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Monday, April 21, 2008

Thinking Big

While doing the Smithsonian Craft Show last week, I was able to take an hour to visit the Helen Williams Drutt Jewelry Collection exhibit at the Renwick Gallery Museum of Fine Craft. It's an understatement to say I was absolutely blown away by the collection of art jewelry she has collected over the past 40 years.

After looking at the breath-taking jewelry pieces made by many different artists, what I came away with more than anything is the question "Why don't I think that big?" By thinking big, I don't mean big in scale, although that can be part of it, but rather big in idea, or big in elaborateness, big in complexity, big in the amount of time it takes to make it.

Unfortunately, sometimes we think that in order to make any money doing what we do, we have to do "affordable" work, or work that is popular. I'm not convinced that we have to think small in order to make a living and in fact, we may make a better living if we occasionally think "museum stuff" -- meaning work we would like to have in a museum or a conoisseur's collection someday.

I have seen so much unassuming polymer work -- little earrings, one small pendant on a cord, a bracelet made up of 10 or 12 beads. BORING. Not only would it never be in a major show, but people would not buy it for more than $5.00. Now it's fine to have some pieces that are affordable to the mainstream, but you also NEED pieces that are spectacular and even "pricey" to draw customers to your work. Also, there are people who only want to purchase spectacular pieces, and they don't want $5.00 earrings!

Thinking big takes risk. What if we spend all this time on one piece and it looks lousy when we're done? What if nobody likes it? I have created pieces that I was very excited about, but in the end didn't work out to my liking. But the next piece -- or the piece after that -- succeeded and in the end it was worth taking the risk to learn and develop. Everything worthwhile in life requires risk.

Thinking big takes work. I have once or twice taken a couple of months to make a piece, from sketching, planning, working it out and perfecting. Some of the pieces in the Renwick exhibit, however, I know took more than a couple of months just to work out the idea. Some of us are just not that interested in really putting a lot of work into something, we're a little lazy. Well, unless you are willing to work at it you'll just have to realize that your work will never be that good and you may not be as successful financially or artistically as you might like. That's OK, you just have to understand that.

Thinking big also takes perseverence. I've realized over 30 years of working at it that yes, being an artist takes some talent. But far more than that it takes passion and perseverence. Just keep making things, just keep doing it, just keep working and the ideas will come, you'll keep getting better and better!

As I'm writing this, I'm saying it to myself, even though I know it all already. I need to Think Big!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

An award from the 2008 Smithsonian Craft Show

Kathleen is currently in Washington, D.C., where she is exhibiting at the prestigious Smithsonian Craft Show through this weekend (Sunday, April 13th). Yesterday she was very honored to receive the show's New Direction - Excellence in Design Of the Future award. To give some context, the annual Smithsonian Craft Show is one of the two most discriminating and prestigious shows in the world for contemporary fine craft, in the opinion of many leading artists. Kathleen was juried into this show several times earlier in her career, and indeed was profiled by Smithsonian Magazine in 2000, but had seen a Smithsonian dry spell in recent years. She asked me to share with you that returning to that extremely competitive show, with a risky/bold new body of work, was the culmination of a dream/goal for her, and she is thrilled to have received this award. She will share many more of her feelings and observations about the state of fine craft (including polymer clay) gleaned from experiencing this show upon her return. Now she will have some time to get back to blogging, which is still a new thing for her.

Sincere regards to all,

David Dustin