Rick Hirsch is currently a full professor in the School for American Crafts at the Rochester Institute of Technology. As a ceramic artist, he has achieved international recognition. His work is well represented in many museum collections, including the Taipei County Yingko Ceramics Museum, Taipei, Taiwan; The Renwick Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.; the George R. Gardner Museum of Ceramic Art, Toronto, Canada; the Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, North Carolina; the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts; and the Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York.
What was most difficult for you when you finished school?
Figuring out a way to continue making and be involved in ceramics. Back then, there weren’t so many alternatives, like residencies. You could either find a teaching position or seek alternative employment. I’ve never made work that I could live off of, and so I chose to teach. After I got my MFA, I taught in Canada. This enabled me financially to continue making work.
Could you give some tips on how to have a family and pursue a career at the same time?
My success was their success. I was lucky to have a wife who understood that I had to do these things. You walk a tightrope, balancing developing as an artist with family requirements. It takes discipline, time management, drive and self-motivation from day one. From early on you learn about competition. When I was really young, I found competition in sports. As I grew, I transferred from sports into total active engagement in making art.
What do you see young artists struggle with?
How truly committed they are, and what sacrifices they are willing to make. People have to come up with a formula of how to make things happen. Ceramics is not exactly something you can do in a room, it’s expensive, and the financial concerns are real. The general public will support functional, utilitarian ceramics, but if your work doesn’t fall into those categories then you have to find a fallback profession. For one year I didn’t teach, and I found that it was extremely difficult. We as artists pay for materials, and you have to understand that cycle. Sometimes even if you do sell a piece, you wait months to get the check from the gallery, and by that time you should have already been making again. You have to continue working, whether you sell work or not. Very few can rely on the predictability of earning a living. There is no room to fail, and no time for it if you are guided by the market and values. Some galleries have a vision, but today, because it is so expensive to run a gallery, in selecting artists they will select according to whether or not the gallery can sell the work. The market is driven by forces other than the vision of the artist. My resentment is towards artist/commodity; it begins to aesthetically effect your vision.
Which do you find exerts a stronger influence on your work, success or failure?
Neither. At this stage I’m following my own path. I know what the public accepts, and it doesn’t have a lot of bearing on my work. Success doesn’t always come to the right artists. Time is a great equalizer, and it catches up to integrity.
What advice would you give to a young artist?
Keep true to your own aesthetic sensibility and vision. Listen to the market, but don’t get swept away by it. Remain true to yourself. Get up in the morning and think: how can I move my career forward by making better work, making contacts, curating a show, or writing articles?
Always do the best you can do, be professional and articulate. Don’t be a prima donna. You can have your ego wrapped up in your art, but don’t let your ego show when dealing with people.
Stay in contact with inquisitive minds [and] issues in ceramics and in art. This will make you articulate in what you see and what you think. For me, teaching has helped me to maintain a dialogue within a circle of people that refreshes me and doesn’t burn me out.
What have you done to help you get where you are?
Enter shows, and not every show. I discerned what was important. You also have to know the field, who is who and what is what. Find out what shows are important. You have to try to have a game plan and a strategy. You are not just a maker, you have to be a good lecturer, a curator, a shipper, a researcher, and it goes beyond your personal interest. And, get visibility at NCECA! Everyone is trying to get daylight. Think of it not just as travel but as the experiences you see when you travel. Any opportunity is a good opportunity. Since I have been involved in the field there have been a lot of ingredients in success and in staying the course. It’s the people who have abilities in many aspects of the profession who are the ones who do stay the course and who have the ability to develop in all ways.