Don't Take the Feedback

Originally published: 2022/02/06


I've been pondering a few themes for the last few weeks, as I continue to adjust to a new life of single-parenthood and financial independence.


White stoneware soup bowl with dill flowers


One of the themes I have been pondering is influence. Over the course of my marriage, my former spouse influenced the work that I made. It's interesting to review in hindsight, because in the moment you don't necessarily realize that it's happening.


First a little history. Prior to our relationship, my former spouse purchased a tableware set from a box store. This set included 6 identical cups, 6 identical dinner plates, 6 identical bowls, and 6 identical salad plates. Black. No decoration. In general, this person finds it easier to live in a fairly organized, nearly spartan fashion. External visual noise is uncomfortable.


I want to stop here and say, in no way is this a judgement or a critique of the person or their (or anyone else’s for that matter) preferred way of living. I am simply setting the stage, so to speak.


We began dating, and eventually “shacked up” together. Eventually I moved out of the community studio environment and started my own studio. I’d open the kiln to my experiments and eventually to work I would sell. Sometimes I would be pretty stoked. Look at the glaze on this one! Isn’t the curve on that pot nice?


Of course, I would want to share these things with my partner. He would make comments like, “well, none of these match each other.” “That one is taller than this one.” “Did you mean for that to happen?” And these comments would leave me a little deflated.


There was more than a bit of irony of this last Christmas when I gave him a set of four (black) ice cream bowls I’d made for him because he’d helped me set up my new studio after we split. (Not married any more, but still good friends, which is nice.) I worked very hard to be sure that they were as close to each other as possible. And he loves them. Four matched black bowls. First time ever there was no critique, only compliments.


In my creative life, I want to explore irregularity, tension. And as I continue to explore those themes, I realize that I am finding my expression again. Then I wonder, where the hell did it go? I remember this excitement early in my clay days. And it dawns on me. As a maker, an artist, I had started to internalize the feedback of someone who doesn’t do color, or mismatch, or different. I began making “acceptable” work, normal pots.


And then I fell down the other rabbit hole of “I want to be a potter that sells work” and I dropped to the bottom of the well. I developed lines of work, forms that I could make over and over. I so desperately wanted to make a living, so I started to make work I thought other people would buy.

So I think I learned two things:

  1. A maker should never accept the feedback from someone who buys their tableware from a box store.

  2. A maker needs to make their own work. That voice inside will guide. Contentment, peace, happiness will follow.

I’m curious, please answer below. How does influence of others, intended by them or not, affect your art? How does the casual comment change your trajectory?

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