Letter From the Editor

This Issue
Jun 1, 2020

There is an old adage that speaks to pointing one finger outward. You know that one?

The lesson is that one finger pointing outward only leaves you with three fingers pointing back at yourself. 

I do believe in the incredible generosity and wokeness of the ceramic community. The harder truth is that we can be just as exclusive, xenophobic, and  fearful as any other group. There have been a lot of beautiful sentiments shared over the past few days, powerful sentiments, as we try to shout out into the void, “DO BETTER!” 

Instead of shouting into the void, what if we took a good look inward? Because we have plenty of work to do in our own house.

There are some who believe pottery should not be political. It was a sentiment asserted so strongly that an Instagram feed, POTTERY IS POLITICAL, was created to rebut the point. The conservatism and divisiveness within our community is not limited to random social media quarrels. In the survey Studio Potter issued earlier this year we asked, “How interested are you in topics that cross boundaries?” 

One reply was, “Please, no divisive politics on either side, it’s become a source of ire and is ruining art. Please stay out of the fray and let ceramics be a respite in some regard. It seems too many ceramic publications are laced with political or social justice wrapped in clay.” 

Another reply was more succinct, “No politics or gender identity. Make this a ‘safe’ space.”

I imagine some of you will be nodding in agreement and others will be appalled at those comments. In direct opposition to the aforementioned sentiments, other replies included a desire to read more about: social practice, community building, indigenous people’s art, diversity and inclusion, and politics and craft.

There is absolutely a precedent for art to be a political device: Honoré-Victorin Daumier, Thomas Nast, Käthe Kollwitz, Faith Ringgold, Pablo Picasso, Dave (the Slave) Drake, Robert Arneson, and Karl Mueller’s Century Vase; this is a small sampling. Although, the very act of choosing to be an artist, a potter, has the potential to be a powerful political act in and of itself. It is a commitment to a specific way of life. It is a commitment to carving out your own reality and that ability remains an incredibly radical and powerful tool. The politics of being a maker assumes many guises, and it is not always as actively vocal as has been demonstrated by Grayson Perry, Ai Wei Wei, Ayumi Horie, Mac MacCusker, or Roberto Lugo. 

Sometimes the message is subtle, as reported by Peter Crimmins in 2019 when he shared Michelle Erickson’s RESEARCH on the politics of American porcelain, “’There were highly ritualized dining practices in the 18th century. To own American porcelain was a symbol of your empathy for the cause. ...objects do not telegraph their political leanings...an American-made object as a centerpiece drew attention to it and amplified its inherent patriotism. In 2000, B.J. Bowser wrote “FROM POTTERY TO POLITICS: An Ethnoarchaeological Study of Political Factionalism, Ethnicity, and Domestic Pottery Style in the Ecuadorian Amazon” for the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. In the paper Bowser establishes, “…a link between women's active political behavior and pottery style in the domestic context in a small-scale, segmental society in the Ecuadorian Amazon.” 

All to say, pottery has been and remains a political device in many cultures and throughout history. 

Now we stand at a time in history where the lasting consequences of our actions as citizens will be more immediately revealed. Within our world of ceramics, I like to believe it is likely that the majority is voting on local and national levels. I believe the majority of us would stand up for someone they saw being actively oppressed. But, can we turn the harsh light of indignation on ourselves? Can we make room for our publications to cover a full range of topics, from woodfiring to activism? Do we have the ability to look beyond our objects and question our infrastructure? How many of us are looking at the line-up of artists invited to be in festivals, tours, or exhibitions? When we look at our administrative bodies (schools, art centers, non-profits, publications) what voices are represented? How might we begin aggressively working to make sure the scales are righted in our own community? 

Maybe you already are. 

How can we do more? Can we learn, listen, persevere, and try again?

We must start aggressively examining our hiring practices, our board appointments, our curatorial efforts, our jury invitations, our festival line-ups, etc. What programming are we putting in place to assure more people have access to the education required to participate? Inviting other voices to the table does not mean our own voice will be drowned out. We have the opportunity to learn and grow, even if we aren’t sure what we will learn or how we will grow.  

Studio Potter is not without error. We still have work to do, but I am so proud and privileged to have the support I do to take the position I am taking here. I am privileged to have support in a position that can give voice to the vast array of experiences in ceramics. I have a responsibility to distribute the Studio Potter megaphone to, as Mary Barringer so aptly put it in describing the origins of our spirit and vision, “ever-widening circles.”

If you aren’t seeing your voice represented in our stories, please EMAIL ME and tell me what the story is that we’re missing. I promise that, in my role as editor, I am searching to find an array. If I’m working to find you and you’re working to find me, I believe we will find each other. 

Today we start publishing new articles on the first Monday of the month and, in this issue, you will find seven articles from seven distinct voices. There is some aspect of reflection and reexamination connecting each voice, each story. The moments of reflection the authors share are almost all followed by action. 

Definitely, in the coming days and months, prepare to fight for what is right, to shift the tide. Try to do it with love whenever you can. At Studio Potter we are going to keep doing the hard work of looking at ourselves. 

What excuses have we, the field of ceramics, been leaning on that have slowed changes, and how can we set the excuses down?  I believe we can change our own systemic problems. We can set a new standard.  

In conclusion I’ll close with another favorite adage; what to do when you find yourself in a hole?

Stop digging.

Let’s put the shovel down.

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