What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who only has eyes if he’s a painter, ears if he’s a musician, or a lyre in every chamber of his heart if he’s a poet – or even, if he’s a boxer, only some muscles? Quite the contrary, he is at the same time a political being constantly alert to the horrifying, passionate or pleasing events in the world, shaping himself completely in their image.

-Pablo Picasso

As Richard Notkin prepared for the closing lecture at CrossCurrents: Clay and Culture, the 2018 NCECA conference in Pittsburgh, it was important to him that his message connect with the next generation of ceramic art’s leaders… today’s students. If the conference theme in Pittsburgh was intended to explore the many ways that diverse cultures contribute to ceramic art’s rich legacies and impact the work we create today, Notkin’s closing talk reached deep below the surface for undercurrents where acts of creation enter history’s sweep of social upheavals, injustices, and remembrance of cruelties inflicted by powers that atomize cultures through our differences rather than build unities through their beautiful variations. Erudite and eloquent, Notkin’s words resonated fully and deeply throughout the lecture hall in Pittsburgh. Perhaps just as important, the underlying messages of his talk continue to reverberate throughout our field and within our studios and communities now that we have returned from the conference.

As Communications Director of NCECA, one of my responsibilites is the editing and uploading of all of the conference footage each year.  It’s a big job, to be sure.  The 2018 conference playlist is currently sitting at 93 videos.  i have a couple more to do still, plus all of the emerging artists presentations.  The playlist will hit 100 before I put it to bed.  But, as any teacher who puts in extra hours firing kids projects or providing an opportunity for extra studio time, or just does any of those “teacher” things that teachers do, will tell you, there are always the moments that make all the extra effort worthwhile.

Richard Notkin is the ultimate example of this.

We are so fortunate in our field that our mentors so willingly share and pass down knowledge and ideas; so lovingly listen and respond to our own thoughts and perspectives; and who push us to persevere in the pursuit of our own goals.

I’m not certain I have ever had such a moving experience editing NCECA footage.  Richard and I exchanged several emails and phone calls related to the editing of his speech, but often our conversations meandered through a myriad of topics ranging from clay to (grand) kids.  I have long been a fan of his artwork, and the passionate advocacy that accompanies it.  After this experience, I am an even bigger fan of the man.  Those conversations continue to sit at the forefront of my mind as I look at my own children and think about the challenges they will face as they enter adulthood, and I am hopeful.

This speech is a gift, one that we should all take our time enjoying.  Immerse yourself in the images, delight in the discourse, and then do something….


Quit smoking and vote.

-Notkin, 2018