An essential part of being human is expressing ourselves. As kids we often do this with abandon. There are no rules. We invent games and recreate the world around us in our imagination. As we get older our creativity gets yoked to more serious endeavors. We learn to express ourselves according to the rules, politely, and socially acceptably, but we also lose something along the way. The more we ‘grow up’ the more we fit ourselves into tight little boxes, the more we identify with cliches and the more we ourselves become stereotypes. Habit takes over and we go through our routines in a blur of rote acceptance.
As our imagination gets abused by these social pressures we find we have let slip that precious capacity for creative inspiration. The unselfconscious liberty we knew as children has been replaced with chains. Our ability to invent new worlds with just a flicker of imagination has been replaced with a cult of followers, where we sit idly by as others make our decisions for us, feed us with the issues and things to care about. Our world has suddenly transformed into the creation of someone else’s imagination (scary!) and we are now playing only by their rules. The more we know about the world the less we imagine it to be different.
For adults one way of recapturing that native talent for creativity is to make art. And by “art” I don’t mean only that which gets taught in art schools or is exhibited in galleries and museums. For me “art” is any creative expression, not necessarily ‘great’, but always new, and always imaginative. Art sees the world as something different, and we remake the world with every new creation we add to it. And if we are adding beauty to the world we are also active in making it a better place: The world is now more beautiful than it was just moments before. And so, making art also has a moral dimension. Artists are simply driven to make art because they are not satisfied with the world as it is. We feel it needs to be different. It needs to be better. We don’t sit on our hands and merely accept what is given to us. We make, and in making we make it different. If we actually were satisfied with the way things are, why on earth would we add more stuff? How could we justify it if the world was already good enough as is?
So, making art is a way of fulfilling our obligation to impact the world positively. And I would argue that this helps to sustain our moral center. We aren’t just going through the motions and we aren’t just doing as we are told. But perhaps there are artists that don’t actually care about what they make. What if we admitted that we only made crap and that therefor we were filling the world only with more crap, not adding something of value? What would that be like? Would our audience in the world be deceived? Maybe, but what kind of people would we then have to be? Could we look at ourselves in the mirror of responsibility? Would we advertise it? Would we proudly proclaim that our mission was to make the world something less? Something worse than it already is?
But we artists do tend to believe in our visions of beauty. We make what we like and we like it for our own good reasons. We believe we are doing the right thing by giving birth to these new objects, and others confirm this for us when they buy our work. They agree that, yes, the world is now a better place with this pot in it, and they want to include it in their lives. So, whether we consciously acknowledge our moral influence or not, what we are doing is essentially something positive in the world, and I believe this nurtures us, even unconsciously. And you don’t have to be a ‘great’ artist to have this impact. If this humble thing you have made brings joy to another person then you have made a difference.
So, I would say that making pottery helps sustain us as moral beings. Making pottery sustains us as vital creators in the world. And the world needs us. The more complex the world gets the more we depend on others doing the creative work for us. The busier we are the less opportunity we have to express ourselves creatively. But humans were not meant to only be trained monkeys. When our imagination dies something vitally important goes with it. And society suffers along with us. We find we have lost our ability for self determination.
But making art helps plug the holes through which our creative souls have been leaking. Simply put, we are more whole the more familiar we are with expressing our imagination. So many adults crave this experience and society lets us down again and again. Nurturing creativity with our hands is just a different expression of us nurturing our capacity for independent thought. Thinking for ourselves, the use of creative imagination, and making objects of art are all sides of the same coin.
I answered this mostly in the abstract, but I feel all this personally, and I see it in my students everyday. Part of us needs this opportunity to do something creative. Part of us needs to feel good about the things we do with our hands, to enjoy the new beauty we have brought into the world. That is why I think making pots helps sustain us. And every time someone tells me how they love the handmade mug they drink their coffee from I know I am not wrong.