Occasionally in graduate school we’d come across something in ceramics that could only be referred to as “slick.” This was always something glossy, faintly expensive, and probably insincere. Something so polished in its presentation that its only flaw was its inhuman flawlessness.
I remember in particular a glossy brochure advertising the work and career of an artist whose name I wouldn’t repeat here even if I could remember it. His photos all had a superbly groomed quality, darkly handsome, bearded, forty-something. Beyond that, in every image he held a single rose. Even the few images of actual pots each included his trademark single rose.
This guy was using high end corporate style printing and his own middle aged sexuality to sell his pots. We were simultaneously impressed, terrified, and nauseated. ‘Impressed’ by how good this guy’s presentation made him look and by how much money and effort had gone into these promotional materials. ‘Terrified’ that our wholesome hand-made world of pottery had been so clearly overrun by the polished cynicism of corporate marketing and that somehow in failing to compete at this level we were already losing. And ‘nauseated’ by the idea that this guy’s good looks and painfully obvious ploy of the single rose might (indeed, would) sell a lot of moderately boring pots to vaguely discontented middle aged women. The only thing wrong with any of it was that it had happened at all.
If being “slick” is the opposite of being sloppy and amateurish then it must be a virtue. But how easily does it also become soulless and cynical? Further, as expensive promotional materials become the standard rather than the novelty they are now, “standard” business presentation will involve higher and higher overhead, pricing our work out of more and more households.
The challenges to one’s integrity never end, and while being ‘slick’ may just be a business decision, then again, it may not. Perhaps it identifies the point when your art becomes nothing more than a business. Perhaps it’s just the altitude and attitude required for international credibility. I don’t really know.
“Slick” can be used as a compliment or a complaint or even as both simultaneously. Every audience and every situation is going to be different. But I think we can agree that the focus of our attentions ought to be on the process and its products. Give your pots all the presentation you can stand but please save the sensual images of over-groomed potters and their roses for the covers of romance novels. As hard as it may be sometimes, many of us would still like to think of ceramics as a dignified career choice.
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