Sunday, February 8, 2015

Inside the Enigma

"Look in the mirror, look in the mirror, what does it show?
I hear you counting, I know you're adding, adding up the score."



"A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."

Winston Churchill used this phrase to describe Russia during a radio broadcast in October 1939.

I use it today to describe the vagaries of taste in lampwork beads.

Beauty really must be in the eye of the beholder, when beads that I would describe as the road gravel of artisan glass are bid up to surreal prices.

As an artist, I'd be embarrassed to accept someone's hard-earned $75 for seven very pedestrian abstract nugget beads.

At the same time, and for perhaps the first time, I had the urge to send a message to a beadmaker who had listed 77 spacers for a start bid of $6 and a buy-it-now option of $10.

I've always sat on the other side of that fence, maintaining that pricing is a personal decision. I've said that no one owes anything to the lampwork community as a whole in terms of pricing their beads in line with anyone else's beads. I've had no patience with the argument that artists who need to earn a living shouldn't be undermined by hobbyists who don't need to make money and are just selling for fun.

I'd like to say my impulse to message this artist was solely out of concern that she was selling herself short. To some degree, it was. But I won't deny that I was a little pissed because I was offering 20 similar beads for $20 and already thought that was a steal of a deal.

I didn't send her a message. I know how I'd react if anyone sent me a message about my pricing. I might not say it, but I'd think it. Piss off.

Besides, I'd bet good money that not everyone has my self restraint and that someone else would probably read her the riot act and save me the bother.

I did a trunk show this week. It ran from Sunday night to Tuesday night. One of my buyers and I started chatting on the last night and she asked me if I'd had a good show.

Monday had been slow. Tuesday was a little better. I sold a fair number of beads, mostly for the opening bid prices. A fair number of my listings had no bids.

I said, it's hard to answer that. I struggle with it. I compare myself to others. I know that isn't good.

She said, I collect from many different artists ... you are one of my favorites ... I've read that sales are slow these days all around ... I guess it goes in cycles.

I said, you are sweet. I do have a lot of faithful regular customers and I had some new ones in this show.

She said, see? Then it was a successful show because you got some new fans! Good for you!

That's when I whipped out the line about the riddle-mystery-enigma. What sells, what doesn't sell.

Will I ever learn to stop worrying that particular bone? I don't think there is any answer really.

My real frustration comes in, I think, because I want to be a better bead maker than I am. I want to be the bead maker who sells every damn bead she lists in her trunk show, the one who has bidding wars on her beads.

Then again, I don't want my beads bid up to prices above what I perceive to be their value.

It's hard to really dissect what it is that I want. Bead sales validate whatever that is, but it isn't the sales per se that I want. I want to create beauty. I want to achieve a level of artistry that goes beyond competence. It's intangible, I suppose. There are no concrete measurements, no metrics other than bead sales, and bead sales are not an authentic metric. As witnessed by the rubbish beads that command unfathomable prices.

There is only one thing to do, that I can think of, and that is to just keep making beads. I'll either get there or I won't.

Sometimes all it takes to make me happy is to open the kiln and have one bead out of 30 that I feel really good about.

Here are two recent ones. My heart did a little flip when I saw how they turned out.


These are not for sale yet. I'm that much in love with them.

That could be a problem, if I ever get to where I want to be.

I'll deal.


Look in the mirror, look in the mirror, what does it show?
I hear you counting, I know you're adding, adding up the score
I know, oh yes I know
What you tell yourself, tell yourself
I know what you tell yourself, you tell yourself

Ever since Eden, we're built for pleasing, everyone knows
Ever since Adam cracked his ribs and let us go
I know, oh yes I know
What you tell yourself, you tell yourself
I know what you tell yourself, you tell yourself

Who taught you how to lie so well
And to believe in each and every word you say?
Who told you that nothing about you is all right
It's just no use, it's just no good, you'll never be OK?

Well I know, I know that wrong's been done to you
It's such a tough world, that's what you say
And I know, I know it's easier said than done
But that's enough girl, give it away
Give it, give it all away

Tell yourself that you're not pretty
Look at you, you're beautiful
Tell yourself that no one sees
Plain Jane, invisible me, just tell yourself
Tell yourself

Tell yourself you'll never be
Like the anorexic beauties in the magazines
Like a bargain basement Barbie doll
No belle du jour, no femme fatale
Just tell yourself
Tell yourself

Tell yourself there's nothing worse
Than the pain inside and the way it hurts
But tell yourself it's nothing new
Cause everybody feels it too
They feel it too

And there's just no getting 'round
The fact that you're thirteen right now."

(Natalie Merchant)

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