Life on the Road Blog: Why Artists Create

November 2022, by Scott Obernberger

Reflections From a Fellow Artist

Fall is here and Christmas is coming up fast! Hopefully, everyone had a great summer season. And now we all buckle down for that final sales push to the holidays. 

For me, this is the busiest time of the year. There is something about fall that helps drive pottery sales. 

I just finished a three-day show over Labor Day weekend and am pretty wiped out. As artists and businesspeople, we are constantly running. 

Our business is not like most retail businesses. They sell what’s on their shelves, seek new items they believe will sell, order them, and then put the new ones out for sale. Sure, there are a lot of additional things retailers must do, but they don’t have to make their product in addition to staging, marketing, and selling it.  

As soon as we finish one show, we are back in the shop making new art and packing up for the next show, and then off we go. It is a vicious circle, it is grueling, and oftentimes people don’t fully appreciate how much work goes into what we do. And yet we do it. Why? 

Count the Reasons

Creation is fulfilling. Using my hands to shape the clay, watching the wheel spin, and taking a lump of mud and transforming it into something not just beautiful but also usable makes me feel like I’ve put a little bit of positive energy out there, which someone else will enjoy and incorporate into their life. 

It may sound silly but hearing from customers that my mug — that thing I made out of clay — is their favorite mug gives me a small sense of pride. The smile on their face as they tell me brings me some joy because I know I made someone else happy. 

It’s the challenge. Even though our profession can be grueling, the feeling of accomplishment each time we reach a milestone, do the impossible, break a production or sales record, or have that “eureka” moment is incredible. 

Some people climb mountains. Some run races. We do both. Each time we make it across a finish line or reach a summit, we know we succeeded in doing something we set out to do. 

It’s putting beauty into the world. There is so much darkness and sadness in our world right now. Current events and the news take a very real toll on us and can crush our spirits and weigh down our souls (for those of you who are C.S. Lewis fans, ask Screwtape). 

Art can and, in my opinion, should be a way to bring joy to others. Yes, there is a place for political messaging, but when is the last time you saw political art hanging in someone’s dining room? 

People want beauty, joy, and things that uplift them and tell all of us there is good in the world. It’s nice to know something we make can do this, even if for only a moment or two. 

It’s connecting to others. We are so lucky that we get to not only make art but also meet our customers, talk with them, see a little bit of who they are, and then know where our creation will make its new home. 

What other profession can say that? So many stories. So many experiences. For some, the mug is a personal purchase, a treat for themselves as they start the day each morning. 

For others, a vase is going to be filled with flowers and brought to the bedside of a close friend or family member to try to cheer them up during a difficult time. We get to touch people’s lives in a very direct way. 

A thousand times over, we help bring a little bit of joy to someone. We help bring compassion. We get to help nurture relationships. All these reasons are why we do what we do. 

Purple Haze

In the news today is a story about an invasion. Apparently, AI-generated art is now attempting to supplant us. 

With programs like DALL·E 2 (OK, as wrong as this is, you must appreciate the name), people can simply type a few words and then the program apparently searches the internet for pictures and crafts artwork based on concepts and the imagery associated with them. 

An entry submitted to the Colorado State Fair using one such program recently won the prize for digital art. Not exactly a win, if you ask me. 

Should we panic? Are we replaceable? Is this the end of art as we know it? No. 

People have cheated throughout human history. While this person won his award fairly (he properly listed how the work was “created”), he created nothing. 

To make “art” in this way is to ultimately cheat ourselves. We cheat ourselves out of the creative process. We cheat ourselves out of the experience of creation. We cheat ourselves out of being a part of giving others joy through our work. 

No matter how stunning or “finished” an AI-generated piece may be, it lacks the human touch. Sure, some people will turn to these devices to make graphics for different purposes. Some people will even hang a finished product on the wall and be content with it. 

But they will always know it isn’t real. And we know it is only through hard work, late nights, and a flicker of human inspiration that real art is created. And we know why we do it. 

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The shelves in Scott Obernberger’s studio are full of more work to complete after a busy show weekend. 
Photos courtesy of Scott Obernberger