I want to tell you a story.
I want to tell you this story because I want to inspire you, move you, plant a tiny seed in the garden of your mind – except let me establish right now I am not weeding your brain. I mean, your brain is fine, but weeding is evil.
Here’s the story, which is not.
You know those memes that are always on Facebook, the ones about living your dreams, following your passion, being the world you want to see in loose change? Nine years ago, I did that, or at least some of that, resigning from my six-figure salary in order to have three nickels, a happy heart, and a peaceful soul. And I do.
I now work as an artist. I want to repeat that: I WORK as an artist. You would think, in that case, that I would follow some other memes that you see on Facebook, like the ones about buying art and supporting artists. Yet those memes go right by me – in one eye, and out a kidney.
As a matter of course, I don’t “buy art.” I buy . . . food. I buy postage stamps. I buy wrapping paper from the stupid fundraiser catalog that my kid brings home from school. Art doesn’t factor into my budget unless I’m giving a gift – or at least, I didn’t think it did. But then.
Last autumn, my dishes started falling apart, almost as if their “use by” date had arrived in the night. They cracked. We sighed. They chipped. We glued. When my mother offered to rescue us by buying us new dishes for Christmas, we gratefully accepted. We browsed the 25 patterns offered by a national manufacturer and picked one. Then we got the news: Back ordered.
Since I didn’t want any of the 24 remaining patterns, I told my mom we’d wait. And we waited. And while we waited, an artist friend of mine named Michelle posted a picture of some of her pottery on Facebook. Like her page, win the cups – that sort of thing. I saw the picture once, possibly twice. Nothing. No light bulbs. No connections. Nothing. Weeks went by. The contest was ending when something finally stirred inside my thick skull. Dishes. I need dishes. I’m not getting any dishes the usual way. Michelle makes dishes the more awesome way. Her dishes are gorgeous. Dishes are art. Holy crap, I CAN SUPPORT AN ARTIST.
I wrote to Michelle to see if she was interested in the project, and then I wrote to my mom to see if she would support the project, taking the money she would have given to the large company and redirecting it to Michelle. I won’t lie: Mom was nervous. I reassured her that Michelle has been doing pottery for 20 years, that my friend Sarah has some cups from Michelle, that Sarah loves them. After a short period of deliberation, Mom sent us a check. Merry Christmas, baby. I was getting dishes made by hand by an artist – but I didn’t even know yet what that meant. I didn’t know how that would feel.
To get started, Michelle asked for a deposit to get clay, which she buys locally out in Massachusetts. After sending us options for the glaze, she started a simple conversation with me, asking about the foods we most often put in our bowls. Uhhhh . . . what? Dishes designed for us, for the stuff we like to eat? Is that even legal for a member of the middle class? I told her we’re very big into chilis and soups and stews, even in summer, when I make giant bowls of gazpacho and mozzarella salad with grape tomatoes and fresh basil. You know what else I told her? No coffee cups. Screw coffee cups. We don’t drink coffee, and I hate giving up shelf space for coffee cups I don’t want and won’t use.
She said, “No problem.”
She picked a bowl design that would work for us, and she didn’t make us a single cup. While she worked, she posted pictures on Facebook of my dishes drying – MY dishes, each one of them hand thrown.
Her hands to our mouths. For me, these pictures had a quality of unreality about it, a quality of fantasy, like someone was going to come in and say, “Just kidding, little lady! There are 25 patterns in all the world. Go back and pick another one.”
Instead, things moved forward. Michelle started putting our dishes into the kiln, and she stopped posting pictures. She didn’t want me to see before I could see them, hold them in my own hands – and that brought us to the shipping. The shipping scared the hell out of me. Mom paid for the dishes, but what about the shipping? I was imagining that it would cost $100, $150 – something horrific. Then Michelle told me: $35. I almost cried.
She shipped the dishes last Friday. We got them Wednesday afternoon, and we ate from them Wednesday night. I love these dishes. I love them almost like parts of my own body. The bowls are deep and beautifully shaped. The plates are the perfect size, making reasonable portions look kingly. The glaze is mesmerizing. They are ours. We will never get “tired” or “bored” of these dishes. Each one is different and unique, and what’s more, they aren’t simple objects; they are infused – already – with meaning and memory and joy.
Part of the joy is this message from Michelle, which I quote with her permission: “I might even try to incorporate the dishes into my first grant application. . . . I’ve been working to upgrade my space for wholesale production, including a new employee, and this project is the perfect example of the possibilities and the need.”
Wow. So . . . I needed dishes, and Michelle may get to replace her kiln. Upgrade her space. Create a job.
That is the power, the intimacy, and the joy of giving money to an artist. In a small way, I changed her life. In an even more meaningful way, she changed mine, because I finally understood. I can buy art. Put another way, I can buy the artistic, aesthetically appealing, emotionally thrilling version of something I would have purchased anyway: Salt and pepper shakers that aren’t rusty, a new salad bowl to replace the one the babysitter broke, something cool for the blank walls in my brother’s new apartment, a sweater I can wear in the summer, when I’m always cold.
I can buy art. And so can you.
Oh, and check out my dishes, because they’re super freaking cool. I share with you the entire unpacking process, because we haven’t been this excited about opening packages since we were 6. Seriously.