Not long ago an acquaintance was describing her experience with one of my mugs . She told me that "it's her favorite", that my work has such a nice sensitivity to form, the handles are a "perfect fit" and that she looks forward to using my mug each morning. When guests are over, she said she enjoys introducing them to my mugs. I was flattered. At long last, someone was putting into words my feelings about my mugs.
This sounds like the perfect customer, right? Well, after all that she said, "But, you're too expensive". I didn't know quite how to respond. I could've gone into the firing fuel costs, I could have talked about the amount of time each mug takes from wedging the clay to throwing, drying over night, trimming the foot, attaching the handle, bisque firing, glazing then firing in the stoneware kiln. I could've addressed the 24 hour firing cycle, the cost of gas and electricity, the cost of the fire brick to build the kiln, the loss of mugs and other pots that are aesthetic and technical failures that end up in the pottery graveyard. I could have pointed out my Master of Fine Arts degree and 18 years of experience. I could have gone into all this and more, and I suppose all of this contributes to the price of my pottery, but I made the choice to to do these things long ago and I'm already rewarded and compensated by these choices each day by the act of creating and loving what I do.
Instead of an explanation I said nothing. Clearly, here was a person that seemed to understand the difference between what I do and what mass production offers. There was a disconnect; I didn't know what to say. After some reflection I now know how I would respond; "Using hand made pottery is a human to human experience. You could go to your favorite discount store and get a mass-produced mug at "everyday low prices", but does anyone really say that they love the feel of that machine made mug in their hand or do they look forward to waking up in the morning and reaching for the "Made in China" mug in their cupboard? The typical, store bought mug is utilitarian and functions to get the beverage to your mouth, but the machine that made it isn't sensitive to form and it has no soul. My argument would have been that the experience my customer so eloquently described is why my mugs are $20.
We all value different things. I know a guy that has a good job and drives an old VW bug. Instead of driving a new car, he commutes to work on a well crafted, expensive, handmade bike. Others value very expensive cars for various reasons. That's all fine with me and not everyone will value what people like me do, but if you have the same feelings about an object that this friend of mine described, isn't that experience worth something more than a cheap mug from your local bigbox store?