Living in the shadows of Ghost

What does it say about the message we’ve been getting out when some people still first think of that scene from the movie Ghost when they think of pottery? The fact that our most iconic cultural significance is a scene of Patrick Swayze draped over Demi Moore can only be disappointing if you think about it.  It hardly does justice to the career artists who have worked so hard to give life to their creative visions. No wonder most of the public doesn’t take us seriously as artists. They may just be wondering why we don’t look more like Demi….

Here's potter Ron Philbeck taking one for the team dressed in Hannah McAndrew's frock

And why is that? I’m not saying that no one else gets what potters do. I’m just highlighting that the majority don’t see us as anything like what we see ourselves. And that’s perhaps why hardworking artists like Ron continue to get asked to make another potter’s work. Did they somehow get the wrong impression of us? Would we rather be making our own work? Would we rather be thought of as something more than a slightly rumpled, clay splattered, and perhaps unshaven stand-in for Demi Moore?

And as Cara pointed out in a comment on my last post, there isn’t just one way we see ourselves either. In fact, it seems that for the most part we are off on our own, doing our own thing, and barely have more than a generalized connection to what other potters are doing. In other words, we seriously lack a sense of real community. The yearly clay conferences, the odd workshop here or there, the occasional shared venue of a crafts fair, piling slabs into a firebox on your 8 hour shift, etc, don’t always do enough to put us on the same page in how we confront the public. We share so many interests and circumstances. We just don’t often talk about it that way….

So no wonder we don’t have much of a message for the public. We either end up only talking about ourselves or as if (by omission) we were somehow the only ones doing this ‘pottery’ thing. Often we don’t even talk as if there were a potting community with similar interests and similar goals. Just how much do we talk to the public about our brother and sister potters? Just how frequently do we talk about what it is that potters do, and not just what we ourselves do? When we talk to the public we almost always talk as if no other potters exist. And that goes for me as much as anyone else.

Is it any wonder the best known example of someone working clay on a wheel is Demi Moore (followed closely by Patrick Swayze)?

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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5 Responses to Living in the shadows of Ghost

  1. juana says:

    this is kind of on a tangent, but your post reminds me of a recent comment by ana (my 10 year-old). we were driving, and in he radio the words “global warming” came up. ana says that her friend had told her that some people do not believe that global warming exists. ana adds, “they don’t believe in it, i mean, as if it was… a ghost”.

    i believe you believe that the same applies to potters, but for slightly different reasons.

  2. I like that spin on it! Evidence for the existence of potters is so outside most normal people’s experiences that we might just as well BE ghosts…. They don’t have to believe in our existence because they have no tangible contact with what we do. For all intents and purposes we might as well be spinning our wheels and selling our pots on Mars. Or seeing the evidence fail to believe what lies in front of them, as if it was so psychologically disturbing that they shut down mentally and go into shock (Okay, I stretched that one). Or through stubborn ignorance interpret every pot they see either as an ashtray or a planter: “What else could it be?” Or be so indifferent that the evidence just washes over them and leaves no impression. Or be so opposed to what it is we do that they deny us for the heretic purveyors of beauty and function that we are. Or be so dismissive of our anachronism that they can’t actually see what they are stepping over on their way to the Guggenheim or the Met.

    Thanks Juana! That was a wonderful insight into the issue.

  3. I met someone shortly after moving to Cleveland, who piqued my interest considerably, and the spark seemed to be mutual. So when he asked what I did for a living and I explained that I was a potter I expected visions of Ghost to emanate. My fantasy was short-lived, however, as it seems there’s a reality show about the dirtiest jobs, that featured a potter in a recent eposode. That being the reference that was called into the air in that moment, I covered my embarrassment, relinquished my silly girl self, and reminded her that my first reaction to seeing the movie was, ‘don’t you even come into my studio, boy, and mess with my mud!’

    My fantasy these days is a community of potters and other artisans/artists/craftsmen, all living in handbuilt cob houses, growing their own vegetables, practicing animal husbandry, collecting rainwater, using solar, water, and wind power to generate electricity, teaching a regular stream of tourists and curiosity seekers how to live simply and beautifully as they part with their wealth in exchange for our goods, and generously donate to support our existence.

    Back to reality . . . it did occur to me that we could be doing more. Instead of the workshops by the masters (?) who charge tons to attendees, a ‘normal’ potter could open the studio on the odd night/evening/day a month and host a gathering free, just to see a demonstration or experience a prepared introduction to clay for the neophyte. Or a brilliant writer, like say, Carter, could begin writing a column for the local newspaper, or magazine, and thereby generate interest not only in his work, but in the work of other potters. And we each could host our potter friends in a community setting on a regular but revolving basis, sharing some aspect of our work with others, in some kind of forum, and start a grass-roots effort that is vital and engaging. Or the old tradition of the barn raising could be reinstated only potter themed: it could involve cob building, wood kiln building, or glaze room framing (included because that’s my current need, of course!). Even socializing, as I was once reminded is a valid enterprise, could be undertaken with a group of like minded potters. This really isn’t rocket science. It is possible to build community and generate interest, and clients! but it usually starts slowly and builds, and patience is key. There must be tons of ideas . . . it can’t all be ghost potters, who are invisible until they’re elbow deep in mud, and chest/waist spattered . . . only exposed to reality because they’re dirty. Can it?

  4. Well that’s how out of touch I am! At least we got included in a reality show, even if it was only for the world’s dirtiest jobs. Wonder what that’s doing for our reputation…. At least Demi Moore did her thing looking like a ‘regular’ person (movie star). You know, the kind of look that the public mostly aspires to already, with make-up, nail polish, a fine haircut, a sexy shirt, and she managed to not get any clay on her throughout.

    I just love the looks I get walking in the downtown with clay splattered all over me. I fondly think of it as a merit badge, but it is so blue collar that I wonder if it sometimes slips under the line of decorum and well dressed people being willing to shake your hand…. I think one of the local grocery store cashiers occasionally actually slips me a senior discount because I look like I could very nearly be homeless…. But maybe that’s the holes in my shoes and the ratty tee shirts. Work clothes just are what they are, and only Demi Moore puts on make-up to throw a pot. Still, I wonder if I’m giving potters everywhere a bad name by wearing work clothes in public. Or is it yet one more symptom of a superficial society and of how poorly potters are understood and appreciated?

    I love the fantasy you have, and I feel like in many ways I’m already so close to that. And it seems like I know of others who are really on the same page with that. But as you say, the reality can be quite different when you get down to it. Still, its nice to dream! Maybe even something to work towards….

    I also love all those suggestions. I am thinking seriously about your idea of opening my studio for an evening a few nights a year. The NC clay club does it for fellow potters, and I would consider this, but would also like to extend it to the community. I’m just wondering how you’d advertise it. “Date night” and serve wine and cheese, or “Bring a towel” and get their hands dirty. Not sure yet….

    The newspaper column would be great except the art scene jobs around here are already mostly filled by people who don’t respect pottery. Educating them might be a first step, but I suspect there are prejudices at play that count against us. Doesn’t hurt to try though!

    The barn raisings are a wonderful motif! I have helped a bunch of folks build kilns in the area. But you are right. There is so much more we could be doing to help each other out, and build up community while we’re at it. I’ll start putting the word out there locally and see what can be done. In fact, I have one project in mind for a friend of mine that I probably could get some of us locals to help out on. Thanks for the suggestion Cara!

  5. Hey, wearing our work clothes in public is kind of like free advertising, self promotion, right? Glad I’m not the only one! I don’t believe that’s a big deal here, we’ve got the long history of potters and eccentrics– though it may still raise eyebrows that a woman dresses like that . . . is that why people are looking at me? Paranoia strikes!

    Keep us updated on the pottery nights and the barn raisings. I’m excited for you, and jealous you’ve got all that community thing going there already. Not really jealous, you know, just feelling how cool that really is! I know NC has a great group, means it’s possible for the rest of us too!?

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