Saturday, November 8, 2008

Asset Inventory

61. Asset Inventory – “What You Got?”

In the medieval and early modern guild structures an apprentice brought little more to the profession than a tuition fee from his parents and a willingness to work. Sometimes the willingness to work had to be beat into the child. By the time the apprentice had become an experienced journeyman he would have learned most of the necessary job skills and acquired most of his own personal tools. The master would still provide the shop, as well as the larger tools, but in most ways the journeyman was self-sufficient and could shift his employment to a different shop and a different master if he wished.
When we consider our own places in the ceramics professions we often lose sight of those ancient, practical considerations. Most notably, our new “Masters,” the people earning MFA degrees, frequently leave school with an incomplete set of personal tools, no studio space or kiln set up, and a woefully inadequate understanding of ceramic art as a business. Perhaps they intend only to teach, using the facilities at the school that employs them. Very well, what about that? What do they have to offer an employer? What do you have to offer?
What are the assets you bring to the next stage in your career? Yes, you’ve got skills and experience, a good work ethic, letters of recommendation, slide sets, and a degree. Do you imagine that you’re competing against people who don’t have these things?
Are you portable? For instance, I’m married with children. Many residencies simply have no provision even for spouses. I may have to consider schools for my children, finding a job for my spouse, and the greater maintenance expense for a group this size. A young loner has some important advantages here.
Have you ever run a gallery, taught drawing, taught Art History, or served on academic committees? Do you have a religion? Many small colleges in this country have religious affiliations. A Baptist college, for instance, will always prefer to hire Baptist faculty members in much the same way that a Canadian or Australian school will want to hire their own citizens. Many institutions don’t have to be equal opportunity employers. Their predispositions might be to your advantage.
A single male teacher is probably at a disadvantage applying to an all girls school where a single woman or contentedly married person is not. Would working at a military school freak you out? (Do military schools even have art departments?)
Do you have geographical or cultural prejudices limiting your search? My wife simply can not abide summer heat and has no ambition to teach below the Mason/Dixon line. Foreign countries with tropical climates are right out, too. No offense intended in either case. On the other hand, some people can’t abide snow.
Do you speak any foreign languages or are you open to learning one? Personally, I wouldn’t mind learning Aussie or Kiwi, and have some experience with French and Portuguese. My wife has already spent a year learning British and summer learning Scottish.
Are you a big strong sweaty sort of a brute or a small, delicate, won’t-disturb-the-established-routine-of-the-shop sort of a person? Do you drink hot tea?
Do you have job skills that would allow you to work in ceramics part-time while using your full time job to pay the bills and provide health insurance?
Do you or your family own land where you could build a kiln and a studio? Where is this land and would you really be willing to live there and homestead?
What do you drive? A motorcycle!?!
Do you have specific ambitions, or are you just exhausted, relieved to be earning your degree, and desperate for a change of scenery? What do you want?
Too many questions, I know, but before you can do all the job-hunting chores and future-building tasks you need to think about the limits of your search. Are those limits appropriate and in what ways do you look good for that particular job? What have you been overlooking or taking for granted? You need to know what your assets are to be able to put them to work for you. Make lists if you have to. Talk to friends. Think it through.

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