Longtime, influential ceramic artists have developed their own creativity, leading to innovation, while helping others to learn the skills needed to successfully express their ideas. Cultivating that inventive drive over decades requires a skill set and practice, as well as a willingness to face the possibility of failure and carry on. 

I was recently listening to the Freakonomics Radio episode “What’s Wrong with Being a One-Hit Wonder?”1 The host, Stephen J. Dubner, took a look at the reasons people either stop after their first creative success or continue to produce more works. The episode highlighted a research study on sustaining creativity that focused on first-time cookbook authors, but the theories apply to all artistic endeavors. The psychologist and researcher that Dubner interviewed, Markus Baer, along with his colleague, Dirk Deichmann, found that only about half of the first-time authors they studied went on to write a second cookbook within five years.2 Why did some authors continue to write? Why did the others stop writing? 

1 Syd Carpenter’s Albert and Elbert Howard, from the Farm Bowl series.

The researchers’ findings are somewhat surprising, as two factors, one intrinsic (novelty) and one extrinsic (awards), were linked to the outcome. As both the novelty of and awards given to an author’s first cookbook increased, the likelihood that they would produce a second book actually decreased. Baer and Deichmann discovered that this combination of originality and recognition began to influence and even determine authors’ identities. Not only did the writers think of themselves as successful creative people, but they believed that others also thought of them in this way.3 The authors’ feelings about the risk of failure—whether it felt threatening to their reputation (and to what others thought of them) or not—affected their decisions on whether to write another book. As Dubner said, “There’s an attraction to going out on top.” 4  

How have the dynamic, innovative artists who are masters in our field avoided being so-called one-hit-wonders? Creativity can be a mystery; it’s not always clear what precisely led to the successful synthesis of ideas into a finished work that resonated with an audience. That said, masters in any discipline have learned the skills needed to maintain and even expand their creativity, to refine processes, and to ask themselves questions that lead to additional discoveries. Their mastery of both the intangible skills—critical thinking and intuitive, reflective observation—and the physical techniques combine with a dedication to showing up to do the work, a drive to persevere creatively. 

2 Winnie Owens-Hart’s handbuilt pot with gecko motif.

Many of the artists featured in this issue, including Syd Carpenter, Eddie Dominguez, Susan Feagin, Richard Notkin, and Winnie Owens-Hart, have had long and distinguished careers. They have created vessels and sculpture that expand our understanding of both the histories and traditions that inform contemporary ceramic practice as well as the modes of expression that artists can explore. They are masters in our field, and the articles by or about each artist delve into the sources of their creativity and motivation to continue exploring. 

If you’re interested in learning about what Deichmann and Baer describe as the “intricacies of sustaining creativity over time,” you’ll find the features in this issue provide engaging, instructive examples. 

1, 4 Stephen J. Dubner, “530: What’s Wrong with Being a One-Hit Wonder?” January 11, 2022, in Freakonomics Radio, produced by Renbud Radio, LLC, 51:53, podcast, MP3 audio, https://freakonomics.com/podcast/whats-wrong-with-being-a-one-hit-wonder.

2, 3 Dirk Deichmann and Markus Baer, “A recipe for success? Sustaining creativity among first-time creative producers.” Journal of Applied Psychology, 108 no. 1 (2023): 100–113. https://doi.org/10.1037/apl0001019.

- Jessica Knapp, Editor

Topics: Ceramic Artists