“Fast and Hard”: Confessions of a Pottery Gigolo

Think lean mean pottery makin’ machine. Here’s Richard Gere from that dumb 1980 movie American Gigolo:

Well, maybe not so much…..

So after I went off about the value of the slow handed pottery approach I was surprised that no one really called me on it. Did I make that strong a case, really?

And then just yesterday my g00gle reader inbox dumped me a nice post by Dan Finnegan that bemoaned all that “slow wheel, soft clay” nonsense and called it out as just a wee bit too “precious”. Maybe he’s right, isn’t he? What are we, starry-eyed moonbeam chasers? Are we infatuated teenagers making dopey calf-eyes at the clay? Where’s the hardness in our hearts? Where’s our god given cynicism? Making pots can’t be just about the impractical romance of a love affair. It can’t only be about the slow paced luxuriating in the particles of our beloved…..

The counter example that immediately came to mind was that sometimes there is also the need for just a ‘quickie’, a casual one night stand, or an anonymous ‘hook-up’. Sometimes its best not to love the clay so much but to get in and get out with a minimum of fuss. In other words, to just do the job and not get emotionally attached. No long term commitment. Like a professional. Like a pottery gigolo.

Sure, the clay wants your touch, the clay needs to be moved by your hands, but we can work that magic from a dispassionate distance. We can bring the clay to its conclusion with pure technique. We can make that pot tremble with rapture and ourselves be cold and hard on the inside. Its sometimes just a job after all. Its just something we are getting paid to do. One lump of clay at a time….

So, rather than only the slow hand of a consummately caring lover we can also bring to bear the impressive technique and blinding skills of the professional. Rather than just the slow attentive touch of a slow wheel we can zing with highly toned athletic proficiency. (With a nod to Dan Finnegan) We can also be fast and hard.

Oops! I may have strayed off the reservation again! But I’m not just funning around. Really I’m not! I actually have a somewhat serious point to make: Sometimes it can be a detriment to go too slow. Can’t it? Can you think of some examples?

The one that hits me straight off is that beginners can be waaaay too involved with their budding romance. Beginners can get so wrapped up with what is happening to this one lump of clay that they can almost get hypnotized and lose themselves in the passionate vortex of the spinning wheel. They can spend far too long working a lump of clay to its exhausted finish rather than the clean and efficient practice of getting in and getting out. Beginners are often too infatuated with what they are doing. And rather than it paying off with the determination of a skilled lover, the pots they make are often the sad stories of an obsession gone wrong.

Like the sometimes awkward first romances of high school, in the hands of an amateur things can quickly go awry. The slow hand of an amateur clay lover is sometimes more like the unkind kiss of death. No matter how deeply the love goes, without the hard earned sophistication of experience a beginner’s clingy incompetence will ruin even the most promising starts. What else are we calling out when we refer to the ‘precious pot syndrome’? That all that obsession actually pays off?

And everything I said in the slow hand post about making each pot individually also has a counter example in potters working on a series. If the objective is to reproduce the same thing time and time again, then it can’t matter that this lump of clay might otherwise have had its own destiny. We’re not improvising. We’re not making it up as we go. Sure, it might take slightly different steps to get there, but what’s important is the end being the same. On the gigolo’s dispassionate production line each client is a transaction that only matters in the end result. And perhaps, “Will I get paid?”, and “Will there be a call back?” The gigolo’s proficiency is always less about virtuosity than it is about a slavishness to technical depth. Its not about enjoying what we are doing. If we do, well that’s a bonus. In the end its really only about getting paid. And to do that we more often need the cold hearted expertise and competence of the professional.

So, to wrap it up, if you want to make pots individually, if you care about uniqueness and serendipitous surprises, if you want to stay boggled by a mesmerizing infatuation, you should learn to be a good lover of the clay, slow handed and attentive. “Precious”. If, on the other hand, you want to get predictable results, uncluttered by messy emotional attachments, free of the complications of naive and starry-eyed delusions, you might just be better off working as a gigolo, reducing all lumps of clay to a coldly generic means of getting paid. We may not be machines, but emulating their efficiency is sometimes just what we need to do. And pure technique can get us there. Its not always about affection. Sometimes its just about the mechanics of getting paid…..

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes we don’t want emotional investment. Sometimes the uniqueness of our partner is beside the point. Sometimes we just want them all the same and all differences wiped out. Sometimes it matters more how its dressed up than who it is inside. Sometimes individuality bothers us. Sometimes it should. Sometimes we need to quit slobbering our juices long enough for the pot to get off the wheel, before its reduced to a puddle of slurry. Sometimes we need to care less about what that lump is now, get it off (the wheel), and only then analyze what we did. Dispassionately. From a calm distance. Sometimes we just need the emotional sobriety of the professional, the smooth talking charm of the cynical gigolo, to make things work out. Sometimes the last thing the world needs is another true love.

Or not….

Peace all!

Make beauty real!

About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
This entry was posted in Art, Beauty, Creativity, Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to “Fast and Hard”: Confessions of a Pottery Gigolo

  1. linda says:

    genius post. hilarious veracity !

  2. Pingback: The blog year that was | CARTER GILLIES POTTERY

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