Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Thoughts from Michael Cardew

"...there has always been a struggle between the adherents of the Just
Price and those of the Natural Price, between idealism and realism. The
doctrine of the Just Price says that a thing's price should represent the
just reward for faithful and diligent work, sufficient to maintain the
maker and his family on what is described as frugal comfort. The adherents
of the Natural Price say that prices are simply regulated by supply and
demand: a thing is worth no more, and no less, than what it will fetch.

The first, with its ethical emphasis, tends to be the view of the honest
and industrious artisan. The second is that of the businessman. A potter
who in any degree feels himself to be an artist should I think incline to
the second rather than the first. In spite of its idealism, the doctrine
of the Just Price is rather narrow and limited. Honesty, in its deepest
interpretation may indeed (as E.M. Forster suggests) 'get us to heaven';
but for the artist, there is no salvation except through his art. 'Art is
like roses: it's a rich feeder'; it cannot flourish without wealth in some
form. It may be, as the poet says, 'Above Either', yet 'the argument is
better for Affluence than Poverty'.

The arguments for the just price, say first, that potting is a way of life,
not a means to other more limited ends. The potter is working to supply
his neighbour's needs and for the love of the work itself. Being honest,
he will be industrious, and this too helps his art; the more he practices
it the better his work becomes. Therefore he aims to make as many pots as
he can, and this will keep his prices moderate. He works for people like
himself, who are mostly of the hard-working but impecunious middle classes,
at need even for the really poor. He would undermine his own integrity if
he so priced his pots that only the rich and great, whose motives are
falsified by the search for status-symbols, can afford to buy them. If
they buy his pots they will not use them, but imprison them in glass cases.
That market is soon saturated, and leads to no new inspiration. For the
true potter, inspiration springs up not in vacuo but in response to the
real needs of daily life.

The argument for the other side says that the market is ethically
impartial; its prices, governed by the mechanism of supply and demand, may
be disastrously lower or absurdly higher than the Just Price. A potter's
output is limited in quantity, and there comes a point where if he tried to
force himself to increase his output, the quality would suffer. It is true
that good pots are best made quickly; but it takes a long training before a
potter reaches this stage unless he is content to make mediocre pots. His
chief aim is not to make pots quickly but to make pots which are 'quick'
and not dead. If his work is good, the demand for it will normally tend to
exceed the supply, and its market value will then inevitably rise. It is
perhaps only in heaven that 'good design costs no more than bad.'

Faced with the choice of abandoning the Just Price or betraying the quality
of his work, he will prefer the work. If he keeps his eyes too narrowly
focused on how quickly and efficiently he can make pots he will be putting
economic and ethical values above the quality, technical and aesthetic, of
what he makes. His work is his raison d'etre and to his work he owes his
first loyalty. Though price is not his preoccupation he will not waste his
energies by pitting himself against the forces of the market, just as he
would not try to use his hands to beat a machine at its own work. Whether
his inspiration is to make humble domestic utensils or gigantic and
monumental pots (and a good potter usually wants to make both kinds), his
eyes are not fixed on what prices these things will fetch but on what in
his dedicated egoism, in the bottom of his heart, he wants to make. Rich
or poor, he is by nature free and not a slave."

I think it's those last two lines that are most important.



Sister Creek Potter said...

Wow, what a great post! Warren Mackenzie and Clary Illian come to mind as current day models of the 'just price' philosophy. Is this also another way of discussing craftsman vs artist? Or have I gotten ahead of the argument?

Paul Jessop said...

Hi Brandon, This is just perfect, I just want to make good pots at affordable prices, i'd rather sell 10 good pots a t a reasonable price than one not so good pot at an inflated price. it's all about being able to sleep well at night. and feeling good about getting up the pottery the next day. getting the balance right, is the key.!

Collin Taylor said...

I'm bothered by the phrase "dedicated egoism".

if he means "committed self" that's entirely different than if he means "personal vision"... it brings up all kinds of issues.


Jay Wiese said...

Maybe it's really more of a range where "just price"= lower limit, "natural price"=upper limit. Above the natural price, it won't sell, below the just price, it can't be made.

I suspect not many potters have the option of pricing much above the just price. Good option to have, if you can!

jbf said...

Truly inspiring. Thanks for sharing.