Talking with Harriette Estel Berman

Talking with Harriette Estel Berman

Episode #182

Today I talk with artist Harriete Estel Berman who uses post-consumer recycled materials to construct artwork and jewelry with social commentary. She is currently writing an ongoing series of PROFESSIONAL GUIDELINES for artists to help and promote practical solutions for recurring issues in the art and craft community.

Amee Chapman and the Velvet Tumbleweeds/Wishing Well


Paper Pot Maker

Tomato Vine Method Hand Soap

Harriete Estel Berman’s Presentation
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in the Age of the Internet

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Interview transcript

Harriete Estel Berman Interview Transcription

Alison Lee: As I was just saying, I love talking to people who are passionate about their passion. There’s nothing more fun than to listen to that. And today, I have someone very passionate about who is going to be speaking, Harriette Estela Berman. If you don’t know her, Google her. Because you have to go and see her work. I think I was first introduced to Hariette by falling in love with her jewelry pieces, her tin work. But when you go on the site, I could not. You can spend a long time. She has a wonderful deep amount of work to go through that. It’s quite enjoyable. Today we are talking about something very interesting. It’s a pleasure to have you today and talking Harriette. Thanks a lot for coming on and chatting with me.

Harriete Estel Berman: I’m really looking forward to this. Thank you so much for having me.

Alison: You know I love talking to you. Now I know that one of the reasons why we wanted to talk was recently at the synergy conference which was a polymer clay conference held, let’s see. Was it last month? March 2013.

Hariette: It was in March and it was in Atlanta Georgia.

Alison: Atlanta, Georgia. You spoke there and we are going to continue the conversation. I know your talk was, and I love the title, “The good, the bad and the ugly in the age of the internet.” And how I’m assuming, how that affects art and craft and the good and the bad. Let’s start with, let’s just get right into it. Let’s start with the really bad. What’s the worst thing that’s happened?

Hariette: OK. Bad. There are lots of bad. That’s really super unfortunate. And before we even launch into the good, the bad and the ugly, I won’t say that these issues are not, even though I gave the lecture at the polymer clay conference, I want to say that the issues are not limited to polymer clay. It’s unfortunate that these issues, the good, the bad and the ugly exist within the entire arts and crafts community. So there are some very good things about the internet. We all know them. We get to have a fabulous social network.

Alison: Wait, wait, wait. Let’s do the bad first. Because we know I love to end with the good. Go with the bad.

Hariette: Oh bad. Ok. Bad.
Alison: The heat of the discussion. Because why? What’s the worst? Well then, I’ll have to go right to the ugly. Should we go to the ugly?

Alison: Right to the ugly. Forget the bad. Right to the ugly.

Hariette: OK. I think the ugly is sharing content or designs, sharing information that you did not write or you did not create by yourself.

Alison: Alright so give an example. What’s something that is very upsetting? Give me an example?
So everyone follows you.

Hariette: Very unfortunate? How about derivative copying of somebody else’s work and then publishing it as your own art or craft. And I hear examples of this all the time. It’s really super unfortunately that I hear examples of peoples work copied and then imposters at the ACC craft show. I heard another example today on which an imposter’s work was sold at Cold Water Creek.

Alison: Wait. When you say imposter, let’s be very clear here. Because it’s a very interesting phenomenon. Do you think even imposters think of themselves as imposters?

Hariette: Well that’s a good point. It goes right to one of the difficulties even discussing it is that there is plenty of gray areas here. Sometimes the copycat person thinks that they made original work and I can understand that it happens or that people might arrive at an idea simultaneously. These things do happen. That, you know going with the current trends of design or fashion that they might have a similar idea.

Alison: You know in the world of fashion it’s just all over the place. And here is a clearer case of an imposter. You can go to Canal Street in Manhattan and by a fake imposter Louis Vinton some designer bag. Clearly an imposter.

Hariette: In those cases many of those designer bags that are sold like on Canal Street, they are actually made, so much of that type of fashion accessory is made in China. Then after the Chinese factory has fulfilled their order for the Louis Vinton bag, then they continue to produce a few more and they end up on Canal Street. I do understand that these copycat fashion accessories that they are really trying to crack down on this. And you used to see. I go to New Jersey in the summer time all the time. And you would see those in flea markets. But let’s just go into the craft world. This is where it gets uglier. When another artist copies another artist’s work or here’s another example, they copy the instruction from a workshop and they post it on their blog or website.

Alison: As? As what?

Hariette: Either two choices: Original content or maybe they are not publishing it as original content but they are sharing unethically. So you get into a really super amazingly gray areas here in some regard that people might not understand. That because the information is made available to them at a workshop for example. Because we have taken the workshop whether it’s online or at a weekend’s class, doesn’t actually give them permission to publish the information on their website or blog. They were given the privilege to participate, they possibly paid for taking the workshop. But they did not pay to then share the information with the broader community.

Alison: So what do you feel about this? Because I’m with you. And I always look for the positive with this and why does it happen and it’s there for good reason. And if it’s going to keep occurring how do we take that energy and drive it forward in a positive way? I sort of feel that it’s the responsibility of the teacher to make sure that doesn’t happen. Its 100% responsibility for the teacher and the students. I really believe because you’ll see maybe one T-shirt that’s copied more than others or one person that something is going on for that person.

Hariette: I agree with you completely. I do suggest in my recommendations that the teacher actually make it part of the discussion. And if your class education whether it’s the online tutorial for 45 minutes or your two-day workshop, the premise is education. And I’m saying that you need to extend the education of your topic, your technique, your skill to the appropriate use of the information. And that’s exactly what you are talking about that if it’s a 45 minutes workshop, I think you do have the responsibility to spend five minutes talking about how to use the information and how to use departure point for the student and that by participating in that 45 minutes online tutorial as just one example, it didn’t give them permission to then share it or extend the audience because they don’t own the material.

Alison: And I think that’s fair. You have to teach people. This is a new age on the internet and it’s certainly has been blown apart and very close to the music business as well you know it’s you know, [inaudible] people doing free downloads of the music. So that business went through a huge change. I mean every record store closed. So you know it’s like how you incorporate that that is part of the internet to make it work for everyone and I think a big part of it is the responsibility of the person sharing the information.

Hariette: And I have another idea which is also a very positive way of sharing the information. We are not talking, and that’s where some people. Two aspects here about sharing information. First of all, we’re all for sharing information but the point is to share information ethically and legally. So the second part is that another way we are going about this, if you took a fabulous online tutorial of Craft cast or a two-day workshop of so and so place, then if you are really enthusiastic about that material, an appropriate way to share this information is to write a review. And you could post this on your Face book page, on your website, on your blog. I took this amazing workshop and then you can construct original content which is important here, original content about why the workshop was good, what you learned. And so, therefore, you’ve created your own original content, you have honored the person who has invested so much time creating that information. And we have to [inaudible] it too as an investment in our community. And what happens when you share information unethically or illegally is that you perhaps affected the revenue stream of the person who might have invested days, weeks or years in developing that skill set. And then you share the information inappropriately, they have affected the revenue and they might not give workshops anymore because they feel burnt. And I’m not just making it up. I hear from plenty of people who feel burnt out by how people have unethically shared the information that they have invested perhaps a lifetime in developing.

Alison: And then, I’m with you. And then they are that gray area again where why did that happen to you and taking responsibility for it? So I like to be on both sides of the fence and hey I’m someone making content all the time and I don’t want my content stolen, given away, copied. People worked really hard. They need to pay for it. And you know I’d be the first to say if it showed up that I just have my lawyer do the things you need to do legally. I’m not going to invest the emotional time in that. But it is, there’s an emotional thing that gets invested that destroys people that you just to take it out of that round. You don’t want to get someone burnt out because they feel that way. Do you know what I’m saying?

Hariette: Yeah. it’s also a really challenging issue for people.

Alison: You just said something great. And Harriette I just want to, you just sums it great. Which is you just gave a way for people to be proactive and say make your own original content? That’s something people don’t have the tools. It might not occur to them. Make original content, wow!

Hariette: Right. And with the internet the way it is right now, the search algorithms if people know anything about SEL have changed markedly in the past year.

Alison: Oh my gosh. I think they change all the time. That’s crazy.

Hariette: Yes. But the future of the internet is original content. So you want to learn to create your own original content with benefits yourself and the community. So this could be your larger objective. And there are other uglies though. It gets scary territory here. Oh here’s an ugly. There seem to be people who take tutorials let’s say from a magazine as one example and then they teach a workshop based on somebody else’s technique or they take a workshop for two today’s and then they decided they are now the master qualified to teach a workshop. Or they take work or, and I see it all the time and let’s say have all of a sudden decided that now they are prepared to teach a workshop or skill set that really represents somebody else’s artistic voice.

Alison: Well I’m going to assume in ten examples of that, they’ll probably all different types of grey lines there because my first question is, you know, is that if it says copyrighted in that article, do not teach this then you are breaking the law. If it’s just information out there and an artist takes it, we use into their own persona and put back something out there that has their stamp on it, then that’s just one more thing you’ve learned in your arsenal as a teacher. Then there is the person who’s just desperate and wants to teach and here’s a good idea. Can I teach it to myself tonight and hold a workshop next week. That’s a different person. And I don’t think they have long term survival because it’s just not deep enough.

Hariette: Absolutely and I understand what you are saying but on the other hand by actually talking about this out loud, I think that by making it a subject of a conversation like we are right now on the radio or what I did in my lecture, we raise people’s awareness at how important it is to create your original content. In other words, this goes again to workshop idea problem and that is when you teach a workshop it should be really from the skills and techniques or the artistic vision that you developed yourself over years. It should be because you copied this month’s tutorial out of the magazine. And if I made it up, actually I don’t think that I made it up because I went to the one-panel discussion and a lady, and I didn’t know who it was so I can say this. She remains anonymous even to me but she stood up and she was thanking the magazine for her tutorials because she was using them for her workshops. And I was a little bit appalled. I was actually shocked because she was standing up and she was thanking them publicly for this not realizing what an ethical boundary she had just crossed.

Alison: And that’s a good question you just said, not realizing. And here’s where I think it gets deeper. I mean I’ve had a student who I taught metal something to for quite some time. And she went out right away and start selling something, it was like I wanted to say please don’t tell anyone that you learned from me because the craftsmanship isn’t there yet. It’s just not it but I understand that’s all she could see. She just didn’t have the vision of being able to see more and that’s when it falls back on I think the teacher. Because we don’t teach design and finding your own voice. We teach techniques and I do that. I know what people want to, they want to make something, the next pretty thing. I’m not teaching people to be an artist. I’m not running an art school. But I loved when I went to art school and I wish more people had a design background so they could trust their own voice, but that’s not there.

Hariette: Well we are talking about how it takes many years to develop your artistic voice and sense of design, the use of color and all the things that come into making great art of craft objects or whatever you are making for that moment. And I think this is part of the age of the internet. And now in my lecture, I talk about this development of the artist as six creative steps of development. And what has happened that originally you went through this original learning phases copying, developing your skillset, combining skills and I’m summarizing briefly here. And what’s happened with the internet is people have somehow jumped from all of a sudden an interest in the media to now sharing online. And going back to the lecture again, we seem to have a perhaps premature desire for attention and willingness to take shortcuts. All of this kind of carelessness provided that no one will notice. That no one will call us on the fact that perhaps we are really not yet qualified to teach a workshop.

Alison: But it is a speedy world today. We don’t even read books anymore. I mean that’s an underlying thing as well. We do text messaging, we don’t write letters. So yes, everything is sped up.

Hariette: And I understand that everything is sped up but I am still saying that going back books and content within those books and I’m going to use two books as an illustration. “Talent is overrated”, where they talk about it takes 10,000 hours to develop a skill set. And the way that I understand that everything in our lives is accelerated, there comes a point in which you have to say I need to invest in learning more about my artistic voice. I need to more about my skill set. And it’s a reasonable expectation that before people start teaching that they have some level of mastery.

Alison: It is a good conversation to say all this because people are unaware, as my son says ‘unawares’ of all that. You know it does take that many hours that freaks people out, you know.

Hariette: And the 10,000 hours it’s not like, for some people you use as an illustration in the book. We know Bill Gates. He was actually developing his level of mastery in computers going back into high school. We have skill sets that we’ve been building on for a lifetime. So perhaps this is where I’m coming from where it’s just when you took your first polymer of clay class, that’s just being one example. Perhaps it goes back to your watercolor experience and the fact that you used oil paints and you understand color and you know a little bit about design and so I can easily in my mind say that you can include that as a part of your 10,000 hours.

Alison: Absolutely. Absolutely I agree.

Hariette: But we are jumping the gun a little bit when it comes to all of a sudden saying that somebody is qualified to teach a workshop. And you know what it goes back to is the content providers to some extent. That we have to look or ask the editors of magazines or books or even Craft cast, you say “Well who is the most qualified person to teach so and so technique?” And in a speedy society, sometimes it’s hard for us to stop, and kind of evaluate research. The content providers themselves also have a level of responsibility to investigate and find out who is the most qualified to teach a particular skill set.

Alison: I agree.

Hariette: It gets a little bit scary sometimes because there’s as you say, our society is so sped up and so we’re rushing to use or find information.

Alison: Listen. I talk to a lot of teachers, so I’m aware of people who are just beginning and people who are more advanced because they have been a teacher for so long. But there’s another level that [inaudible] where some teachers can’t handle, they can’t handle giving away their information in a way that’s just too upsetting to them when it comes back at them. Because they don’t want, you know. I’ve heard it all like you have. I’ve worked with and talked to teachers who are more than qualified to teach and they have learned techniques from other people, maybe years back. and yet those people get upset that they are showing that. I mean there’s a big line up, Ok. You copied something you learned last week and you are teaching it this week. And I taught you something 10 years ago a little thing you have added into your repertoire, I mean where do you draw those lines people? I’ve heard both ends of those things.

Hariette: Yes. There is a kind of grey area but there are so many people that use something an excuse such as there is nothing new under the sun or all these ideas. They don’t understand that there is the idea of finding your own artistic voice.

Alison: Yes. And it scares the hell out of people. That they can’t find it fast enough.

Hariette: And that’s one of those issues that I have not explored as much as I would like but I do feel like we have built a little bit of an economy based on workshops or tutorials. After we’ve become overdependent on them. And what happens is that even the people and I can personally think of many examples of people I know, they are searching for their artistic voice instead of spending the 20 hours that they would invest in a workshop and all the transportation etc and time. So we say 20 hours a weekend. Instead of investing that 20 hours of staying alone in their studio with themselves, being willing to make mistakes to find their artistic voice, they take another workshop. And they do that over and over and over with this expectation that by taking another workshop and finding another skill that they will find themselves and finding yourself and finding your artistic voice will not come from outside of you.

Alison: Oh Hallelujah. I’m on the same soapbox as you are hun, so I agree. But that’s a struggle and that’s a very hard thing for people to look at.

Hariette: That’s true. I understand that. But I don’t think that we are giving enough voice, enough licenses to the idea that success comes from a lot of failures and mistakes. And that the trial and error that you are actually learning a tremendous amount.

Alison: Yes. We do know that. Absolutely. You and I could probably list enough mistakes, different things we’ve done. The mistakes fill the room.

Hariette: Yes and for anybody who we look at who as, perceived as the leader in that field or leader in a media, if you look at their first evolutions of an idea and if you look at their later evolutions you say, wow? They have moved so far. But the reason why they move so far over the years is that they stay dedicated to finding their artistic voice and developing their artistic voice.

Alison: I would go so far to say they are not even thinking about finding their artistic voice. They are passionate, nothing is getting in their way and their artistic voice is a result from the process they have dedicated themselves to.

Hariette: Really good point.

What people are saying

  • Your classes are just amazing and I have learned sooo much from Cindy Pope’s classes on the Silhouette machines. She breaks it down so any beginner can learn. I didn’t take my Curio out of the box for a year until I watched her class. Now I’m addicted

    Beth B
  • Thank you for the informational class last night, and for the notes, it looks like a great product to work with. Best Wishes,

  • You are a truly generous soul to share so much with the community. I am constantly impressed by the extra effort you put into everything you do. A true inspiration. 

    Bridget D.