There is a discussion rolling around on the blog-o-sphere prompted by Ron Philbeck's recent post. There are many great viewpoints there that are worth reading in the comment section of that post. I am going to ramble a little bit here about how I feel about the value of handcrafts.
I first started making pots in my sophomore year of high school in Minnesota, 1997. I was brought up in a relatively conservative religious home that valued community and service. Though my views on faith and religion have changed, my core values remain the same. So it's no surprise that Warren Mackenzie's philosophy had an instant grasp on me, it finally put a purpose behind an activity that was up to that point ambiguous as to it's social relevance(I understood the "high arts" but the purpose of craft had eluded me.) Objects that are beautiful, that communicate and provide daily service...there was something that I could get on board with. This is still the foundation of why I make pots today.
There have been comments that art and craft are for the elites in society, art is for the privileged that can afford it. While this unfortunately seems to be the case for art, I strongly disagree that it is(or has to be) the case for hand crafts. Many of my customers (I despise the word patron) are middle-class folk who don't make much more than I do. Does the fact that upper-class people have the ability to regularly purchase such objects somehow elevate their importance? I don't think so. I'm not intending to class-bash, my pots are priced to be accessible to all people, but I'm not going to treat people any differently based upon how much they are going to spend with me. Often times for the middle-class a nice mid-priced pot is as much a serious financial splurge just as a $5000 painting is for an upper-class person, so clearly they demand the same level of respect.
In Warren's more productive years he was making about 7000 pots per year and he was able to sell every last one of them. This enabled him to sell his pots very inexpensively and still be able to make a decent income. There are not many potters aside from serious production potters that work at this volume. So WM's pricing scheme is unrealistic for the modern potter. I could easily make 5000+ pots per year but I can't sell that many, there is no demand for it right now. I currently produce 1200-1500 pieces per year because that is the volume I am able to sell. If I were able to sell 5000+ pots per year would I price my mugs and yunomi for much less than I do now? You bet I would, and I wouldn't think twice about it. Clearly price does not equal value, they are 2 separate entities. Price is a means for making a livable income, value is what it is worth to the user, not to the maker. For me the most important thing is getting my pots into as many hands as possible for the lowest possible price. Ego has no place in the handcrafts, if your ego drives the price of your work it will eventually show and you will ultimately fail. I used to sell my basic mugs for $15(I've recently gone up to $18) and I receive some serious criticism from other potters at shows for selling my pots too cheap. I always just shrug my shoulders and say that's what they're worth to me. My expenses to run my studio are dirt cheap, I live a very simple lifestyle and don't need a large income. Should I have to conform to your pricing structure because it costs you 5 times as much to produce your work? No way, that's not fair to me or my customers. If your expenses are so high or you have a much more expensive lifestyle then that is your choice. I make a decent amount of pots that I sell for a decent price and I make a decent income from it.
I am not a believer in the $30 mug, I would never pay that much for a mug, they're not worth that to me, even from my favorite potters. I would however pay that much for a yunomi, in fact I've paid a lot more than that for some. That particular form has a lot more value to me, but mine will always be priced the same as my mugs because I do believe it is silly to charge more for something that is the same size and can be made faster than a mug, though there is a much higher level of skill involved, perhaps the reason for me placing a higher value on that item.
There are also those people who think that if you're work is inexpensive then you must not value it too much. I don't know what I can do to change their minds but this is clearly not true. I value the opportunity for my pots to enhance or possibly even change someones life(hey, pots changed mine.) This is what it is important for me, not how someone perceives my pricing. If you value my work for more than what it is priced at then that is fantastic, that is what I hope for. Every pot that we own and that we use is worth much more to us than what we paid for them, this is the whole point, isn't it? If you are looking for investment value art...well, you best keep looking.
My ideal has always been to make the pots that are in my heart and if they sell...great, if not then I'll do what I need to to get by. You can easily tell the difference between potters who crank out the pots to make money and those who make honest pots that are of value to them. I'm not in this business to get rich, I made much more as a carpenter than I do making pots and teaching combined. But truthfully my life is much fuller, richer and holds a lot more value as a potter. Pottery has the chance to impact lives, not in a blatant "art saves lives" sort of way, but rather in a way that opens up your perception to the beauty that surrounds you in your everyday life.
I hope that I haven't offended anyone. The beauty of humanity is that we all have a different take on life, we all value different things. You are more than welcome to further this discussion by leaving a comment.
Speaking of value....The Deep Roots exhibition comes down in a few days. Last chance to get some sweeeet pots.