69. How Much Fame Do You Need?
There are a wide variety of reasons for dedicating oneself to a life as a ceramic artist. Whether it’s money, job security, romanticism, self-satisfaction, therapy, or ego, each person in the profession has their own subtle mix and blend of personal ambitions. The hard part comes when those ambitions are either unreasonable or offensive.
Other people’s ambitions can be pretty amusing sometimes, even if our own are deadly serious. For instance, a person can wish to sell thousand dollar teapots, to be the most respected ceramics teacher in North America, to achieve tremendous artistic success with every pot they make, and to get their picture on the covers of Time, Newsweek, and Ceramics Monthly at the same time. But just wishing for such things will not make them happen, and some ambitions are simply unattainable. Getting bent out of shape, or vocal, because those things aren’t happening just makes you poor company and even less likely to earn the respect of your profession.
At a wood-fire workshop in Wichita, Kansas, Joseph Bennion commented on the foolishness of up-and-coming young artists who want to be famous “by this time tomorrow.” What do they see as the benefits of fame? Do they see the hidden costs? Why do they imagine the world should particularly notice and honor their work?
Few of us take a completely anonymous approach to our art. You have to have a certain amount of ego just to be an artist, to attempt to create something, to impose some part of your will onto the clay, or stone, or canvas, or paper. Is your name part of your business name? Do you sign your pots? Is that signature actually legible? Do you understand the role of ego in your own work and career?
The question is, how much applause do we really need to sustain us? And how do we place ourselves to best earn the applause we desire? Books, magazines, workshops, conferences, juried shows, international competitions, and solo shows are all obvious mechanisms for getting your name and work recognized by a broader and more prestigious public. Is it worth giving up studio time to spend that time on self-promotion efforts? Only you can say, and then only years from now when the results are in.
In the meantime, remember that potters tend to have long careers and that respect takes longer to acquire than celebrity. The newspapers are full of well-known unfortunates nobody knew a thing about last year and nobody has any respect for now. Let your career build at its own natural pace without being either shy or obnoxious. Go places. Meet people. Make good pots. And please don’t sulk if the universe fails to kneel before your unprecedented genius “by this time tomorrow.” Everyone’s busy, we’ll get around to adoring you later.
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