Bowls Under the Table


I am sitting with a friend in a public place when another couple I know sits down and we begin to talk. He owns a financial investment company and I know them because of her interest in art. We are laughing about many things, but somehow conversation leads me to tell the following true story:

A lady drove a couple of hours to visit my studio recently and she brought a friend. She bought a teapot from me at an art festival and wanted to see my studio and introduce her friend to my work.

After pleasant conversation and looking at the artwork that was available for sale, she asked if I had any large bowls. I answered that I did not but could contact her when I did. She agreed and I allowed her to continue to look around my studio, since it is in the same location as my gallery.

After a few minutes, she exclaimed with excitement, “here are some bowls,” and pointed to a stack of more than a dozen large bowls under a work table.

I answered, “Yes, those are the correct size, but there is something wrong with each of them.”

With an I found a bargain look on her face, she stated, “I would be happy with one of those.”

I answered, “I am not sure you could afford one of those.”

Her look instantly changed from I found a bargain to one that said I am offended.

I quickly continued, “Those pots have something wrong with them and are thus not for sale. Since there is something wrong with them, and each bear my name, it would cost a large amount of money to convince me to let them out that door. It would be much cheaper for you to wait until I made a bowl that I am happy with.”

Conner Burns Bowls with hammerHer look changed again, but this time the look said ahhhh, yes, I understand. She nodded softly as a smile crossed her face.

Focus back to the table where I am sitting and telling this story: Before I can move any further with the above story, the man that owns the financial investment company leans forward forcefully as he abruptly states, “Are you crazy? What do you do with them?”

I replied, “Most of the time I break them.”

He is intense and amazed. At this point, he can hardly speak, but manages to ask, “Why?”

I answer, “Well, if someone buys this as a gift, then the person who receives the gift believes that this is my quality.”

His wife offers, “But you could explain that to them.”

“Yes I could,” I answer, “but it still represents me, and 100 years from now I do not want someone to think that this is the quality of work I made.”

He almost falls out of the chair as he uncontrollably starts to rise to his feet while blurting out, “Who cares what they think of you in 100 years? Get the money today!”

I laugh and smile. His response is not so lighthearted. The conversation continues with some vague comments about different goals, desires, and expectations that we each have, but truly, he cannot concentrate on that because he is still stunned by my actions. His wife understands that there are two men at the table, each with a completely different perspective, and she understand that neither will change his perspective-it is just who they are.

I smile when I think of the interaction. It is a story that I think is normal. Not because all artists have the same beliefs (far from it, we are a diverse group), but normal in that individuals often have very different beliefs about similar situations. As we work as artists, our goals-and thus our actions-are totally contrary to many individuals’ entire understanding, goals, or values. I do not intend to imply that everyone should have the same opinion about seconds. You are welcome to act in the manner that makes you comfortable, and I reserve the right to act in the manner in which I am comfortable.

Although the above interactions occurred years ago, I remain committed to that same thought process. I wonder if the other man ever came to understand any component of it. I wonder what it would be like to be so strongly opposed to even the thought of giving up the opportunity to make another dollar in place of maintaining quality. I am comfortable with my decisions and the direction I am heading, but the opportunity to see life through another’s eyes-that also is helpful.

the author Conner Burns operates Conner Burns Studio in Natchez, Mississippi. For further information, see


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