Thursday, January 23, 2014

CeraJet: Taking a "Disruptive Technology" Seriously

A "Distruptive Technology" Up Close and Personal

A little over a year ago, I was part of a team that organized a meeting for government and military logisticians to talk about additive manufacturing (3D printing) as a "Disruptive Technology" that could have huge implications on tomorrow's supply chain.

Today, I want to talk about that same subject in a context that has personal implications for thousands of small artisans that work in the field of ceramics.  They could be part time potters taking in a few dollars at local art shows or full-time sculptors whose work sells for thousands of dollars.  They could be selling their wares in well-known art centers, like the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria.  or, they could be laboring in the poorest of countries making simple utilitarian cups, bowls and pots.  They could be working with clay for a thousand different purposes.  What ever they are doing, clay crafts persons have a place of respect in our family.

The Importance of "Hand Crafted" to the Clay Community

It is amazing how many people find themselves, at one time or another, working in clay in one form or another.  For the most part, the way they work is not much different than the way potters have worked for a thousand years... forming the clay by hand.

This is true even for those that use molds as the starting point for their clay creations.  While this could be considered a bit more "mechanized", there is still a good bit of hand work that is required to complete their pieces.

The importance that clay artisans place on creating "Hand Crafted" work cannot be dismissed lightly. And, yet, we have to remember that ALL ships were once "Handcrafted" as were just about every item used in the daily life of people.

What a Craftsperson Has to Sell

An artist, or serious craftsperson, at the most basic level, has only two things to sell... a unique vision and a unique skill.  Working in clay combines these two elements in an almost primal way where skilled hands, directed by the unique vision manually shape something of compelling beauty and value.  I suspect that  this Head/Hand relationship is exactly why so many people enjoy working in clay.  And, for many, it will be unthinkable that it would be any other way.

But, that is no longer true.  There is a new "Disruptive Technology" in town.  And, every ceramic craftsperson... whether they embrace it or not... owes it to themselves to understand the implications for their own creative future.

Empathy for Resistance to Change

I have to tell you, I have a great deal of empathy for ceramics artists that can't even begin to understand why anyone would not want to get their hands dirty creating ceramic objects and art the way it has been done for thousands of years.  I understand where they are coming from and agree with the reasons they feel so strongly.  You will never hear me ridiculing anyone that dismisses Ceramic 3D printing for their own work.  But, at the same time, I want these artists to understand that Ceramic 3D printing IS going to be disruptive to the field and that disruption, while troubling to some, will bring a whole new vision to the world of ceramic arts.

What a 3D Craftsperson Has to Sell

Those ceramic artisans that embrace ceramic 3D printing still have, when all is said and done, only two things to sell... their unique vision delivered via unique skills.  But, the vision can be unshackled from the limitations of the clay working processes and the skills are applied in different areas and different orders.  

Potential Distruptions

If I were an artist today that created intricate sculptures  in clay, I would be very concerned by the reality that one of the first impacts on my field might be on how the public is going to be able to differentiate my "handcrafted" art from 3D printed production art.  It is very likely to appear very much the same.

Clay and Ceramic magazines and journals understand the community they serve.  But, what happens if the ceramic community begins to diverge into different segments with people having surprisingly different skill sets.  Is it possible for traditional clay artists and ceramic 3D artists to embrace each other as members of the same artistic community bound by their love of ceramics?

I certainly hope so.  We need both.  The future needs both.

The CeraJet Will be Covered Here

 Whether or not I own or have access to a CeraJet, I will find a way to cover it.  My interest in 3D printing began with an interest in ceramic sculpting in support of my daughter's art.  While we have loaned some budding potters our Brent "C" wheel, the studio in which my Cube 3D printers do their magic is the very same studio where clay was thrown and hand built and where our Skutt KM 818 kiln still occupies an important place of its own..  It's not going anywhere.  We need it.

Just as in the past I helped serious craft persons and artists to learn how to photograph their own work with the new digital camera technology, I want to make myself ready to help clay artisans to not only understand the disruptive technology of 3D printing; but, to be able to successfully ride that disruption to even greater success.  It's going to be an interesting ride.

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