Down with Diogenes – Jonathan Chiswell Jones

It is a truism that craftsmen and women like making things- it unites us in The Sussex Guild, whatever materials we use.  We might have started in many ways- playing with pencil and paper, stitching, getting our hands muddy, or whittling sticks. Some of us might have been persuaded we had a talent for art, others simply liked to do a job as well as we possibly could.  There are many paths we might have followed, but at a certain stage, we made the decision to focus our energies on doing what we love- whether trained or untrained, we followed our bent.

Making things, and learning how to make them better, fills a vital need for us.  Some years ago, when I was going through a difficult time and toying with the idea of giving up making pots, a friend said to me: “Remember Jonathan that at the end of the day you can see something you have created, which was not there at the beginning, whereas I have simply shifted a pile of paper from my left side to my right.” I took his point.

So much is obvious to us. But we soon find that making things, whether useful or beautiful, is not an end in itself. Does anyone apart from ourselves, value our products, give them worth, want them? We might start by making gifts of them to friends and family, but pretty soon we need to find a wider following and begin to see our making as part of a wider process. Here for many of us, comes the bit we are not so fond of. How to get our work to a new owner? How to price it, how to sell it, who else to involve in this process?

If we intend to do everything ourselves, we might find the business of selling an exciting challenge, the experience of talking to customers stimulating, even fun. The Guild has been home to many who see things that way. After a while showing our work can become a job, and one we have little talent for.  It is often said that buyers like to meet the makers- this may be true, but I also find that standing by my work- the product of so many days, even years, and watching people pass without so much as a glance is chastening.  The reverse is also invidious- as a visitor to craft shows, I am very aware of the person who wants to sell me something sitting or standing by their work.

So we learn that the joy of making cannot be experienced in isolation, that it is part of a process needing at least a buyer, and perhaps many others too- committees of fellow craftsmen and women, gallery owners, photographers, magazines, newspapers, web designers, social media channels and analysts, all waiting to help move products in the market place of excess which we inhabit and perhaps help to over stock.

I must admit to having a soft spot for Diogenes who is reputed to have said on walking through the marketplace in Athens: “How many things I can do without!”

Jonathan Chiswell Jones.  East Dean 2nd August 2022.

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