The collective wisdom of potters

I probably lost most of my readers with that last post, my mad cap ramblings, and my insane jousting with windmills. If you hadn’t guessed it already, these posts are usually me just thinking out loud, putting some ideas out there, and hoping to learn from all you wise folk out in the ether. I sometimes learn a lot just by putting my ideas down on paper or talking to myself, but I always learn so much more when I get to converse with other folks whose ideas are a bit different from my own.

If you took the time to read that last post, Scott’s serious question that I hopelessly misconstrued, and my own ranting response, and then the follow-up response to my own comment, you will see that I don’t have the answers. I’m just trying to figure some of this stuff out. And learning can be painful and fraught with obstacles.

Anyway, this morning my G00gle reader gifted me with two great posts by other potters that show how some of us are dealing with the same kinds of issues. Ron Philbeck shared this great video:

Then I came across this great post by Ben Carter. Here is a quick excerpt to show you why I love it so:

“This reminds me of my favorite sutra, The Faith Mind. One particular line hit me hard the first time I read it. If you wish to see the truth then hold no opinions for or against anything. My initial thought was “This is bull shit. How can I not have opinions. I am an artist. I need to be able to judge what works and what doesn’t.” (Most times when I have this strong of a reaction I need to pay attention because something big is happening.) The righteousness of opinions is something I was taught to cherish. If I give up these opinions won’t I be direction-less floating in a creative wasteland? As it turns out, I won’t.”

Pretty cool, eh? Not only are there such great images of pots being shared on the internet, and skills and techniques, but folks are also sharing important ideas and wisdom as well. And as long as I don’t have it all figured out I hope I will continue to learn from you guys. Thanks for sharing all the cool stuff that you do!

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.
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17 Responses to The collective wisdom of potters

  1. Becky says:

    My favorite quote from that video.. “But mainly: relax, and let everything go to hell”. 🙂

  2. Michael says:

    Hey Carter. I’m so glad that I can come over to your blog and read what you have to say. It is SO valuable to me. Your’s is a must-read!
    Thank you!

    • Thanks Michael! Its really humbling to read those words…. Thanks so much for helping to inspire me and for being such a generous and gracious presence on the internet and in person. Potters on the internet owe you so much. Your blog is a model for the way things can be. And if the rest of us don’t have your awesome wellspring of energy and motivation we can at least learn from your example. Thanks for being who you are and for sharing so much of yourself with the rest of us.

  3. Scott Cooper says:

    Wait just a gosh darn minute! You mean I’ve been spending all this time hanging around here and now you tell me that you don’t have all the answers? NOW? Unsubscribe! Unsubscribe!

    Seriously, though, that’s a sweet video up there. Not sure which I like more, the content or that great animation technique. (I know, I know… I get a little too impressed with technique. Sue me.)

    And even more seriously, I think the lesson from your last post is that you should definitely blog more often while high on Novocaine, dental pain and sleep deprivation. Sometimes it doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense, but it never fails to entertain!

    • Hah! So that’s one vote for more tilting at windmills. Works for me as long as I don’t dig myself too deep a hole…. And thanks for the charitable reading of my mental flailing about. I suppose running my head into these obstacles is amusing if looked at from the right angle. I just wish it weren’t so painful personally…. That’s why they call it growing pains I guess….

      • Scott Cooper says:

        Devil’s Advocate version: Yes! Isn’t that the motto of your old discipline, anyways? Philosophy: Tilting at windmills. If you can handle the pain, it’s at least amusing to the rest of us.

        Sincere version: Yes! I think it’s cool that you’re willing to share these ideas as you have them — pretty daring, too. And it’s all quite instructive and interesting to the rest of us, if you can continue taking the punishment to your head without too much permanent damage.

        • Avoiding the damage may be the key. If I start to sound woozy and my thought trains crack apart from too much bludgeoning please alert the medical staff.

          “Paging Dr Cooper. Paging Dr Cooper.”

      • Scott Cooper says:

        Dammit Carter, I’m a doctor, not an train engineer!

  4. ‘If you wish to see the truth then hold no opinions for or against anything.’ What struck me immediately is the word ‘hold’ in this quote. It is one thing to have, and another to hold, else traditional wedding vows (the example most immediately available to me) wouldn’t separate them with the word ‘and.’ I don’t have to ‘hold’ my first thought, but there are things inherent in me that will cause me to have them. Life experiences, prejudices, memories, personal taste. I have every right to have these initial impressions, but holding to them, especially when evidence to the contrary is produced, would be silly. Maybe this is nonsense– I’m not on novocaine, I swear! may I at least be entertaining?

    • That’s a great interpretation of that quote. And I like how it ties into all that flailing about I did on my previous post: ‘Have’ meaning possession or something defining about who we are, and ‘hold’ meaning the things we can pick up and put down, the things that can be distracted and untracked. We can’t avoid our first impressions, but we can decide what to do with them.

      Good stuff Cara! I know I was entertained 😉

    • Ben Carter says:

      Good point Cara. I have read that line 100’s of times but I overlooked the distinction between “hold” vs. “have”. I often talk to people who give up on meditation when they can’t stop their thinking. The idea that we should stop our thinking is unrealistic. My teachers have always told me to watch my thinking like I watch a movie. This approach is valid in pottery also. If I can watch my work with an observer’s eye I find that I can progress through ideas faster, or at least progress without the weight of constantly determining their merits. I often tell a guitarist friend of mine that I am not qualified to judge my own fitness as an artist. I can note the feelings and ideas I am experiencing but I’m to close to judge the impact my pots have on the world. Often my least favorite pots are the ones that people swear they use everyday.

      Carter, I am right there with you about using a blog to work through ideas. I think of mine as my visual sketchbook. I will often look back at old posts and realize my ideas have progressed since the date of the original post. Keep on writing because I love to see this progression in others. It is inspiring.
      Thanks for the new spin on things.

      • Thank YOU Ben. It is really great that potters from clear across the globe can keep in touch and share what wisdom we have. Thanks for sharing so much on your blog!

        My students met last night and we talked a bit about your post. I’m glad I got a chance to share it with them. Lots for both them and me to consider. Keep up the good work!

  5. Nick says:

    “I probably lost most of my readers with that last post…”
    Well, if you did lose any readers, let them go, they are not your audience anyway.
    Pottery blogs are a dime a dozen, most of them consisting of pictures from the latest bisque run, their gardening exploits, recipes (oh boy), and ramblings about their “charming” children.
    Solid thinking and writing about creativity, aesthetics (horrors!), motivation, philosophy, and such is much harder to come by, and for those subjects, one needs to read your blog.
    Keep it up, Carter, there will always be those of us who return for the good stuff.

    • Thanks Nick! I truly welcome hearing that.

      When I’m off ranting my extended monologue it can sometimes seem like the echoes from my own voice are the only things I hear. The bouncing rebounding of my words can easily become self reinforcing and I end up getting carried away by my own trains of thought. Picking my head up to see the public I am making such a display of myself in can be disorienting and faintly embarrassing when I realize how far down the road I’ve traveled. I’m just glad there are folks like you out there who see some value in my capering antics and mental gymnastics. And if at most what I do is merely entertaining, at least there’s that. But its great being able to consider some of these issues in a public forum. Thanks for being a part of this community.

      Thanks for checking in, and thanks for the pep talk!

      • Scott Cooper says:

        I agree with Nick: the smaller the audience, the better. Make it what you sincerely want it to be, or what it has to be, and the right people will come around eventually.

        And also what he said about those stupid pottery blogs with their “ramblings about their ‘charming’ children” — oh, wait a second…

    • Michael says:

      I’ll keep this short, RIGHT ON.

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