When I was twelve years old, my father trundled me out to the back porch of my grandfather’s house one summer and read to me The Enchiridion of Epictetus. I tell you this not to gain your sympathy, but as a small illustration of how I came to be formed. For me, everything is and always has been steeped in ethical significance. Decisions based out of anything other than a philosophical approach to existing in the world are not only foreign to me, but strike me as bereft, and a little ugly.
And so it has been with my work: Philosophy Matters.
One of the philosophies that has driven my work, unfortunately, has proven unworkable. For the past six years I have tried very hard to make art that is affordable, because it was my philosophy that ordinary people deserve art. Art should not necessarily be elitist or exclusive. Like many people, I believe that part of the definition of “art” is uniqueness, and it is for this reason that I have resisted production work and duplicate designs.
Makers — crafters, designers, manufacturers, whatever — do production work specifically because it is cost effective. Design is the hard part. Cranking out copy after copy of a design becomes progressively easier the more copies you make, and the per-item cost of making goes down significantly. The efficiency of scale and all that.
But like a lot of people (not all, by any means) I happen to think that “art” and “production” are not compatible. What turns out to be equally incompatible, however, is “art” and “cheap.”
And so I find myself at the proverbial crossroads: I can either continue to make art that satisfies my soul and quit trying to keep it under a low budget point, or I can let go of trying to offer “art” for the masses and just surrender to the production model. It makes me a little sick, but there it is. And so it is time to say goodbye to the cheap one-of-a-kind earrings.
Frankly, those earrings are a nightmare. And I’m not sure anybody but me cared that they were one of a kind. That in itself was disheartening. Why am I running around being Affordable Art Girl getting all precious about One Of A Kind when nobody shopping really gave a damn?
It became especially trying when people lost one of their cheap earrings and wanted it replaced. That whole “one of a kind” thing never seemed to register: There are no replacements. It was the only one in the world like it wasn’t an answer they wanted to hear. But you made it in the first place, why not make another one?
Sometimes they even expected the replacement to be free. Like it was my fault they lost it. Like I was making anti-gravity earrings, or earrings that reached out and grabbed scarves. I have never lost an earring in my life, but some people seem to shoot earrings out of their ears like tiny cannonballs.
If, like most people, my cheap earrings were production designs, I would just have to pull one of the many off the shelf and send it on it’s way. Easiest thing in the world. But I don’t make multiples, which means making a replacement requires making one earring to match half of a pre-existing pair. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, that’s actually harder than making a whole new pair. Which meant I always ended up making a whole new pair anyway. For one earring. That was half price.
If it had cost more would they have taken better care of it? I often wondered.
What is Target’s earring replacement policy? I often wondered that too. I suspect if you lose your cheap Target earring they won’t break up a pair for you. How many people get angry about that, I wonder?
And I got to really resenting it. Resentment is not good for art.
Production design just plain doesn’t make sense to me. Cranking out limitless copies of something is what machines are good for, I see no point in humans doing it. So it’s handmade, so what? Why should the ten-thousandth handmade thingy be any more special than the ten-thousandth machine made thingy? I have no desire to be a factory with fingers. I’d rather wait tables. That just happens to be my preference. For me, it’s not about making stuff. It’s about creating stuff. And that only happens once.
And so this marks the end of the earring replacement service. Because it’s art, not just stuff, and once it’s gone it’s gone for good.
And soon the cheap earrings will be gone too. I’ll be a little sad to see them go.