Monday, June 11, 2012

Can't we all just slow down a bit?

I’m sure this has already been written about a zillion times, but here is my take on it as it pertains to a craft that is by its very nature, slow.

Ever since the introduction of the personal computer and by extension, the internet, our lives have become a bit more hectic (as if you needed me to tell you that.). Every time you turn around now, the new technology that just came out is obsolete. It also seems that along with the increased pace of turning out the newest, fastet, smarter gadget, so too has our desire to be instantly gratified. Everyone wants what they want now, not tomorrow, and definitely not next week or next month. OK, so what’s my point?

Well, here it is. I got a referral last week for an order of approximately 24 personalized mugs. Sounds great and I have no issues doing small orders as that is usually all I have time for. They wanted oversized coffee mugs with a specific text stamped either on the side or the bottom. Again, not a problem. I did mention that I usually require about 1 month to complete these types of orders. They came back to me and said that they needed them by June 28th. I agreed, as it was not that far off from the month that I would usually require and as luck would have it, I had already thrown 10 mugs the previous weekend but had yet to trim or attach handles, so they would work. My issue is not by any means with this particular order, but it did cause me to reflect on the reality of making pottery by hand (vs machine) and what the general buying public seems to expect when it comes to the hand made vs the machine made product.

I have run into this scenario a few times:

Customer: “I was wondering if you could make me a gift for a wedding present.”

Me: “Sure, no problem, when is the wedding, or when do you need to have it by?”

Customer: “Next week, Friday at the latest.”

Me: While trying not to choke “Um, no, I can’t do it by then, but would you like to look at some of the stuff I have that is already finished?”

Customer: “I was hoping to have it personalized with their names and the date of the wedding, so no. How come you can’t make it by Friday?”

You can see where I am going with this. There is a perception out there that what you want/need now, should just be available to you whenever you want it. For these people, I am very glad that Wally World and other similar purveyors of crap exist.

The slow process of making pottery is not meant for this type of consumer. I have tried to explain to more than a few people, when they ask how long it takes to make something, that it is more than just the making. I could say “Oh, about a minute”, but that would only apply to the initial throwing of the basic form. I could also say “ about a month” as that is sometimes how long it takes for things to dry, trim, attach handles, dry some more, bisque fire, glaze, fire again”, or (in my case) I could say (and I know they never really get this) “12 years”, to which I usually get blank stares.

I even had someone question why it took me so long, because they were able to pick up the mugs they made with their kids at the u paint it place the day after they did them.

I don’t think she saw my eyes roll to the back of my head…

So, not to be a Luddite or anything, but there seems to be an odd overlap of wants and expectations born from the mechanized mass produced world, with the hand made world. To me, it seems that the consumer must be unconsciously thinking “I want to buy a unique, hand made object that means more to me than what I can buy at the big box store, but I don’t want to spend too much, and I don’t want to have to think ahead and just be able to pick it up off the shelf as soon as I need it”. They want the best of both worlds, and I am sorry to say, at least in this, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. I also don’t believe that this could be a conscious thought pattern, it’s just too ridiculous, but if it is, then there is really something wrong with our world. It kind of reminds me of an open air street fair that I had a booth in a few years ago. People were more than willing to shell out $15-$20 for non permanent tattoos, but not for a hand made mug that would last way longer than the tattoo they paid too much money for. My booth was right beside the tattoo tent, so I was a wee bit bitter by the end of the day. I guess a mug was just too cumbersome to carry around while drinking beer and getting a fake crappy tattoo.

Perhaps I get too wrapped up in the beauty of a well made object and tend to expect the same of everyone else. I mean, what is better than a handle on a mug that was lovingly attached in such a way that it looks and feels as if it was designed for your hand to hold, and not 3 billion other hands as well? (this is what I was doing on Saturday – lovingly attaching curvaceous and uplifting handles, back filling the attachment points to give visual balance to the overall piece, wiping away the drool …).

So back to my point, if there even really was one. I think we need to slow down, expect that something of quality will take time, not be in such a rush and accepting mediocrity as the price for immediacy.

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