Last week my ceramics compatriot Karen Hansen posted about a workshop we recently attended. She titled her post “Generosity” and it was a goodie because she observed the same scenario I did in the workshop and then went on to express appreciation for how some of the artists in the audience had freely enriched her ceramics life – perhaps more than the presenter had.
I knew seven other folks in attendance that day as well. I had carpooled with three of them. On the ride home, it was clear the overall impressions we independently arrived at were similar, some kinder than others. (There was some high dudgeon hooting and hollering from the backseat.) I remember saying I got one or two new tips and felt OK in spite of the more challenging aspects to the day.
Our unquestionably fabulously skilled presenter had begun the session by issuing a few cautionary remarks about photo-taking, re-copying the handout and about online sharing of her methods. It was a bit off-putting. OK fine, I thought, she’s from a larger playing field and has had problems with this. She even mentioned something about being under contract. Respect.
But then she stinted on her whole presentation, both in time use and content. We spent most of the four hours of active demo-time watching her waver over design decisions, handbuild with wet clay (s-l-o-w) and then brush on layers and layers of underglazes, drying each one with a heat gun (s-l-o-w-e-r.) For you non-clay readers, this would be like asking cooking show viewers to watch menu-planning, ingredient assembling and the dough rise. There were a few stories and questions during these excruciating procedures, but not enough to divert us from that Waiting Around Sensation – in a chilly studio with hard chairs, to boot. In the final half hour or so, she hurriedly dug into what most of us had come to learn and ask questions about, and yet did not dish much beyond the obvious. Using stains, underglazes and carving are Ceramics 101 topics, and the techniques she shared, while skilled, are not remarkable.
One of the van riders called it stingy. Ouch!
I have to admit it was a first for me to watch a ceramics expert apply the brakes to not only how they showed their process, but to attempt to control how their audience could or could not discuss it with others later. One of the things I love dearly about the clay community the world over is the genial willingness to share special secrets and explain how-tos, knowing that those who hear and see them will:
A. Perhaps not be any further interested in working like that. Thank you very much.
B. Maybe not understand them clearly enough to do them because it’s blowing their minds.
C. Be more interested in cherry-picking and adapting those methods to their own way with clay.
Or, D. Try to replicate the style and techniques which will just never, ever come out the same.
Outright rip-offs are another kind of hacking issue entirely. But if you don’t want to risk being copied, don’t give demonstrations!
Karen quoted Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist. He encourages us to Share Like An Artist too, because everything is a mash-up.
Let me add some generosity encouragement from Seth Godin: “Do the (extra) work…The habit of doing more than is necessary…is priceless.” This means to freely give your enthusiasts more than they came for. Explain it all. Throw in the 13th donut! Tuck in a free notecard. Offer dessert on the house. (The link for Seth goes to his Free Stuff page.) The idea of giving more for good measure is so engrained in some cultures they have a word for it. My favorite is the Creole word lagniappe: the extra lil something that sweetens everyone’s part of the deal.
Abundance. Good Will. Buzz. Leo Babauta calls it “psychitude”, the stoke from giving generously that adds meaning and warmth to our days. I would have enjoyed sharing the unique and quirky things I learned in that workshop with you, illustrated with interesting photos, but I quickly put my camera away that morning and haven’t yet looked at my notes or the handout.
~Liz Crain, who seems to have the song “Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave” by Dave Mason stuck in her head.
4 thoughts on “Echoes of Generosity: Lagniappe and Psychitude”
Excellent post as always Liz. I’ve attended gobs of painting workshops over the years. During one a decade or so ago, the instructor shared a little tidbit of helpful information with me. My response was, “oh goodie! A secret!” Her response was, “Oh nooo! Let’s share the good news!” And she did. The goodwill she generated by her willingness to give everything she knew to her students is still with me all these years later. I use it as an example of the kind of teacher/artist/person I want to be.
Hi Patty! I agree, that the sharing of secrets is such a powerful way to create engagement and also to set that fabulous example. When we belong to a tribe, it’s great to see the “elders” not only showing us The Way but also the way to be. My hunch is you are already that kind of teacher/artist/person.
great post. I often think about and talk about how generous and community-minded potters are and think it’s a result of how they’ve been historically. The great physical effort of extracting clay and firing required that potters cooperate.
I was surprised someone was so stingy.
I love what you said about 4 possibilities of what happens with those “secrets”. I think you were spot on!
Glynnis, Thanks for stopping by and for your understanding. I agree, potters have always needed each other and the culture of sharing and community is partly why I hung around until I actually could manage some work to my satisfaction. I had lots of help along the way, so I was relieved to hear it was also a shock to plenty of other people that day. I thought maybe it was just me being cranky, but apparently not!
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