Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Another Reason to Find YOUR Voice

Once again, the issue of voice arises. What makes your work identifiably yours, and belonging to no one else? And why in the world is it such a big deal?

When you first start out, voice is hard to grasp, or develop. Technique takes center stage. But you know you are seeing it when you can look at a picture and immediately identify it as belong to a specific person. Or, your mouth drops open when you see something for the first time, and you gasp. Or you just feel compelled to touch. You can't stop the "oooohhh..." from floating out of your mouth.

Why am I bringing it up again? I was listening to the radio this morning in the car on the way to an appointment. The conversation was about our dependence on oil from other countries, and whether or not we could become energy independent. At one point in the discussion, a light bulb clicked on in my head. The guest on the program spoke about how oil is a commodity like iPod's, flowers, or rice. And people will buy a commodity based on price, availability and convenience.

The question that immediately popped into my head was, "Can craft be a commodity?" And, I am sure you know the answer, "Yes." Without a doubt. I instantly thought of the many, many jewelry artists I have seen making fused dichroic glass. At one time, there was a "wow" factor to it. But now, unless the artist has created a unique way of incorporating the glass into the piece of jewelry, there is no compulsion to buy from one artist versus another, unless it is based on price, convenience, or perhaps personal relationship.

The same can be said of so many other craft objects. If you go to enough craft shows, you will see many of the same things, again and again. But, at that same show, there will be a few artists that pull you in. They are doing something that is different and unique. As I write about this, I can think of several artists right off the top of my head whose work has that flavor. They range from ceramics to sculpture to jewelry. Their work stays in my head because it was so fresh and unique, and their style speaks to me on some level. I have to stop, and look and maybe even buy.

My daughter is beginning to dabble in photography. We have had lots of conversations lately about photographs, and one thing she has said repeatedly, is that a picture of a sunset is not art....unless you are somehow looking at it in a new and fresh way. We were at the New Hampshire Craftsman's Guild Show last week, and she saw some pictures of boats tied up to a dock. Four or five rowboats of various colors. You know the picture, I am sure. She loved it. I preferred the picture of the sole boat, white, tied to a buoy in a mist. Monochromatic, and definitely one with a mood. It was a twist on the boat picture. I pointed it out to her. She loved the one with all the colors. This was in the first tent we visited.

As we walked the show, she started to notice several other photographers with essentially the same picture. That image had become commoditized. Buying one versus another would likely be based more on price than on anything else. She now looked at that picture as just another sunset shot.

Is that why you want someone to buy your work? Because you have the best price on this object. An object that can be found in subtle variations, from multiple sources. I don't. I want them to buy it because the love it. Because if they don't buy it, it will stay in their head. They will wish they had it.

There are times that the commodity item fills the bill nicely. And there are plenty of successful businesses built on making and selling commodity type items. But, if you are going to be in that market, recognize the competition will be fierce, and you will always be squeezed on price. Your creative energy will likely be focused more on cost cutting than on design innovations. If the business side of things is what excites you the most, that might be just the right fit for you. If, on the other hand, it is the art, or creative side that makes you get out of bed in the morning, then avoiding be just another commodity is essential to your success.

We all have a voice. A unique set of experiences and inspirations. How does your work reflect the path of your life? Does it? If it doesn't, then perhaps it is time to spend some play time in the studio. Experimenting. Asking "What if?" When you find it, you will know. It will be singing to you loud and clear, asking, "Where have you been? I've been waiting for you!" And then, the party will really begin!


cajunpanther@earthlink.net said...

Judy, I found your blog recently, and I am constantly amazed (and weired out) by the fact that your entries seem to address something that is rattling around in my head that very day. I am struggling to discover my own voice in my jewelry; to make my jewelry something a little different than everyone else's. I'm going to try to create more, so that I can develop my own artistic voice.

Barbara J Carter said...

This is great! I had always thought of the "same-old same-old" stuff as merely cliche, but you've given it a much better name: Commodities. Giving it an economic label frames the issue much more clearly. Good stuff!

Pat Smith said...


Judy said...

Hi Cajunpanther, I have had the very same thing happen to me when I visit a blog...it is weird! Glad you are finding the posts helpful.

Barbara, I agree, it was so clear to me in that instant when he spoke about commodities.

Thanks Pat!

Vanessa said...

Thank you for putting these thoughts into words. I am also struggling to "find my voice" in polmyer clay. More clay play needed and what fun it will be.

Jenny Patterson said...

Exellent post! I see that happen so often. Someone has an idea, makes it, and everyone goes "wow" then at the next show, everyone has a version of the same thing.

I have a link for your daughter to take a look at. This photographer is the daughter of my first cousin. She is only 25, and some of her photographs of plain everyday things, just blow me away.


thebeadedlily said...

This is a stunning and encouraging article.
I loved the part abuot the piece staying in the head of ones who choose not to buy. Beautiful thought!
I'll be back! In fact I linked to your blog so I can find you again! Thanks for the read!

Cindy Lietz, Polymer Clay Tutor said...

Judy what a well written article!

I think this is a subject that a lot of people struggle with. People that want to become 'original' artists need to learn to trust themselves more if they want to develop their own voice. And not always looking outside for approval.

If you make something for yourself that you truly love, your voice is probably hiding somewhere inside it!

JulieHRR said...

What a great read! Inspires a lot of internal assessment . . . Thank you! At times, I worry about being "predictable" or "boxing" myself in, and then on the other hand, it is very intrinsically rewarding to have someone tell me that they knew instantly that a design was mine . . .

There is also the matter of being flattered that others want to mimic it, and, yet, simultaneously frustrated that one's artistic thumb print may subsequently become "just another average commodity" . . .