Human culture has always had the job of explaining our world to us. This doesn’t always agree with the ideas of other cultures but is always meant as a guide for behavior. And because we often disagree with the rules and expectations of other cultures foreign behavior can sometimes seem a bit bizarre and alien. Foreign. These people believe in things that seem preposterous to many outsiders. And this is equally true when we look back at our own ancestors and even our grandparent’s and parent’s generations. We look at their maps of behavior and see the vast territories that have been marked out as unsafe: “Here there be monsters”. Communists lurking under every bed, witches and devil worshipers in every town besides our own. And sometimes we know this to be ignorance and superstition. Dragons and crazed sea monsters don’t really exist, do they? But this is what the culture sometimes tells us is out there.
And occasionally it is because of a lack of familiarity and sometimes it is merely an ingrained attitude. Sometimes a group of people are made to sit at the back of the bus and others can sit at the front. Sometimes a group of people are thought of as shiftless, less intelligent, and lazy simply because of their skin color while the people who believe this unquestioningly hold themselves to be superior. Innately superior. Sometimes a group of people are considered too flighty and emotional to have real jobs because somehow they are members of “the weaker sex”. And society divvies out the roles accordingly. Blue for you, and pink for you. Sometimes a person’s life work, because of their gender, is supposed to only include getting married (at 13 not too long ago), cranking out numerous children, raising them, keeping the home, preparing the meals, and waiting for the husband to get off work so that she can slavishly attend to his needs.
Equity doesn’t come into it because these are the things people believe. They are unquestioned. These are the roles that society gives us. This is what we were raised to believe, and this is what our children will most likely also believe. For better or worse the collective wisdom of people relies on many assumptions about the way things are supposed to be.
But eventually when people come to question a society’s traditional beliefs some are shown as valid and some are shown as suspect. But this requires not taking our beliefs at face value. And there are odious prejudices we have had to overcome in our own culture as recently as a few decades ago. And it is ongoing in many cases. So it should be obvious that just because we take certain things for granted they are not therefor correct. Ignorance, prejudice, superstition, habit, legend, tradition, and mythology all conspire to point us in certain directions, but its up to us to see whether this actually makes sense. If folks had just accepted the status quo there would never have been integration, there would never have been Women’s Lib. And I would unhesitatingly say we should be grateful some folks had the backbone and intelligence to stand up and challenge some of these opinions.
Back in potter’s world we can see that in many ways potters have their own culture. There are things we believe and values we accept. In a larger context we are part of the fringe of the artist culture, and so some non-potterly attitudes occasionally bleed across, for better or worse. And if we look more closely we may find that some of our most cherished notions, pet theories, and sacred cows have a bit of misdirection in them. But where are our sacred cows? Where do we start looking?
Whenever someone tells me I have to do something I start to wonder if I am being told to sit at the back of the bus or to be an obedient good little wife. It sometimes sounds like people are telling me that “Here there be monsters”. Many of my recent posts were attempts to shine a light on some of the presumptions that we face, namely the motivation of originality in what we do, and the drive for novelty.
Another of what I consider a potter’s boogeyman cropped up in discussion in the comments, namely the inevitability and necessity for potters to have ‘a voice’. And sure, we can see examples all around us of potters each with their own signature voice. And actually there are good reasons (branding for the marketplace, the psychological comforts of a habit, etc.,) that this is the case. But seeing it done doesn’t make it required. We are free to think for ourselves, are we not?
Our pottery icons are mostly representatives of this belief in having ‘a voice’. So the temptation is to accept that these great people can’t be wrong. But thinking that way is why it took so long for folks to sit anywhere they wanted on a bus, and for each and every person to feel like they had the opportunity to find a job and work for a living. How many Presidents were also slave owners, I wonder? There were probably many more ‘plausible’ reasons to keep people in their places way back when, but one argument for doesn’t mean there are not better arguments against.
So my question to you all, maybe the actual purpose I have in writing this blog, is “What beliefs do we have that perhaps need a second look?” You can scan back over the topics I have posted in recent months to see the things I feel challenged by. They include the need for originality, the need to have a voice, the primacy of technique, striving for perfection, that we can do without pottery being taught in schools, that beauty is unimportant, that artists should be concerned with things more important than mere beauty and function, that we should always be serious making our work,… The list goes on. What are the beliefs you all are challenged by?