Tony Marsh is a sculptor and vessel maker who teaches at California State University, Long Beach. His works are in the collection of the Cranbrook Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Monterey Museum of Art and Arizona State University. He work is currently being represented but the Garth Clark Gallery, the Frank Lloyd Gallery and the Revolution Gallery.
Although the educational system encourages passivity, do not be passive about your education. Do not wait for an instructor or institution to give you what you need; go get it now. Learn to ask a lot of one’s self while working, more than the institutions ask of you. I am afraid that most students do not ask enough of themselves while making.
Life is long, prepare well.
Teach yourself how to learn and when to be patient and when to be urgent. Have the capacity for both.
You might engage many instructors, but will not have many teachers in life. Aim high.
Some of your teachers may already be dead, but their work lives on and teaches. Sometimes you need to argue as a maker with the work of your “teachers”. The ultimate aim is to surpass your teachers. That students are “better” than their teachers is one of the primary hopes for the advancement of humanity (I’m not just talking about art here). Aim high with your “teachers”, then surpass them; whatever that means to you.
Let your formal and informal education be varied in every respect.
One of the most difficult things to understand as a maker is…..honestly, who you are?
The second hardest thing after that is to decide if you can accept who you are as a maker. If you can, then life is good, if not, then you are conflicted as a maker and may not do your best work. So look in the mirror or look at your work and ask: Who am I as maker? This can be complex because school is confusing and takes time to sort out. Or perhaps your teachers want you to be something else and you go along with it. Or perhaps you undervalue your true talents because you don’t think it’s hip enough. You know it is sexier to be a multi-media installation artist than a functional potter, right? Maybe not.
Are you curious about the world and how you react artistically to it? Do you know how to exert your will power while making? Are you prideful? Can you be alone? Do you really know how to concentrate?
Initially, one works for the power and excitement of internal discovery. Do this for awhile so that you become internally, artistically strong. First, learn to work because you are internally motivated to do so. Learn to deal later with external motivations for working. The two do not always coexist well together. To work based on internal motivations is to constantly work towards discovery. So internal motivations are discovery, satisfaction, growth, self/artistic knowledge. External motivations are money, prestige, the material. You need both, just try, as time to understand how one affects the other in your life. Be aware that, as your work shifts from being essentially a personal & private enterprise as a student to something that engages the culture as a professional artist, there will be a collision between two completely different value systems, both of which are important but potentially in conflict.
To make under the best circumstances is to be fully absorbed and fully engaged in what you are doing. It is to be lost in timelessness (the eternal). To fully engage the mind, memory and body while you work is to be fully alive in what you make.
Learn to make what you love rather than what you think others will love. It is what you deeply love that others are can be truly moved by.
Over time, what refuses to go away in your work is probably at the core of what you make.
Learn to understand fear and failure in your own way. Accept that they are a permanent part of working creatively, especially with clay. An old friend of mine, who is now a spectacular artist, once told me when still young that he was “scared as hell most of the time but went forward anyway with things while being afraid.” In other words, he didn’t wait until fear disappeared before he could start working.
To be lost in the world of your own artistic ideas is a blessing and only really comes from prolonged intensive engagements with your studio practice. So make time for long intensive engagements with your ideas.
Make what you love, because most of the people who view your work will either be ambivalent or not like it at all anyway, so you’d better. This is an audience that cannot be pleased and will leave you on dry ground if you think you are working for them. Make what is true to you, an extension of your character and the results will build and find an audience through your perseverance.
1. Working in the studio
2. Exhibiting what you make
3. Selling what you make
These are three very different activities that are not necessarily connected. An exhibition that does not sell well should do nothing to take away from the joy you experienced while making (if you were doing it right). You do not always need to show or sell everything you make.
Find ways to make things that:
- Amaze you
- Satisfy you deeply
- Arouse curiosity
- Teach you
- Give you pleasure
- Manifest your passion
Be careful what you wish for; it may come true, so aim high Be artistically ambitious. Be professionally ambitious. Be willing and understand well how to test small ideas and grow them large.
Learn to control critical voices before things are made, and be willing to try an idea before condemning it. Wait and critique the object rather than the tender idea; you will move farther along if you do and discover small wonderful things in your work if you allow them to evolve.
Learn to love solving problems.
Learn in a real way to deal with your disappointments in life; you will have many in ceramics. Decisions that are made following disappointment are often critical to future success.
Allow what you learn from this process of becoming in the arts to permeate your life. Be creative in all things you do.
Learn to connect in the moment to the long and beautiful history of all of the arts.
Your toolbox will need to have in it:
- Tremendous work ethic
- Deep pride
- The ability in your own way to express your passion
- Never ending curiosity
- Tremendous will power
- A gyroscope that steadily moves you in the direction of things you love
Well, that’s enough for now. I think that everything I have written here applies to potters or sculptors. To understand a lot of this early on is to ensure future success.