Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I was reading my new Ceramics Monthly magazine last night. They have a "yearbook" this year as part of the annual buyers guide. Usually this yearly supplement is just a bunch of ads for new tools, some reviews of materials, tools, etc and some information on technical ceramics. Occasionally some of the technical stuff is useful; I read about the changing formula for G-200 feldspar and why it has changed and that's kind of interesting.

But the yearbook stuff, well, it actually annoyed me. Ok, it is possible that the simultaneous argument between my husband and my daughter regarding the finishing of her dinner vis-a-vis watching more Caillou (Caillou=the current most annoying kid's television show) had something to do with my frustration. Anyway, the yearbook included an article about the "ceramic artist of the year," remembrances, collections and shows, like SOFA. The bit that got under my skin was the page spread on "Transitions." This is a page of 20 apparently important people who are now teaching somewhere else or running a different ceramics program. I was annoyed because I only recognized 2 names and I couldn't figure out why I was reading small bios of these people as opposed to any other people. The US ceramics world isn't so small that these 20 people changing positions matter to everyone, is it?

But the question of why these 20 people warrant a page in CM's yearbook, mirrors some things I have been contemplating lately about identity: defining one's identity (in the real world as well as the art world) and cultivating one's identity.

I mentioned, before, my various roles: mom, teacher, artist; but I also have been thinking about what is important to me within, between and through those roles. I am not, for example, a teacher. Though I teach, teaching is not the full definition of me.  But in considering "identity" I am not interested in defining my identity or listing the pieces that make it up. What I have been thinking about lately is how to maintain and develop those pieces of my identity that are most important (or that otherwise balanced might begin to turn it into something else).

Why is it important to maintain the various roles I see myself in and how much effort and time and thought do I put into maintaining these various identities? I periodically find that reading about achievements of other artists of a similar age (or in a similar position to mine) make me question why I am here and they are there. But I need to remind myself to ask "Why have I cultivated this life which is different from the one they are pursuing?"

Not surprisingly, I enjoy aspects of all my chosen roles. (Of course each one also has downsides and must-do's that are essential but not so much fun.) If it were possible, I would wish to spend more time on aspects of each of these roles. If I could, I would spend more time playing with my kid (obviously), I would spend more time in my studio (ditto), and I would also spend more time developing and prepping classes (true, if less obvious sometimes).

Of course, obviously I don't have more time. And even if I got a bonus lotto win of 50 more hours in a week (BTW wouldn't that be a great lottery? Do you think you'd have to "pay to play"? Would you give an hour for the chance to win 50?), I wouldn't be able to do all the things for all the extra time I wished.

But back to the real world (and days that include sleeping and weeks that have 7 days in them), we juggle, eh? We fit in as much of all the good bits and as few of all the bad bits and also eat and sleep and drive to things and do laundry. All of the juggling and squeezing and maneuvering (I like spelling that word) are meant to balance us out and do all the things that make us into who we are.

I see myself as an artist, even if I do spent most of my waking hours teaching and parenting. I value spending time making art and I value the time spent thinking about art. Writing this blog regularly has felt like a tiny thread keeping me attached to my role as an artist (and occasionally also to my role as a mom or a teacher). Each time I write, I put in a stitch connecting the fabric of my teacher-mom life to the fabric of my summer-studio life. And, of course, when the mom fabric bleeds into the artist fabric and the  teacher dye bleeds onto the artist cloth and I write about it, the whole thing becomes, I guess, a sleeping bag. Or maybe a Snuggie.

I teach about what I already know and I make work based on work I've made and work I've seen, but there is a gap in my knowledge and my experience. Everytime I pick up and read a book about art criticism, art theory, art history, I feel like I'm filling in this gap (or, to maintain the metaphor, darning a hole.)

I intentionally developed this life I live. I've made decisions that build on each other and have brought me to where I am. I sometimes wonder if I could be on that page of the Ceramics Monthly yearbook.  I sometimes follow a train of thought that brings me back a couple years (or further) and wonder what I did wrong that I am not there. But when that annoying Caillou is not playing in the background, I usually remember that I started making choices at least as far back as when I chose a college, that steered me towards where I am now. I didn't always have the end "goal" in sight, but almost every step along the way has been about doing things that make me happy and make me whole.

One of the reasons I am not on those pages is that the "whole" of me can't be defined so simply as to be a page in Ceramics Monthly (no offense to the folks on those pages who, I am sure, are interesting and complex people).

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