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This week, we would love to introduce Kiko Denzer as a guest writer. Kiko is in our steering committee as well as a wonderful teacher who teaches classes like hand broom making, scything and an upcoming mud ovens in a day class!


Ideally, I’d sell wooden spoons and bowls directly, person to person, and the value of a wooden spoon would be common knowledge. Buyers could handle things, see some of the process, chat, sign up for a class, build relationships — and burn less fossil fuel…. In the meantime, however, most folks start by looking for a price. How do I determine what’s right and fair? If the transaction is just about the money, the answer will be different than if we think about the transaction as an exchange of gifts. Gifts have to maintain joy, fairness, and friendship. That kind of exchange takes time and conversation…more than most folks will give to a market transaction. And the current economic paradigm sure doesn’t support it. But I hope this story might help to clarify the challenge of pricing craft work, which is not just “making a living” but returning the gifts that life and planet have given to all of us… 

To arrive at a magic price point, I think we have to consider the magic: a Japanese netsuke carver named Masatoshi followed his father into the trade. “When you work,” his father told him, “you must not think, ‘How much time should I spend on this?’ or ‘What price should I ask for that?’ If you harbor such thoughts, you will cheapen your work.” Magic, good or bad, happens because the mind takes its shape from the thoughts we entertain. Thoughts of money make the mind into a cash register. One of the beauties of good work is how it empties the mind. That’s what makes room for the beauty. Yamaoku Tesshu, a 19th century Samurai and calligrapher, said “look into things near at hand and examine your heart…. We must look after each other without regard to our own welfare, kill selfish desires, bravely face all enemies, and keep a stainless mind….” Beauty favors a stainless mind. A mind possessed by money makes only profits. And lest you think I’m fixed on a “Japanese way,” my father’s father, a Jewish doctor, told his son, “never work for money.” So, because my father wanted to learn about the world, write and make things, he learned to fit his needs to a small income and had an extraordinary career that started in the white house press corps, and ended in a family business making beautiful household pottery. In between, he wrote novels, traveled, did some union and community organizing and prison activism, as well as sculpting — and always, stories, written and told. My artist mother (divorced from my father) lived by similar values, wrote 13 books, raised two sons, skipped college, earned a Masters degree, painted, made beautiful things (some of which ended up in fancy collections), worked as a therapist, and traveled the world. Neither of them made much money, but they lived well, and had extraordinary freedom. I have done pretty well myself, following their example.

Ironically, however, profit-driven consumer culture tends to ignore the complexity of artists’ actual lives, makes them into freaks and weirdos, denigrates most of them, but fetishizes some of their “products” and rewards a few by paying fantastic prices — usually only after they die, but sometimes even as they live (because, I think, a fetish allowed to live on the margins of society minimizes the threat of people and values that don’t put money first).

Magic still wins tho, because what shapes the mind shapes the world. (Starhawk says magic is simply “the ability to change consciousness at will.”) The power of art to shape minds and worlds all began with the old definition of the word, which originally meant to “fit together,” and just indicated a basic instinct that everybody had. Farmers, teachers, parents, carpenters, dancers, you name it…all work required art; the better the fit, the better the art, the greater the beauty. Art recognizes beauty as a language we share in common with all creation. Beauty speaks the world into existence: you, me and everything else. We all sing back: sun, sky, rain, flowers, grass, trees, critters, rocks and earth — a chorus of beauty. All value comes out of that chorus. And that’s what I really want to talk about. It’s what I want to give to people who buy a spoon or a bowl. From that perspective, the most important thing about price is that it doesn’t withhold beauty from anyone, rich or poor. 


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