One of the biggest themes that I’ve returned to over and over again this year with each step toward growing this business is the question, is doing this craft-making thing worthwhile? This question feels so redundant as I write it down, especially after sticking out five years of university art history classes. In some ways that nagging concern of mine really is related to those academic questions, like whether craft is art, and how to categorize objects as high art or low art or somewhere in-between, and how to decide that something is valuable.
But in another sense, it’s simpler. I think that everyone, at least to some extent, wants to feel like they’re doing something useful. It’s been odd to become more and more invested in the world of making objects that I think people will like aesthetically. My day-to-day work focuses on thinking about concrete things; how much pigment do I add to make this colour brighter? Are bunnies as cute as cats? Should I make this leg thicker so that my planter doesn’t fall over? Will the faces look cuter if I lower them proportionally on the bodies? These questions are so normal for me. And it’s funny to come home at the end of the day and talk to Jo about how his day was (he works at a day centre for homeless folks), and to hear about things that are really normal questions for him– how do I love this person when they keep taking drugs, or talking back to me? Or how do I listen well to peoples’ stories, but not let those stories become a burden? The contrast sometimes feels so stark, and it’s easy for me to start thinking that the questions that he’s thinking about are more meaningful than the ones that I deal with.
It makes me realize that I have choices in how to see my work, and in how I see the world. I love that Jo does the work that he does (even though it’s very hard). I love that he gets to be helpful to people at the centre, finding them the resources they need, listening to their stories, and giving them food bags so that they have enough to eat for the week. It’s just so obvious that this is good, useful work.
But I am learning, slowly, that there is something very important about my work too, even though it is small and simple. There’s something that gets me so incredibly excited when I find a new piece to add to my collection of mid-century Scandinavian ceramics, or when I try out a new colour on my work and it’s exactly what I was hoping for, or when I check on my balcony garden and there’s a perfect little ripe fruit ready to eat on the tomato plant.
The first time that last happened this year, I found a single cherry tomato that had ripened among tons of still-green ones. I picked it and then Jo and I brought it into the kitchen, and I cut it in half carefully with our little paring knife, and we cheers-ed the two halves together, and we ate and grinned. I tasted all the hard work and all the hopefulness I’d put into helping that plant along, and the freshness of the fruit, and it was utter deliciousness. It wasn’t sustenance for a whole person, or even a whole meal. But it was a glimpse of beauty, this joyful fruit!
So I am starting, and hope I will continue, to learn to see my work like that, too. My little salt cellars and planters won’t accomplish the same kind of work that Jo’s work will. But I get to make little glimpses of beauty, and there is a different sort of hopefulness and life in that.