African and Mexican pots and sculpture. No one else was doing it or so I thought. At last, originality!
And then, the bubble burst. I had traveled all the way across the country to study with a Hopi Indian woman named Fawn Navasie. She had never been off the reservation and had no idea how big the country was by car. All the way from Keems Canyon Arizona to Peter’s Valley New Jersey by invitation. When they reached Ohio the two Native American artists traveling in the car asked the driver. “Aren’t we there yet?”
As I headed toward the admissions desk I stepped into a show of a resident artist’s most recent work. It could have been mine. Pop, the originality bubble was gone again.
I now recognize this is not a problem and we don’t have a choice anyway. You just have to be who you are and where you are. You cannot force stages of your work as you find your voice so you may as well sit back and enjoy the journey.

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