So this chunk of blathering is the third installment of what was incredibly once thought of as a single post. And I’ve got one more piece that I generously split off from the end of this one! I must be insane, right? Or have it in for any potential blog readers…. I was even told just recently that any text more than a single screen in length is too long for a blog post. Not only will most people not bother with it, but the suggestion was that any post that was longer usually betrays a fundamental lack of understanding the issues being discussed.
And you know what? In my case that may actually be quite correct. I blather on like this because I don’t know the answers. I’m here just asking questions and hoping that YOU will help me figure some of this stuff out. Sometimes talking about issues brings them into clearer focus, and sometimes discussing them allows me to see things from different perspectives, adds shape to the thing I am wrestling with. And while probably everything I have to say here can seem quite ordinary and simple, getting my head around it has often taken a whole lot of work. So, many thanks to all you dedicated sufferers! Your Herculean efforts have not gone unnoticed.
Quick synopsis of how we got here: How we are trained to see things makes a huge difference. And maybe I could have just stopped there instead of blathering on for several thousand words.
But if there is a ‘nurture’ to how we see, if our education actually is important, is there also a ‘nature’? Is our species adapted to seeing in ways that our culture merely sits on top of or overlays? Doesn’t it also seem like there are non-cultural and non-personal distinctions that impress the human observer? Occasionally it just boils down to a question of getting noticed. And we have the old adage that “The squeaky wheel gets the oil” for good reason. Alarm bells are alarm bells for good reason. So much of culture is about communication, and communication requires that the audience will notice a message being given. And if the point of what you are doing is to be noticed, you don’t always aim for subtlety. Subtlety is difficult. Subtlety is often a book that we don’t pick up, much less read. Subtle often just fades into the background. Communication sometimes just means that we need to be talking loud enough.
Subtle pots are like a potter whispering in a crowded room. Unless the audience knows to pay attention (is trained for this purpose) they will be easily distracted by all that other commotion bustling about them. The noisy and the loud. And even with our best attempts at focused attention it will sometimes be hard to pick up on what is being said. And while it commits to nothing about the sophistication we can aim at, being loud, ostentatious, lurid, etc, is much more observable than the quiet, subtle, demure visuals that a majority of customers simply pass by. Perhaps those quiet pots are only really ever looked at in quiet sound proofed rooms with good lighting on top of pedestals. In isolation. By trained professional observers. Or once the customer has brought them home. Isn’t this what Warren MacKenzie is referring to when he invokes “the personal contact that is involved in the understanding of a pot that is handled and used over many times throughout the years, and only slowly reveals itself”? Sub-tle is sub-dued. Below. Buried. Beneath. It requires effort to unearth. It is the antithesis of “Pop“. When something pops it is already in your face. Subtle is rarely pop-ular.
It is a fact of our evolution that things stand out for us by conforming to a certain kind of visual impact. And our use of words only reflects that truth. Brilliant, bright, piercing, blazing, bold, showy, dashing, gaudy, pretentious, garish, dramatic, flaunting, glittering, luminous, pompous, majestic, spectacular, radiant, florid, and all sorts of other words can be used to describe the easy pickings for our powers of observation. The much harder work is relegated to words that describe things as being opaque, solemn, dull, subdued, camouflaged, reserved, suppressed, hidden, concealed, stealthy, shy, cloaked, mysterious, secret, stifled, dark, etc.
So, the truth I’m getting at here is that in a very generic way humans are naturally drawn to a species of visual data that stands out from other data. These details push themselves to the foreground. They are the conspicuous. The flagrant. And in the surrounding natural world evolution has caused a proliferation of brightly colored animals and plants for just this reason. Its not only human nature we are talking about, but basic conditions of anything being alive. Even the camouflage specialist gecko lizard who keeps me company in my yard puffs out his bright red throat when it is mating season. Sometimes being noticed is our most valuable survival tool.
So that’s part of the underlying genetic landscape. Another tangent is that human’s learn because we are specifically adapted to picking out the handiwork of other humans. We learn the world through learning language. We learn language because our infant ears and brain are designed to distinguish the sound of the human voice and to pick these noises out from the welter of audible input. In the rough and tumble of wild chaotic nature we learn patterns to build meaning around, but the hand of human industry always takes a special place in our consciousness. It stands at the root of all our conscious thought and twines itself about even our most brute and instinctive emotions.
And the result is human culture, with all its material accoutrements. And because our brains work this way, culture is easy to spot. We humans do things that are not in nature by themselves, and these are easy to pick out. We filter and organize the world into a new shape. We put straight edges on things and corners where no corner should exist. We curve and we loop. We create consistency and symmetry out of the soup of details that the world has provided for us. We invent. We decorate with images, patterns, and make representational pictures. We create meaning. We create significance. We put information that is distinctly human on all sorts of things and claim that part of the world as something separate from ‘mother nature’. We cultivate and prune. We plant our flag and make our mark. We build fences and set boundaries. And our eyes pick up purposeful landmarks much easier than random things. Its as if that crystal of intention lodges in our perception and we have an immediate non-natural focus. We recognize the human hand, and that gives us a head start to making sense of what we are looking at.
And as I remarked in a previous post, you can’t like something if you can’t see it. And if you don’t like it you won’t but it. So, in a sense, being noticed is the first route to finding customers. Once they are aware of you they can decide whether they like what you are doing or not.
Next up: How to make use of this information, and a bit of advice from Michael Simon.