Creativity had a baby and they named it Art

Of course we don’t talk as glowingly about its illegitimate children….

(This is a brief meditation on how some words work and what the difference between a name and a description is.)

I recently read an article that suggested that saying “best” is the worst thing you can do to end an email/letter. This seemed a pretentious bit of fascism, and it got me thinking about ways in which we use words other than by literally ‘meaning’ them. The article is here, and my response below:

I use ‘cheers!’ hoping to end cheerfully. I think some Brit used it in an email to me and I liked it enough to copy and don’t feel weird using it. The article does make it sound as if you are supposed to say something you ‘mean’ or not say anthing at all, which is a limited view on the way that words function. Sign-offs are a cultural practice in the same way that shaking hands serves in greeting. It doesn’t mean anything in particular beyond simply being what we do. And what we do doesn’t always need to make some sort of ‘extra’ sense……

Another article I read close after described how the arts field is getting more comfortable using “creative expression” for the word “art”. You can read the article here, my response is below:

Part of the issue seems to be our expectation for the word ‘art’. Does it describe something or is it a name? I like the use of ‘creative expression’ for its unabashed descriptive function, but the problem I see with the word ‘art’ is that we often expect it to be similarly descriptive, and yet it is no more descriptive than my name is. The entire argument that if anything can be art then nothing is art relies on the confusion that we are actually describing something. Rather, ‘art’ is a convention of naming, and we can name anything ‘art’ if we want to….

For too long it has been assumed that ‘art’ describes some essential quality that some things have and others do not. Perhaps criteria are more easily found the more specific we get with particular ‘arts’, but the truth is that no one common thread runs through all the various things called ‘art’. Nor should we expect them to have some essential descriptive uniformity. ‘Art’ doesn’t MEAN something specific, it names a collection of practices that through convention have come to be organized and thought of in a certain way. The contingency of this collection is evident in how contestable the use of the word ‘art’ is and how negotiable the borders evidently are.

Perhaps you can see why my two responses are related. We use words not always to mean something specific but because convention dictates that using it in such and such circumstances is appropriate. And we get hung up by names more often than with most other types of word…. But why?

What does a name mean? What does your name mean? What is the connection between a name and the thing named? Does the name contain some secret about the thing? Does it describe it? Always? Necessarily? Can you look into a name and read all you need to know? A short hand? Merely an arbitrary label? Is a name a sort of mental pointing to the thing named? Is it a specific mental pointing or is it blurry around the edges? Is the pointing itself arbitrary and the ways we actually use the word in daily life instead more illuminating? (Cue Wittgenstein if you want to go much further down this road with me)

Names seem to have this power over us that we often feel we are looking into the essence of things by learning their names. And sometimes names do give us access to something specific or peculiar to the thing so named. Sometimes names are based on descriptions or qualities of the thing named (If they had named me ‘Carter Gillies’ back in the day I would have been some guy driving a cart who also held the door open in the Scottish Parliament).

But every name is NOT always a description. And telling the difference between how these words are actually used will likely clear up a few confusions that we tend to get mired in. Is ‘art’ what we say it is, the many disparate things collectively, or is it something specific standing objectively behind the word? That and other similar confusions are why this question matters…..

Something to think about, at least.

Peace all!

Happy potting!


Posted in Art, metacognition, Wittgenstein | 4 Comments

How I fell in love with pottery

When I was first starting out in clay it was the perfect distraction from my graduate degree work in Philosophy. I needed time away from the cerebral stuff of my normal day, and sitting in front of a wheel with a piece of clay was perfect for that. But I think the more invested I became in enjoying the process and the results the more it seemed worth thinking about. And rather than the sometimes ridiculous cerebral antics of my degree work this was something where thinking well obviously pays off. The more I fell on love with clay the less satisfied I was only knowing it through touch and sight. I wanted to also know why. I wanted to know what things were possible and what things I should avoid. You can only blunder around for so long before the lack of mental investment starts to show…..

I said this a few weeks ago in a comment somewhere and it seems worth sharing. Other thoughts:

Imagine a torrid love affair. Imagine passions so strong that sometimes you can’t live with it but you also can’t live without it. Imagine a slow burning and steady flame where its keeping things just warm enough to continue. Imagine a passion so bright that it burns out in a sudden massive conflagration, destroying everything in its path. Imagine a passion that is all in when its in, but changes direction at a moment’s notice and easily moves on to other things. Imagine just needing an occasional break. Imagine a commitment through thick and thin. Imagine a relationship that makes us guilty and self conscious. Imagine a relationship that thrives on our humiliation. Imagine a relationship that brings the best out in us and allows us to flourish in ways we never could have on our own.

We have a relationship to our art, to the clay beneath our fingers, to our own imagination. What is it? How do we feel about it?

Do you love what you are doing enough to explore it further, or do you love it so much that anything outside your scope is a threat? Do you love it so much that the unfolding mystery keeps that love alive, or do you love it so much that you want it preserved exactly as it is, a moment in time bottled up for safe keeping, like pictures from a vacation or a fly trapped in amber? Do you love it so much that you surround yourself with the expressions of other artists to see what someone else has to say, a conversation in an aesthetic language of form and possibility, a conversation evolving through your own fingers and exposure to what others think is true, or do you love it so much that nothing else matters besides what you have to say, what your own opinions are? Do you love it with certainty and conviction or with hope and humility? Do you love it as something that when shared takes on a life of its own, and that this is its natural fulfillment, or do you love it so much that letting it out of your sight is a betrayal and an act of abandonment? Do you love it so much that finding it a home where it will be loved by others is sometimes more important than getting paid or other fair compensation? Is what you are doing, what you are making just a means to an end or is it sometimes an end in itself? Do we love it so much that we only want it to express our ideals, or do we love it so much that we accept it for what it is? Is the relationship bigger than ourselves or does it turn with only us at its center?

Imagine we were instead talking about a friend, a family member, a son or daughter, or a partner. Does it make sense to treat our creativity differently? If so, why? And what does that tell us about our relationship to what we are doing? Is it just a job or is it bigger than that? A passion? A love? What does that mean for us?

So this is what I sometimes think about. Because I care. Because I refuse to blunder through these things with the blinders on and too much unnecessary trauma left in my wake. If I’m not going to care enough about my art, what should I care about?

No right answers. No universal ones, at least. But what do you all think? Like everything else in life, there’s no one right way of doing it, but if doing it matters then maybe it is worth thinking about……. Maybe its worth finding a way to love what you are doing that makes the best possible life to live.

All for now!

Happy potting!

Make beauty real!


Posted in Art, Beauty, Creative industry, Creativity, Ephemera, Imagination, metacognition, Pottery | 2 Comments

Sale recap and this weekend’s promo


I placed my last pot on the display at 10:03am this past Saturday and signaled to the Universe that I was now ready to receive customers. And folks came.

It was the public face of four months solid effort getting ready and set, gearing up, and launching my little salescraft into orbit. The clouds drew back to light my tiny corner of the universe, the pots, and to welcome the public to my studio. It turned out to be a great weekend. Selling so many pots helped, but seeing old friends, making new ones, and just relaxing with people who care about me and what I do was the best thing I could have asked for after the Herculean labor of putting a show together.


One of the special treats is that so many of my pots get placed in homes where I know they will be appreciated. One of the special special treats is seeing so many small pots wind up in the small hands of smaller people :) Its amazing what a difference your very own mug can make to a young person!

KcKenna, her piggy bank, and her new mug

KcKenna, her piggy bank, and her new mug

My neighbors Rhea and McKenna had been out the day before, but the brand new mug they had left with didn’t survive an entire day of continuous play :( Fortunately the prices being as affordable as they are, McKenna decided that she simply had to replace it and brought her own piggy bank to make the purchase.

Neely rejoices!

Neely rejoices!

Neely rejoices after finding the perfect new mug! Not only are the pots I set out for kids affordably priced but I make them the right size for kids too. I try to respect the smaller versions of a kid’s needs and appetite when I design these pots, and I just hope I have enough variety to give everyone at least a few options to choose from.

chug-a-lug-lug happiness is a cup of water

Luke and Lilly enjoying their new mugs. I think they had said the plan was to drink some milk and some water respectively. The other most popular option kids discussed was hot chocolate :)


So last weekend was lots of fun! Lucky for me I get to do it all again this coming weekend. This time I will be joined by the truly fabulous potters Kyle Jones, Jeff Bishoff, and Geoff Pickett. As I said previously, they are “nearly as amazing potters” as me ( ;) )

I hope folks can make it out this weekend. I hope we get the chance to catch up, hang out a bit, and shoot the breeze. If you don’t need any new pots you should still come out and tell us “Hello!” Seeing you all isn’t just the icing on the cake, it is the cake.

Being a potter isn’t a job. Its being the nexus of a very special community that forms to create and sustain beauty in the humble corners of daily life. Every time you add something new and beautiful to your life or share a pottery gift with someone you know the circle has a chance to get that much larger, helping make the world a place where handcrafted beauty is welcomed and local craftsmanship is nurtured.

Thanks for all you do!

Hope to see you this weekend!




Posted in Art, Ceramics, Creative industry, Imagination, Pottery | 2 Comments

The World’s Greatest Living Potter!™

The World’s Greatest Living Potter!

Behold the brilliance! Marvel at the magnificence! Be astounded by the splendor! Amaze at the awesomeness!

Tremble with holy rapture as The World’s Greatest Living Potter!™ unveils his latest work! Weep tears of ecstatic joy! Chain yourself to the screen and glue your eyeballs open! Your Life Is About To Be Forever Changed™!


This weekend,
Saturday June 6th and Sunday June 7th
10am to 4pm
Carter Gillies Pottery open houseNext weekend,
Saturday June 13th and Sunday June 14th
10am to 4pm
Carter and Friends Pottery Market
With nearly as amazing guest artists Geoff Pickett,
Jeff Bishoff, and Kyle Jones

572 Nantahala ave
Athens GA


And don’t forget the kids section with smaller pots for smaller people at half off if they ‘pay’ for it themselves :)Tell your friends and neighbors!

I hope you can make it!



DSCN4706b DSCN4729b DSCN4749b




Posted in Art | 2 Comments

And Now For Something Completely Different: Less Theory, More Work

That’s supposed to be a joke folks! (See this post for me being serious about theory and work :) ) If you can’t occasionally laugh at yourself the problem isn’t in your diaphragm….

So, in a 180 degree course reversal its time for me to post some pictures of recent work. If you know me you know how I hate self-promotion, but the summer sales start just next weekend and I might as well show you all what I’ve been up to in the studio for the last several months. Here are some theory neutral mugs, some aesthetically ambivalent bowls, and other assorted nonjudgmental work that doesn’t espouse a point of view, advocate an insight, or otherwise make claims that anyone anywhere should be interested in. This is work that has been done without a hint of thought and which abolishes any meaningful thought in its audience. Cast your eyes on my new Theory-Free Work!

DSCN4782b DSCN4787b DSCN4780b DSCN4771b DSCN4765b DSCN4761b DSCN4752b DSCN4737b DSCN4710b DSCN4695b DSCN4676b DSCN4685b DSCN4688b

Peace all!

Happy potting!

Make beauty real!

Think good thoughts!


Posted in Art, Beauty, Ceramics, Creativity, Imagination, metacognition, Pottery | 2 Comments

Teach like a bandit

The interesting thing about teaching is that you don’t always have to give students the truth for them to find their way. The simple obvious truths are usually overrated. Occasionally you have to ambush them, and steal their attention with misdirection. Sometimes the provocation for students to do their own important thinking comes from outright falsehood, sometimes from ambivalence, sometimes from overstating a case, sometimes from understating a case, playing devil’s advocate, etc. A good teacher doesn’t just spoon feed the answers or set ‘good examples’ but often lies like a bandit to get ideas across. Sometimes the mere hint of truth is all it takes to encourage an evolving intellect, and sends it careening across the wide imaginative universe. Good teachers can hide that truth in many ways to make it a challenge for students to find, and then properly own. Unless its earned by them it will always be someone else’s truth. Because, sometimes the important stuff stays mostly hidden in the shadows, and you need to look less at what’s staring you in the face and more at what is only implied between the lines….. Sometimes you have to put two and two together and not simply expect it to always equal four: Parts of the question only lead to parts of the answer, and maybe there’s more to be said than we’ve heard. When it looks obvious, that’s the time for us to be most suspicious that we are missing something. Like a riddle wrapped in an ambush in a Bogart mystery….. Teach like a bandit.

big sleep

Posted in Art, Arts education, Beauty, Ceramics, Creativity, Imagination, metacognition, Pottery, Teaching | 4 Comments

“Less theory, more work”

Someone said this to me the other day on facebook after one of my rambling attempts at thought provocation, and it took me by surprise. It bothered me the whole rest of the day. As I stood in my studio glazing pots for my next firing I wondered what exactly this person was trying to tell me. As I worked to put together that next kiln load I came up with several theories for why he said that. Its not like walking and chewing bubblegum at the same time (joke) where you can’t do both at once, so maybe its that you should shoot first and ask questions later? I had so wanted to leave a scathing reply, but I thought better of it and didn’t. Maybe I was wrong not to. In fact it bothered me so much that I was kept up at night, and maybe that’s what he meant. Maybe he meant that the only way to sleep soundly is to not worry about stuff, to not speculate, plan, judge, or consider the consequences of actions…..

Because to me ‘less theory, more work’ seems like a poor theory. If its telling us that there is a problem with theory its not that we need better theory, just less. Its saying the problem is theory itself. We need less of them, we need them to be less complicated, we need fewer people thinking them, and in all other ways they need to be diminished. Its saying that thinking is overrated. We need less thought and fewer people doing it……

As I said, its a poor theory, and if that’s the caliber of theory this person had in mind I can see why we might need less of them. But the key is that to do anything well you do have to work at it, and even thinking well takes work. If you are not very good at it, maybe that’s not a sign you should give it up, that you should do less of it, but that you should actually try harder. Maybe its a sign that you are not working hard enough at it.

Its true that the human brain did not evolve specifically to think, but it does this anyway. We can think, and so we do, but our ancient prehistoric ancestors were all doers. They were workers. And maybe its true that our thinking has gotten us into all sorts if trouble, with war, hatred, and poverty among the lists of atrocities perpetuated by people thinking poorly. But to turn back the clock won’t work either. To solve these and other issues will take more thought and better thought. Thinking may have gotten us into some of these modern troubles, but its also our best way out. Not ‘less’ theory, but better.

That’s all I’m gonna say. Something to think about, at least. Definitely something to work on.


Posted in metacognition | 16 Comments