Keynote Speech - Enamel Convention
Career or Hobby
by Kenneth F. Bates
from Vol. 6, No. 5, October 1987
Greetings - It is a great honor to be here - feel like the whole enameling family is here, and grandfather wants to have a word with you. Title of speech is "Career or Hobby"- Not "Craft or Hobby" which was printed in the first release.
I often ask myself when giving a speech, "What on earth am I doing here? I don't belong here and neither do most of you. You belong in your studio doing what you like to do best. As for me, I have always had a battle with myself, whether gardening or enameling was what I liked best. I like them both, but enameling is what I have chosen as my career and gardening as my hobby. I lecture to garden clubs and Horticulture Societies as much as to enameling clubs.
Perhaps I have already expressed the difference between a career and a hobby and you will be spared a tedious lecture. Gardening for me is not a career because I have not marketed the results, nor been involved with all of its pitfalls, such as aphids on thousands of tomato plants and broken glass by hailstorms. Ollie North - Shredded - Sod. I have, however, both marketed my enamels and am only too familiar with all of the pitfalls associated with a career in enameling.
Recently, I have had a hospital stay which gives one time to contemplate. It affords a respite when one is able to recount the choices of his (or her) life. There are times such as these when one's whole life is revealed, his dreams, his fantasies and plans are unified, one is able to see the whole picture clearly, from beginning to end. A kind of review of successes, as well as failures. Somewhere along the line I made the choice between enameling as a career or gardening as a career. I imagined I would never be turned down in an exhibition, never worry about what the art critic might say. I am sure there are just as many hazards in one profession as another.
Much was said in the sixties about young people "finding themselves". Many left home and went west to discover "who they were". I could never quite understand this. I think I always knew who I was, where I came from, Abraham Lincoln, etc., and fortunately, what I could and couldn't do. I believe that the sooner one finds out what his limitations are, the better. To accept these limitations is the first step in obtaining peace of mind.
The layman expects an artist to know and be able to do everything. If I am asked to paint a portrait, I refer the commission to a portrait painter. Or when I built a new house, I hired an architect to design it. I am neither a portrait painter nor an architect, but if you would like a piece of cloisonné I will be happy to make it for you (for a fee).
How does it happen that you have chosen a career in enameling? Money can't have been the incentive. Surely, the craft of house painting or plumbing or carpentering brings higher wages per hour, and besides, you would be sure of being paid for your labors. How could anything be more valued, though, than to be in control of your own time? How pleasant to look forward to a full day of creative work in the studio - heated, lighted, equipped and perhaps, mortgage free. Are you doing this to benefit yourself or are you hoping that others will benefit by what you do?
If your services are of little value to the average layman, the auto mechanic, the farmer or truck-driver, what good are you to the common welfare? How many of these people will understand your chosen career in enameling? If you merely create for the benefit of other artists, many of whom make an effort to understand you, how then is the world illuminated?
Why do enamelists and all other creative people gather in such curious defensive groups, feeding on one another's approval, growing satisfied, basking in each other's accomplishments? We like to exhibit techniques and results which no layman understands or in which he shows the slightest interest. Why, then do we find ourselves here in Cincinnati blowing our own trumpets amongst our fellow-craftsmen instead of trying to make the uninitiated layman appreciate more of the joys we experience? It may be that the reason artists do not share more is because that which they have to give is not always sought by the layman who rather envies the look of satisfaction he sees in the artist's eye.
To have decided to make a career of enameling rather than accept it as a mere hobby, one must be willing to share his knowledge with others.
Some weeks ago I was disturbed by a lady's remark, who said "Why don't you give more of what you have? Why don't you share with others how to do what you do?" I felt that was an unfair and unwarranted accusation. After all, I have taught for forty-three years at the Art Institute in Cleveland, giving, if I may say so, every drop of blood in this weary old frame. I feel that the publication of my books is also a form of sharing. I think this lady wanted to become an enamelist in six easy lessons.
When Picasso was asked "What is art?" by a visitor to his studio, he answered, "Whatever the source of the emotion that drives me to create. I want to give it a form that has some connection with the visible world, even if it is only to wage war on that world. Otherwise," he continued, "a painting is just an old grab-bag for everyone to reach into and pull out what he himself has put in. Everything I do", he said at 76, "is only one step on a long road. Therefore my works must be seen in relation to one another, keeping in mind what I have already done and what I will do."
We creative artist-craftsmen find this statement of Picasso's entirely comprehensible. But, I am not sure the farmers or the truck driver would know, or even care to know, what he was talking about.
I have lectured to both receptive art groups, and also to hard-boiled business men whose usual question has been, "How many hours did it take you to make that, Mr. Bates, and how much do you charge per hour?" I refuse to honor that question by answering it. Most of you formulate your own answers anyway, and probably never think of hourly wages.
At one of my lectures I proffered an opportunity for the audience to ask questions. (A most unwise gesture, one which should be avoided at all cost.) At this lecture a business man in the back row arose and asked the same old question. "What is art anyway?", he said in a most sarcastic tone of voice. My answer was, "Sir, art concerns that quality of the mind known as imagination, without which, life is not worth living." My businessman sat down with no hesitation, and asked no further questions.
Career enamelists must constantly furnish ideas for exhibitions and sales. But how is that mental process called "getting an idea" best fostered and replenished? Of course, if I, as a producing artist, knew the answer to that question, I would have no trouble turning on that which is called the "creative urge". Unhappily, how and when a good idea comes to an artist is hardly predictable. Often the best idea comes, I have found, at the moment one has finished an ambitious piece. It is said, in the best pedagogical circles, that if, after one classroom problem has been finished, it does not supply an idea for another project, the lesson has been a failure.
I once saw a picture of Benvenuto Cellini's 16th century gold and enamel shell-shaped cup which rests on a turtle's back, and is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A statement said, "Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains," and, "The ignition of genius is an idea." An idea is what everyone in this audience is most concerned with, it is what every creative artist secretly prays for, an idea which will sell. An idea which will bring acclaim or an idea which will make him feel satisfied inside, even though it is an idea which may never be appreciated by anyone other than himself. Sometimes an artist is searching for a "gimmick".
Many years ago I observed a personality device in one of my contemporaries. He, like most artists, had a few failures along life's path, but also an abundance of success. His trick, however, was to relate to all who would listen, the story of his success in life and never his failures. He gave the impression that he won first prize in every exhibition, and always came out "smelling like roses" even though I knew such was not the case. By shouting from the rooftop how infallible he was, and never mentioning anything negative about himself, he found it easy to convince the public of his superiority.
This device, I will admit, is not unique. It is practiced every day by our politicians, and is known as "creating an image". But sometimes such an image may prove to be false, and not the whole picture of the enamelist's life.
Bear with me - I shall not dwell on my childhood, how I decided to be an artist, how many awards and honors I have received, how hard I've worked my fingers to the bone, or how many times little old ladies have called me a genius.
It would be boring, I think, for me to reveal only my successes, and never anything that may have gone wrong. Somehow, I feel that my friends who always make such an effort to create a positive image, leave out much of life's more fascinating episodes.
I must admit that my career has not always been a bed of roses, and I wager some of the things which have happened to me may also have been experienced by many of you, whether you wish to acknowledge them publicly or not.
One of the most common disappointments to all of us, of course, is that of submitting to an exhibition that which we honestly thought was our best work, and having it rejected by some juror whose opinion we respected. In my own case, sometimes jurors are my former students. This actually happened to me. In fact, the student juror was one whom I had graded a low "C". I never knew whether it was revenge, or his sincere judgment. I do remember that the piece he rejected was sold to the museum as I was removing it from the gallery.
But to return to the experience of having what we may have thought was our best endeavor, kicked out of an exhibition, I have convinced myself that this can be a "blessing in disguise". The jury may wish to steer your thinking in the direction of the pieces they accepted instead of the one they bounced. Often this is a very helpful rationale. It, at least, gives one the pleasure of exploring a new technique, or anew dimension. It often leads to a whole new train of thought which otherwise might have been passed.
Another experience was most upsetting to me as I was developing my hobby into a career. It concerns only those who have tried their hand at writing books. I don't really know why an artist struggles to write books. It is not a natural thing for him to do. His training guarantees that he will make better enamels than books. It was my daughter, an English Literature Professor, who informed me that like other artists, I wrote books about my own work purely for glory and self-aggrandizement. I never believed her, but she may have been right. In fact, with my first book on enameling, I think I sincerely tried to impart information to others. That book has done well for over thirty years, and is still selling in many countries.
Years were spent on research, photography, writing and composing another book. Finally, this book with its full color plates, organized chapters, prepared index, tables and jacket was finished. The feeling of accomplishment when an artist finishes his book is akin to the intense feeling he gets when he puts the final polish on a piece of silver, or takes his enamel from the kiln for the last time. Perhaps he is trying to convince himself of talents he may not have.
In any case, my point in telling you about the satisfaction one has in publishing a book is that it can be short lived and that I wish to make this story as dramatic and create as many tears as possible. After autograph parties, the book was launched. Five years went by, royalty checks seemed like unexpected manna from heaven, and then it happened! One day the telephone rang - "Hello, this is your publisher. We just want to inform you that your book on enameling is now out of print." That's not possible, I thought. It's the best book on enameling ever written.
My enamels have been broken, stolen and lost. Such news seldom upsets me, I can replace an enamel, but to have my book go out of print. was like years of my life going down the drain! This kind of experience really cuts deeply.
Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. After sometime and after many sales were lost, The publishers decided to buy the manuscript and re-publish the book.
Another very sad experience which occurred to my career as an enamelist nearly broke my spirit.
Several years ago a job was offered to me which seemed so ideal and so natural that I accepted it without hesitation. Since boyhood I have grown and been acquainted with nearly every flower and plant in people's gardens. Besides this, my aunt. who was a botanist. had taught me much about wild flowers, ferns, trees and insects, and their Latin nomenclature, I was delighted when World Publishing asked me to illustrate a garden encyclopedia. This entailed making over fifteen hundred black and white detailed botanical drawings. These drawings must show for reference, every petal, veination and subdivision of leaf, as well as root system, exactly as if appeared in nature.
The drawings for the garden encyclopedia were finished in six months. The most flattering part of the commission, regardless of its being well paid for, was the finished book jacket which, besides the title, stated "Over Fifteen Hundred Illustrations By Kenneth F Bates".
The tragedy of this story is that before the encyclopedia had gone to press, World Publishing Company sold out to Time Life, whose editors decided to do the whole publication in full color Kodachromes instead of black and white illustrations. This was an episode of my life that hurt my pride. What good was the money received from the 1583 illustrations? Like any good New Englander, the money was not spent, but tucked away for my children and grandchildren.
I am sure as I think about this, that any monetary reward took second place to what recognition I might have received from illustrating such an important publication. The word is "glory". It is a vulgar word, but it lingers in artist's subconscious minds. Artists thrive on "recognition", and if fate allows, also "glory".
There have been other tragedies in my life. I will not mention them, they are personal. I've had my share. We have no guarantee that we will be immune from tragedies, failures and vicissitudes of life But, by the same token, we have no guarantee that we will not be immune.
We have no right to expect, or to pray for immunity. What we must seek is strength of character, and peace of mind when tragedy does strike. What then is definitive? I think I am speaking for the majority of enamelist here when I say that the ego (the inner conviction) is that upon which we are most likely to rely. There are other things which to me seem definite, such as the fecundity of the earth, and the camaraderie of fellow-artists, but none is so important as our absolute sureness about what we are able to accomplish Not that inspiration is easy to come by, nor that it flows in a steady stream, but we are somehow convinced it is there. We are somehow convinced that with concentration, and perhaps with the proper opportunity, we will be able to create that which begs to be ejected from within us.
I believe that one of the major differences between a career enamelist and a hobby enamelist is a matter of time spent on each piece, time for concentration and serious expression. Let me try to explain this concern I have for time, or one might call it "Tempo".
It occurred in my small solarium which is attached to my house In this fluorescent-lighted greenhouse during the winter months I raise, besides other plants, a flower known as Lisianthus. As I inspected a prize plant I was happy to see that several buds had appeared. My thoughts were immediately projected to the time when the buds would burst forth in all their glory. This is a tangible example of how worthless one's impatience become. There was nothing that could make the buds on my Lisianthus develop into full bloom until the allotted time,-about two weeks. I must wait I have no power over such things. I was more excited about the expectation of the bud than the realization of the bloom, but I am so impatient!
Time is a factor in everything we hope to accomplish. The hobbyist rushes through his work, batting out many insignificant pieces, while the career person takes his time and hopes to make a piece for exhibition. Perhaps the farmer, or the one who works with growing things, is aware of this principle better than anyone else. He cannot force his sapling apple tree to bear fruit until it has had at least four years to mature. He realizes that the element of time must figure in planning the profits from his business.
The meaning of the seasons, the fact that all things in nature demand their allotted time, is of utmost importance. Perhaps such bucolic wanderings are both foreign and meaningless to you with big city backgrounds, but I contend that important truths are formulated from the simple phenomena, nature.
When I first arrived in Cleveland, fresh from a small town in New England, I could not understand why everyone was in such a hurry. Where in hell were they all going? Hurrying to get to work in the morning, hurrying to get home at night for their beer and television, hurrying to get through every day. However, it was not long before I fell into the same pattern. Hurrying is a disease! There is impatience all around us I ask when a commission is due, or a manuscript must be finished. The answer, especially if it comes from New York City, is always - "Yesterday". This is supposed to be amusing, but alter years of misuse of the expression, "It must be done Yesterday", it ceases to be funny, but merely reflects an altitude of our times and to me, is very irritating.
In America things happen in a hurry. People want to lose weight in a few easy sessions, they want to be successful in business overnight. They want to become popular artists, or good craftsmen without art school training.
We seem to abhor quiet and silence. They are disallowed, they are unpopular in our particular social structure. The hobbyist never seems to find time in his life to study basic design, he is only interested in techniques or searching for a quick sale.
The great French philosopher, Pascal, wrote in the seventeenth century, "I have often said that all the troubles of man come from his not knowing how to sit still, or how to combat obstacles in order to get repose, and when he gets it, the repose is intolerable. He either thinks of the troubles he has, or the ones he is going to get, and even if he feels entirely safe, boredom sets in and fills the mind with its venom."
There is little time for boredom in a true craftsman's life. There are too many deadlines - deadlines for exhibitions - deadlines for the publisher- and deadlines for living. Weeks and months speed by at a much too rapid tempo. This, I know.
I challenge anyone of you to take some time out of every day, to look and listen without any ulterior motive whatsoever. Forget that you are craftsmen, designers or producing artists. Look and listen more the way you did when you were five years old. Then, you just looked because everything seemed to interest you. The whole world was exciting to you. Then you accepted nature without the constant pressure of ambition, competition or exhibition. You accepted, as a child, sights and sounds which are the very source of your power and professionalism today. You no longer feel the pressure of turning out dozens of Christmas gift butterfly pendants.
We find ourselves having chosen the life of a craftsman, a career which is concerned with timing. It behooves us to neither hasten our existence nor drag our feet.
In most television interviews, the question is usually asked, "What is your advice to young people who wish to take up enameling as a career?" If this question were asked of me, I think I would say, "Number one: take advantage of every opportunity, don't shy away from exhibitions, lectures, and demonstrations whether you like to do them or not, and two: satisfy your own sense of taste; never let any piece get away from the studio which does not meet your standard. At least, you must like it, perhaps someone else will - and I might add, number three: keep a photographic record of everything you do; who knows, you might become famous some time."
Life is a journey with its vicissitudes, its rewards and its disappointments, but let us remember that the everlasting journey through life is happier than the impossible arrival could ever be.
I leave you with this thought, happiness is a state of mind in which one is not actually aware of being miserable.
Whether you have chosen to be an enamel hobbyist or prefer to develop that hobby into a career, I wish you all the happiness in the world. God Bless and Peace. I love you all!!!
Copyright © 2012, Glass on Metal Magazine