Ruminations from the pottery

It has always seemed to me ironic that the Craft Council has, for many years now, tried to persuade us that we are really artists, and that being an artist opens up a world of high prices, elevated status, and respect in the wider community. This may be or may not be true, but I wonder if an Arts Council wouldn’t be the appropriate vehicle for enlightening us poor craft workers. I suppose it is far harder to get rid of a body like the Craft Council than it is to set one up.

Many years ago, I came to the idea of making pots for a living through the writings of Bernard Leach. One of the lessons he was keen to teach was the ideal of The Unknown Craftsman. These were the people who built the great cathedrals of Europe, who fashioned cottages and carts and created mugs and platters and all manner of unpretentious and beautiful objects but left no record of their names. The Japanese critic Yanagi wrote a book called The Unknown Craftsman full of examples of beauty created as a by-product of making useful things. This anonymity was also desirable because good work done for its own sake and not for the glorification of the maker enlarges the soul and not the ego.

It hardly needs me to point out how far we have come from this ideal, not as craftspeople, but as a culture. What seems to be important today is the number of your Facebook friends, or your followers on Instagram. Am I alone in finding it is annoying to have my inbox clogged by Facebook messages from people whose lives are of very little interest to me? The very number of these ‘friends’ makes it impossible to communicate anything more than a cursory thumbs up. What is the point of such ‘friendships’? And it is not as if accumulating large numbers of followers can be achieved without effort. It does eat up time and of course, since we are in competition for attention, the harder others work at it, the harder it is for us. Attention is limited, just like time. The chief beneficiaries of this virtual world, where value is judged by number not by quality, are the companies who control these interactions and know how to make money from every click of your mouse.

Of course, there is a positive side to the world wide web. As far as craft people are concerned, it opens up a vastly wider marketplace, and during lockdown, the pottery survived and even prospered thanks to our email list, to a website from which we can sell work, and our IT skills. What is worth noting is that this vastly wider market, is very different to a local one.

The Sussex Guild was set up as a local network. We are almost all resident in Sussex. When we take part in exhibitions or do our shop duties, or meet in committee, we get to know others in a real not a virtual way. The Guild was established to combat the isolation of craft work and to help sell the work of our hands. We have focussed very effectively on the second of those aims, despite challenges in that department. But I wonder about the former?

Jonathan Chiswell Jones. East Dean. 15/03/22.

Jonathan Chiswell-Jones at work in the pottery

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