Notes from The Land of Make Believe

The past year or more I have been tangling myself in conversations attempting to figure out how value works in human lives. We don’t like talking about it, so mostly I am met with silence or treated like a heretic. Eventually I will tie together all the threads into a more coherent offering, but until them it probably makes sense to share snippets of dialogs that express where I am going.

The Great Barry Hessenius posted some interesting questions this morning under the title “Place is more than space – Feeling uncomfortable where you feel you don’t belong and it resonated with some of the issues I have been addressing. You can read Barry’s essay (its worth it!), but the specific concerns I am interested in are as follows:

Hey Barry,

Hope you are doing well. Thanks as always for challenging us with difficult topics! Another good one today

Your post comes on the heels of a conversations I was involved in with Clay Lord about the difficulties with cultural appropriation. For me it highlighted the challenge of squaring values we legitimately hold to be right with other similarly worthy values. Is it possible that two or more virtues we esteem do not scale together, and that promoting one negatively affects our ability to promote the others? Is that what a conflict of interests means?

The difficulty for the arts in being more inclusive is just one such context. The idea that we should reach out to outsiders inevitably seems to mean we want them to become more like us in some fundamental way. We want them to value what we value. It comes to them on our own terms, so its not an equal exchange. But how would we make it equal except by sacrificing the things we wanted to share? That is the conundrum.  To gain one thing we lose the other, but to keep it we also lose what we hoped to gain. It just doesn’t add up. Either we change or they change. Something has to go…… Ideals, meet the real world!

Mostly I have been thinking of this in terms of the problems we have in promoting diversity, which emphasizes the division between things, their difference, and equity, which attempts to be fair across the board. It seems we can’t have both more than in a limited sense. Diversity fractures and equity levels. They are aspirations for us, and good things to aim at, but this does not mean they are also practical. Wanting certain things does not mean we can get them, no matter how right we are to want them. The impracticality of our ideals does not mean we were wrong in wanting them. Its the hard face of reality that all aspirations must confront. But that is the nature of aspirations, after all.

The arts are not alone in their naive assessment of values. Mostly people do not have a clear sense of the role and function of value in our lives. We take recognized goods and imagine that aspirations can automatically be collapsed into real world outcomes. Which is a dangerous assumption. We never stop to wonder why having our cake and eating it too rarely (never) seems to come off except in limited circumstances. We see the challenges and leap to the conclusion that our problems can be solved on the aspirational plane. No wonder we are stuck when we are not prepared to accommodate reality into our wishful thinking!

The first lesson in aspirational thinking is imagining what might happen. The first lesson in practical thinking is assessing what can happen. As long as we find it difficult to see beyond our own desires it is no wonder we are obstructed from reaching our goals.

Any thoughts?

All the best!


The pursuit of values can look a lot like wandering around an Escher painting. The further you get in one direction the less well it adds up with other things.


I welcome any thoughts you all might offer🙂

Peace all!

Make beauty real!


Posted in Art, Arts advocacy, Imagination, metacognition | Leave a comment

Don’t be a tool

Just some things to consider:

A friend picked up one of those fancy Sherrill Do-All trimming tools for me and the different design made using it as if I were almost a novice potter again. I have been so familiar with my Kemper loop tools that using them was like an extension of myself. I could express what I wanted how I wanted. Its what I knew how to do.

The interesting thing is that the new tool stopped me from expressing those things. Isn’t that interesting? I could no longer get from A to B as confidently. I no longer had the assurance that what I wanted to say could be said.

And then it occurred to me that I had become a cypher of my tool’s expression. By accepting the Kemper as my designated means of cutting feet I became a victim of its limitations and an exponent of its graces. I was making the feet that this tool allowed me to make. I was becoming a tool of my tool.

The question is, are we bigger than the tools we use, the language we speak? Yes we need a certain amount of framing for our questions to even be questions, but are they the limit of what we are allowed to speak? Are they among the inevitable permutations?

Sometimes picking up a new tool lets us know how beholden we were to the old tool. At times a tool can become our excuse for actually expressing ourselves. We say what we know how to say. The tool itself can be the vehicle for our expressions. Its limits are our limits. It can become more than the cart being led by our horse. The tool can sometimes become the horse itself. The tool can be what leads us forward, sets the tone and pace, and justifies what we do. We end up serving the tool’s qualities and abilities.

And when the ‘tool’ is the master, who precisely is the tool?

Just an interesting question to ask🙂

I am looking forward to using my new Mud Tools trimming tool and exploring the things that are uniquely possible with it. Because, the freedom to choose between different ways of doing things means that I am not the victim of a single technical possibility.

Maybe that’s a good thing.

Tentative efforts with the new tool. Mostly I was using it to complement the old Kemper, attempting to learn what things it does well, what things it does better. The aesthetic aim is similar, but the foot itself is more wedgelike. The hardest part so far is figuring out how to make the broad cutting edge function.

Tentative efforts with the new Sherrill trimming tool. Mostly I was using it to complement the old Kemper, attempting to learn what things it does well, what things it does better. The aesthetic aim is similar, but the foot itself is more wedgelike. The hardest part so far is figuring out how to make the broad cutting edge function.


Peace all!

Happy potting!

Make beauty real!


Posted in Ceramics, Clay, Creativity, Imagination, metacognition, Pottery | 2 Comments

Beauty is axiomatic

I just read a friend’s essay on a class she is taking described as “Beastly Beauty: The Value That Astounds, Confounds, Perplexes and Vexes Us”. Its great that folks are thinking about these issues! I totally wish I could be a fly on the wall of that conversation.

Maybe you are thinking about similar topics. If so I invite you to join me, in your own spaces or in the comments below. Lets talk about beauty. And just maybe, between us we will have a better sense of the diversity of what it means for us and for others. Here is what I have to say about beauty this morning:


One of the questions that interests me these days is the respect in which something is being measured (Why something counts as beautiful) and the respect in which it is doing the measuring (What things do we find beautiful). There is a difference that I’m not sure we often account for.

When we look at it as a case of needing to measure to find the beautiful we are looking for the ingredients or criteria that add up to something beautiful. We can make a checklist of the attributes that compose beautiful things. We get to say “This is *why* its beautiful”.

On the other hand, beauty also acts as a measure for us, and we apply it out in the world without first needing to find its ingredients or qualifications. Sometimes beauty is the axis about which our judgments turn. We have this sense of the beautiful and we go out in the world and discover where it finds a home. We judge things AS beautiful not by doing an inventory of its various qualities but by seeing beauty FIRST and then accepting that these objects measure up.

The difference is between using something as a measure and using it as a thing to be measured. If it seems like an inconsequential distinction, think of how we use a ruler to determine length. The ruler measures length. Now go ahead and measure the ruler. Do you see where I’m going with this? Some things operate axiomatically for us, and as in the case of beauty, we are not always clear what those things are and when its right to do so. When we don’t see the difference it can seem as if beauty still needs to be justified. The things we measure need justification, but the things that do the measuring ARE the source of justification.

When we fail to see beauty as a measure we assume it is something needing justification. And you know where that attitude has gotten the arts…… If beauty is not (or poorly) justified we can dispense with it. Beauty is not a fact in the way some other things are. And there are times when beauty itself is out of place. That was the conclusion artists came to in the period after the First World War. The aftermath left many feeling that aspirations of beauty were actually repugnant….. Beauty was no longer a measure worth using….

But that’s a cultural mandate. Folks had to decide against using beauty in art. So be it. But life generally tells a different story. We can’t stop seeing things as beautiful, as humans. Sure, the arts can disown it, and it can be riven from us in times of atrocity, but it is also a natural human capacity, and we seemingly need to understand it better than we do.

I just think we make a mistake when we imagine that beauty needs to be justified in some other way by some other quality. Its a common sort of confusion in a world that obsesses with finding how things can be measured. And beautiful things are no different. Our obsession is blanket. Occasionally beauty even seems to hinge on certain presences and absences. But while its true that if we occasionally removed certain qualities from an object they would no longer strike us as beautiful, that does not mean beauty is an aggregate of qualities.

(I wanted to find an image to illustrate this, so I just did a google search for images of ‘beauty’ and was confronted with oodles of dolled up white women. That made me sad, but then I thought to do a search for images of ‘beauty makeover’, which only made me sadder…. Try it at your own risk)

Even if it seems we can add certain things, do a makeover, that achieves beauty from its absence, there is no formula for beauty that holds for every observer universally. The idea that it is cumulative of certain ingredients is persuasive. Measurability is at war with subjectivity. Its the conundrum of quantitative difference leading to qualitative difference, and we have not made much headway with that, least of all in terms of beauty.

But the thing to remember is that beauty IS qualitative. So if beauty fails on the level of ingredients it also fails between different cultures, between different proponents. The lenses themselves are not without controversy. And yet we all have a sense of the beautiful, from early childhood on. So whatever the failure, its not the catastrophe it is often taken for.

Is it strange that everyone carries their own sense of what things measure as beautiful? No more than that some use ‘meters’ and others ‘yards’, and most of us at various times also approximations of ‘near’ and ‘far’, ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, etc. Space is divided differently depending on what you are doing and whose measurements are getting applied. Beauty is no different, as a human activity. It simply can’t lay claim to ‘objective’ status in the way that geometry and physics calculate space….

But why would beauty need to be compared with something amenable to science? Is that our confusion? If beauty fails objectively we can’t condone it?

“The measurability rule is anchored on the above conceptions, and so requires that the variables around which the researcher intends to collect data should be measurable, or susceptible to acceptable ‘measurement’ (Leedy, 1980: 46)[1]. This is easier done in the natural sciences than in the social sciences; in quantitative studies than in qualitative. Still, one must, in the social sciences too, endeavor to quantify, measure and evaluate. Indeed, the guiding principle of the measurability rule — its corollary, in other words — is this: “What can be measured must be measured.” Thus, not measuring what can be measured is not an option allowed anyone.”  Measurability: A Key Standard of Scientific Research

In a sense, science is a way of looking at the world. Its holding up a microscope to things. Beauty is also a human way of seeing the world, but contrary to what we so often assume, its less a subject for investigation than the method of inquiry itself. Just like science is. Beauty holds its own standards up against the world.

As such it is akin to scientific truths in the way it operates for us. The role of beauty in our lives is axiomatic. Its not a test subject as much as its the experiment we use to determine the character of the world. We just need to learn to recognize beauty as the thing that justifies our appreciation rather than feeling our judgment itself needs justification. We have as much right to see things as beautiful as we do in using a ruler to measure lengths or describe a distance as ‘close’.

The totally awesome Diane Ragsdale has some truly wonderful points to make in defense of beauty. I found myself crying at times as I watched this…

Things to think about at least🙂

Peace all!

Make beauty real!


Posted in Art, Beauty, Imagination, metacognition, Wittgenstein | 3 Comments

Why art needs stories

If you go back and read what I’ve blogged the last several months you may see the signs of a story being told. Several stories, perhaps, and that in itself is a story. At least, I have attempted to describe a few stories that may or may not add up to something also interesting. Parts of a larger whole. I’m going to be a bit more explicit, here, with what I’m saying:

Your art will almost never be understood the way you intend it, if you even intended it a specific way. Most things won’t speak for themselves in the way you want, but instead speak any number of things that never mattered to you. And for every artist it only seems inevitable, even necessary, that what we do is subject to gross misunderstanding.

I’ve got plenty to say about this, and I will at some further point, but today I am thinking of a comment some other potter left me about one of my Instagram images.

Latest version of my handle, a bit beefier, and constructed very differently from how I had been making them

Latest version of my handle, a bit beefier, and constructed very differently from how I had been making them

The potter said “if the width of the spiral in the pot is reversed then they will really start to lift and sing. 😊 ”

I won’t deny that he(she?) is seeing what they see, and undoubtedly they are trying to be ‘helpful’, but what does this have to do with me? There is obvious truth that anything we say reveals more of ourselves than whatever we are speaking about. This is what the potter saw. Period. It scratches that surface only. So what did I want to say? And why was it so misunderstood? Why isn’t the work saying what I want it to say?

When you look at a piece of art, a person’s work, its easy to imagine that what you’re looking at tells the whole story. The commodification of art objects gives us this illusion of wholeness, that what you can buy is something discrete and established. That’s a great story to believe. But really, any one piece of work is only good at telling where the artist ended up this one time, not how they got there. The work you are seeing has a role to play, but its only a very small part of what’s going on. Anything you can see at any one time is not the entire story.

Even for artists who are mostly interested in the same consistent finished product, that part which customers get to see is only the visible tip of an iceberg that includes all the trial and error, all the testing and hard won experiments that eventually led to this one place. The duck is paddling furiously but the appearance above water is serene. Its the ugly truth of how the sausage gets made.

Every artwork is the culmination of those things that went before, and are still yet springboards of what will happen after. The finished pot, especially, even, the work at its in-progress latest, is only a snapshot of some moment. Its not nearly the story of ‘why’. The complete meaningful utterance has yet to be spoken.

Its like we skip ahead to the ending of the chapter, see that the princess married the prince, and feel we now understand things. Unfortunately we are blind to how they got there and ignore where they will go on to. We take this thing in front of us now as telling the only story that matters, the whole story, the finished product. We see, and we conclude. As if the ‘conclusion’ we see itself were the thing that mattered most.

At least, that’s the story we often tell ourselves, that reading the visible conclusions of artists’ process, the work, is the essential part.

And so it seems incumbent on artists that we say what really happened. Yes the princess married the prince, it was a nice wedding, but the prince was actually a toad in the beginning of the tale, and the princess had to first escape the clutches of her wicked stepmother! The wedding is all very well and good, but don’t forget the other drama! Don’t forget the other adventure! Don’t forget what really happened! Don’t forget that the story is much bigger than what you can tell from how it ended to us. Did the honeymoon last? “Happily ever after” is us putting a bow on a much bigger picture. For our sake. For brevity’s sake. It had to end somewhere. Something needed to wind up at market……


So what was the story my commenter missed in blithely jumping ahead? Well, the assumption seems to be that I was interested in, if not actually aiming at ‘lifting and singing’ in some particular way, as if the pot would be ‘improved’ by attending to those details. Maybe they would, right? But that’s a pretty big presumption to place on my shoulders. Are those the values I was attempting to convey? Is that the story I was trying to tell?

Not really, unfortunately. Instead of those marks being some sort of ‘design’ element I’d rather you considered them a ‘process’ element. Rather than considering them an intentional aspiration I’d prefer you considered them the fall out of permission. That is the story I like. Its what I believe, at least.

Take this story:

You send your kid to college, and your visiting neighbor sees the transcript and tells you “If only she’d taken more biology courses, then her prospects would really start to lift and sing.” And yeah, maybe some parents would prefer to design their children’s careers in such a way that their college courses make a statement of a particular kind. Maybe that’s okay, for some. But maybe also the nosy neighbor should mind their own business. Let the kid take art and literature classes if she wants and just be happy she is doing something she likes. Maybe that’s okay too. And maybe in those cases its more our job to give them permission rather than specific direction.

You may understand this better if you were offended by the recent Wells Fargo ads that have caused such a justifiable uproar.


The perspective that kids need to be something specific, especially specifically NOT some other things can be a mistake. A presumption. Maybe there’s nothing specific that they should be. Maybe the little boxes we try to stuff them in are insufficient for their purposes. Is the only point what would get them ‘ready for tomorrow’, what would make them ‘lift and sing’? Do we even have a proper understanding of what that means? Maybe its something they must discover themselves for themselves. Invent, themselves.

And that’s what I want my pots to feel, that I gave them permission to be themselves. Sure, they’re my ‘kids’, I helped give them a grounding that sets them on the ‘right’ path, but I left many things up to them themselves. I was there when they needed me and I let them express themselves when it seemed wise to let go. I wasn’t hung up on standardized expectations. I was not a helicopter artist.


The problem artists often face is that there are all these neat categories where things are supposed to fit. We too easily accept that there is a right and a wrong way of doing things. We sometimes expect that things we can fit in certain categories must be aiming at the same things in the same way. We presume to judge. We judge books by covers all the time. We leap to conclusions, because we didn’t get to see how it was made, what gears interlock, what things really matter. We take shortcuts to understand the whole based purely on the visible parts, the process based only on the results, the evolution entirely based on the now. We judge the territory from the map.

Sometimes it is prudent to take these shortcuts, but is this what we are hoping for as artists? Not I. It sometimes offends me to be misunderstood. And to fight this, to make ourselves better known, we simply have to intercede in this fabulation by our audience. Don’t judge us too quickly, because the iceberg is vast, the legs are pumping furiously, bland covers can hide excellent books, and the ingredients that went into it might not all have the same appeal. Much is hidden, and you can only read some things off the surface. Any good art challenges us to look deeper.

In a sense, the audience is doing their speed reading of our work, and what we must do is distract them from their easy assumptions, direct their attention to where we place value. We must tell a ‘better’ story than what they were getting from our work. Paradoxically we must get them to listen to US rather than just to the work itself. The work is silent on too much of what matters, and speaks volumes where it isn’t needed. We artists must do the talking. And if that actually is a better outcome, it only seems making the best of a bad situation.



Posted in Art, Ceramics, Creative industry, Creativity, Imagination, metacognition, Pottery | Leave a comment

Repost: Defensive potting

Defensive Potting: The story of Michael Simon’s evolution out of the round

So I just got back From the Michael Simon gallery talk at the exhibition of his work, “Pick of the Kiln’, at the Georgia Museum at UGA in Athens. I’m so happy I went! I’ve known Michael since he was my teacher back in the mid 90’s after Ron Meyers retired from UGA. There are many things I’d like to ask Michael and get his insight on, but I came to this talk with one question in mind.

The thing I was curious about was the evolution of his pots to include forms that are out of round.



He makes ovaled, squared, and triangular pots starting from the round form that is natural to the potters wheel. But why? Was his evolution something like mine, and that the example of other potters was his inspiration? For me, I can honestly say that having learned pot making in the presence of these out of round shapes has guided how I think about the possibility of form. From Michael’s angular departures from the round to Ron Meyers’ more fluid and gestural out of round treatments I had examples of things to aspire to beyond round symmetry and uninterrupted circularity. Is that what motivated Michael?

Ron Meyers jar

Ron Meyers shows how not to be too round, in a casual and organic way. Someone once told him his pots look like “wet socks”. He kind of likes that…..

Another possibility I could have understood was that the diversion from round was appealing in its own right. There are things we each like and dislike, and after seeing pots that are not round I can also honestly say that the squareness and triangularity of some of his forms is both fascinating and appealing. I even love that they are not round! Round is almost too simple, too easy. What you get off the wheel if you’ve done a good job is almost always round. Its the hard thing for beginners but almost impossible to not do once you get the hang of making pots. You have to try to get it different. Purposely. You have to break the rules.

Ron does this by casual manipulation of the form, by squeezing the pot while it is still wet, and by handling the shapes without regard for their uniformity. Michael is much more methodical, less immediate. There is a plan. As he explained later in the discussion, you start at one side and make a corner, look to the opposite side and make a corner there, and then in between those on both sides. And if it doesn’t come out even or symmetrical? “Who cares! Its still a pot.”

So I was also prepared for Michael to answer that he simply liked pots that were unround, that squareness held charm for him. That was something I could have understood.

Instead, what he answered was that he just didn’t think some of his round forms were very good.Making them square or triangular was a defensive act. Some pots simply don’t stand well on their own. And putting patterns and motifs on the pots didn’t seem to always make sense on round surfaces. His solution was to make the surface more flat, so that the pots had natural edges to contain the motif.

I later asked him about something he had said in that interview with Mark Shapiro for the Smithsonian. He had said that people often have a hard time seeing forms, and that its much easier for folks to look at something with an image on it. He had also said in that interview that some pots seem to need a bit of something extra, a bit of 2d patterning on the surface, while other pots can stand on their own.

We looked at these pots in the display,


and he said that of those three almost everyone would automatically look at the one on the far left. He also said that he had designed the other two to be undecorated, knowing full well that they would not draw as much attention as the one with the bird…….

Its a profound lesson in humility that a potter like Michael Simon considers some of what he does ‘defensive potting’…… Michael’s forms have almost always blown my mind. Another thing he said was that he never felt his pots were good enough, that he always hoped he was getting better. Maybe the only way to keep challenging yourself creatively, the only way to force yourself to break and rebreak all the rules, is to never be satisfied. Maybe you have to look at your work as a defensive act that addresses your own inadequacies. That seems like an important lesson in a creative culture that feeds on the celebrity of chest pounders and self aggrandizing publicity artists….. Michael remains a humble and gentle soul despite how fantastic the rest of us think his pots are.

Something to think about, at least…..

Peace all!

Happy Potting!

Make beauty real!


Posted in Art, Beauty, Ceramics, Clay, Creative industry, Creativity, Pottery, Teaching | 1 Comment

‘The man who left it all behind’: A parable

There once was a young man living in Brooklyn. A bright lad, full of enthusiasm and interest. A boy who could finish what he started, and do a fine job getting there.

But he had no career. He was good at almost everything he turned his hand to, and his father one day asked him what he wanted to be. “You have lived under my roof long enough. Its time you decided on a future. So from this moment on you must find your own way in the world. But I won’t send you off empty handed. The advice I was given by my father when I was your age made all the difference, and so you will start out knowing what I know. He told me this:

“Decide where you want to be at the end of your career. Now look at the gap between the two. Work backwards and write down the steps you need to take. Then start taking one step at a time.”

“That is all I can give you, but it is enough. Some may be better educated than you, some will be stronger. Some may have more fortitude, and others will have greater financial backing. None of that matters. You have the necessary wisdom to succeed.”

And with those words his father turned him out of the home he had grown up in, out into the street and out into the world.

The young man wandered for days not knowing where his direction lay, not yet having found his purpose. Nothing seemed to call to him as where he wanted to be when his career was over. But he knew the steps he would follow: Find the thing he wanted to end up doing, and fill in the gaps to getting there.

Then one day he saw a billboard proclaiming:

Wanted: Shift laborers, Great pay, Room and Board, Benefits.

Apply to The Pritchard and Jones Mining Co. San Francisco

There’s gold in them thar hills!

And suddenly he knew what he wanted. He would be a miner. A successful miner. He would pan for gold or dig it from hillsides. He would be rich! He would retire with nuggets of gold in his pockets!

The question, then, was how to get to San Francisco. He knew he would have to cross wild country, over land and over water. And so he did what his father had done in his own time and put one foot in front of the other, heading West, heading to his destiny.

The road was long, but he learned to live off the land. He rarely went starving but was always hungry, and he always gave a pleasant welcome to the people he met.

One day he came across a man struggling to drag an ox from the ditch where it tangled. The young man, being a helpful lad, jumped down and lent a shoulder, and together they got the ox back into the field. The farmer shook his hand and offered a seat at his table once the furrows were done plowing. The young man heartily accepted and gave his help driving the ox the rest of that day.

Later they broke for the evening and the farmer offered him work in exchange for a place to sleep and some solid eating, saying, “You are strong and true, but you could use some more meat on those bones! Let my daughter and I fatten you up if you can help us plant our crops and bring in the harvest.”

The young man could feel how satisfying the day’s work had been and how much better it felt to have a good home cooked meal filling his belly. He agreed, and for the next several months he helped the farmer and grew close to him and his daughter.

As the season was winding down and the crops were almost harvested the farmer voiced what he knew was on his daughter’s mind, offering the young man a permanent place in his home if he would take his daughter’s hand in marriage.

The young man was thrilled to be offered such generosity and kindness. He felt the love they had for him and knew his own heart to be swayed. But he also knew the gift his father had given him, and it was more precious than anything else. He was on his way to San Francisco to be a successful miner and this was just one step on the journey to get there.

And so he left the farmer and his daughter. And one day long after he came to a pasture where cows were grazing. He knew cows from his time on the farm, and he saw that one of them was having a difficult time delivering its calf. And so he stepped into the field and made sure the cow and calf were both safe.

As the calf was being born nearby cowboys witnessed the events and invited him back to the ranch. The boss offered him a place at his table and a job with the herd, saying, “You are strong and true, but you could use some meat on those bones. Let my crew and I fatten you up if you will help us drive our herds across to Abilene.”

It had been many days since the young man had been well fed, and the chance to work for a living out in the sun and with animals he knew and felt comfortable around was a good opportunity when it came.

And so he helped them run the ranch and drive cattle across to Abilene. And because he was strong and true he became well loved and valued. Eventually the rancher invited him to take over bossing the place, as his current manager was due to retire. The man, no longer exactly young, thought how kind and generous the offer was, and how much he valued being respected and appreciated for a job he truly liked doing.

But the man also knew something more important than all that. He knew what his father and grandfather had both known. The important thing was to know where you’d be at the end of your career, understand the gap, and work out the steps needed to get you there.

And so the man declined, saying “Although this is work that makes me happy and I have come to love both you and my fellow ranch hands, I am a miner, and I have an appointment in San Francisco.” And the next day he rolled up his blanket and left.

A few years later the now old man came across a commotion down by the edge of a town he was passing. There were people yelling and tempers flaring. Arms were being waved, and some had guns in their hands. It was all about to boil over when he showed up, but one mighty shout brought the attention to him. He asked what was going on and heard them out.

Being a still strong and still true man he gave them his advice and after a few moments of silent deliberation the town’s people agreed. Frowns turned to smiles and anger to joy. They invited him to stay with them, as the town was growing and had need of strong and true men.

He accepted and grew comfortably from the many home cooked meals that were delivered to him over the next several years.

And then one day the citizens approached him with the offer of making him their mayor, saying “You are wise and true, and have brought much success to our simple lives. Will you live here as our mayor and guide us to the end of your days?”

The old man responded, “I’m afraid I need to be going. I am a miner after all, and I’ve just now remembered that I have an appointment in San Francisco. Thanks for all the hospitality, but I’m afraid I must be on my way.” And with that he packed his bags and took the next stage for San Francisco.

Years later travelers might come upon a hillside with a tombstone set under a tree. The man’s name is on it, along with the following:

He left it all behind to be a miner. Sadly, that day never came.

Peace all!

Oh, and P.S., I actually found the father’s quote in an article pretending to be advice for artists wishing to have successful careers. Do with it what you wish, but when I saw it I know I nearly choked.

Do better than having even a good plan.


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The interesting thing about art criticism

For all you art world artists out there.

I just read this article the other day and it reminded me why art criticism, for all the good it is capable of, continues to bore me. Read this if you are interested:

Why Do Critics Still Hate Andrew Wyeth?

Something to consider:

Criticism does not require that the thing is understood in any sense beyond provoking criticism. It is always more about the person criticizing than the work itself. The critic is reacting. It pretends to speak from authority, but at most we can grant “This is what you see.”

The magnifying lens is almost as important as the hat and beard.

The magnifying glass is almost as important as the hat and beard.

And maybe sometimes they get things right. Or right enough to lay serious claim to our interest. Occasionally that perspective is worth paying attention to, but criticism has also become an industry. And when people are getting paid to have an opinion the question is always whether the money has been well spent. Who does the job serve? Who is paying for it? Who benefits?

Unfortunately, paid opinions seem more justified the less tolerant they are. If you are aiming for exclusivity, an ‘elite’ opinion, then you have to be against certain things. The more black and white perspective needs to be the more our own bias seems required. It actually pays to misunderstand some things, so long as you can be unequivocally against them or for them. The best way to get heard, the easiest way to get paid, is to have strong opinions about why certain work sucks, even. Its easier to tear down than build up, and criticism is a litany of self-cannibalization as new darlings replace the worn out and cast aside iterations. Progress, we call it.

“The situation borders on untenable if we consider that many of the artworks that seem to attract and even demand critical writing are often also goods for sale to elite consumers. Critics of contemporary visual art have some difficult jiu-jitsu to master: examining the power relations in society on the one hand while effectively greasing the wheels of a market for luxury items on the other…. Even scathing negative reviews can be touted by galleries as evidence of an artist’s relevance.” William S. Smith, Same As It Ever Was: A Conference on Art Criticism in the Digital Age

Criticism only works when we take it seriously. Then we get to debate the opinions as though they counted, and that is the only point of having an industry of opinions: The debate, not the work itself. What gets said rather than what its said about.

Criticism puts itself in the role of being at least as interesting as the work. It tells us that in many cases the work is less important than what you can say about it. If the work is crap you’ve at least told the truth, and that truth outweighs whatever charm the work carries…… Every word used to demean some art form, to tell us its not worth our time, suggests instead that the words leading us to that perspective are the important thing to observe.

Isn’t that strange?


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