Friday, November 21, 2008

Art as Baseball

29. Art as Baseball

Baseball has been described as a simple game. I believe the movie ‘Bull Durham’ said it best. “You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball.” Enough said, or so one would imagine. But in this world complication can find its way into anything. As an amusement, I would like to take a moment to think of Ceramics in terms of baseball, in both its simplicity and complexity. You throw the pot. You fire the pot. You show the pot.
Throwing seems basic to both worlds, baseball and ceramics. Handbuilding, too, falls into this performance category. An outfielder with a strong arm can be like a potter who makes very large pots. A pitcher with very fine control, a potter who creates meticulous forms. A great curveball might be similar to a full-bellied jar or similar well-rounded forms. A knuckleball, the wobbly loose pots of a successful anagama firing. A fastball, pure speed and power, the basic precision weapon of big league pitchers, and most production potters.
Base running might refer to the sort of travel to workshops, conferences, and shows that really helps you to ‘score’ as an artist. Stealing a base can equate to travelling on short notice to a wonderful event that you only heard about through the phone call of a friend. Who do you know that seems to have been everywhere and met everyone?
And hitting? Perhaps hitting refers to the venues you get your work into. A single for a gallery, a double for a juried show, a triple for an invitational, the home run becomes the solo show, and the grand slam? An international invitational.
Organizationally, baseball has its various levels from local parks and recreation softball up to the major leagues, and so does ceramics. At community art centers across the country people make pots never expecting to get good enough to get paid for making them, to turn ‘pro’. At the other end of the spectrum, major university ceramics programs compete for the best professors and students, spending tens of thousands of dollars on salaries, assistantships, equipment, and travel funds. The professors they hire have generally worked their way up from positions at lesser schools or graduated with spectacular recommendations from the best graduate programs in the country. These are people who can hit for average as well as power, who can throw (or handbuild) with strength and accuracy, and who have been around the bases a few times, to thunderous applause and critical approval.
For most of us, just getting paid to make the pots we make is still a privilege and a novelty. Many spend years ‘playing’ at the minor league level, never getting the call to move up to the majors. Even those who do make it to the major leagues can not all maintain the level of production required to stay there. Tenure becomes the equivalent of the long term contract.
Which programs now serve as our best ‘teams?’ The Alfred “Yankees,” with the same advantages as their downstate role models? The Rhode Island “Risdees”? The University of Iowa “Woodfires”? Or perhaps the Gainesville “Feminists”? Who’s to tell from season to season? What really causes a team to soar or slump? Or do we judge great teams on consistency of performance year after year?
As individuals, all we can do is attend to the fundamentals; throwing, hitting, and catching. And try to have some fun playing the game. It’s what the fans want to see, some skill and joy, and shared love of the sport. And at next year’s World Series [NCECA?] we’ll see just who can really play the game.
Yes, it’s a serious business. Yes, people strain and suffer and work their tails off to excel at it. But it’s also supposed to be fun. That sense of fun is not the exclusive privilege of the champions among us. That sense of fun animates the activity at every level and binds us all together regardless of our pay scales or show histories. Promising rookies or cunning veterans, never-was or never-will-be, no one owns the game or has the power to keep anyone else out of it.
Whatever your level of play, do the best you can and stay loose. Getting tense will just throw off your aim and mess with your swing. Keep it a simple game and find satisfaction in its simple pleasures.

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