Monty Python help explain pottery, language, and the imagination

Well, maybe not so much pottery. Not directly, at least…. What were we just talking about? Oh yeah, things that we do with words. And maybe how humor (like art) reveals strange and marvelous things about the world. Like any language, really….

This is a post on why talk is cheap, but the pen is still mightier than the sword….

Simon Critchley writes:

Laughter is a convulsive movement, it is like sobbing or like an orgasm, it is involuntary, it sometimes even hurts. It is contagious and solidaristic – think of the intersubjective dimensions of giggling, particularly when it concerns something obscene. In this way, perhaps, we might say that laughter in its solidaristic dimension has an ethical function insofar as the simple sharing of a joke recalls what is shared in our lifeworld practices, not in a heroic way, but more quietly and discreetly. One might begin to speak of laughter here with Shaftesbury as a minimal form of sensus communis. The extraordinary thing about comedy is that it returns us to the very ordinariness of the ordinary, it returns us to the familiar by making it fantastic, it returns us to the real by making it surreal. Comedy might be said to provide us with an oblique phenomenology of the ordinary. (Harvested from the lovely blog aus unruhigen Traumen)

Sometimes I can’t help but identify (confuse) the creative artistry of one form of expression with that of another. Writing and pottery, pottery and painting, pottery and gardening, gardening and painting….. Its like I’m seeing double. Deja vu. And I’m perplexed. Its as if imagination in some fundamental way underlies all that we can think about the world. Such that sometimes what we say about one thing also seems to reflect on what can be said about another. How can that be? If we aim our words at specific things how can they possibly hit so many unintended targets? How can they be interpreted differently by different people at different times?

Sometimes we can easily connect the dots, and sometimes the dots just seem to be interchangeable. Sometimes they elude us and other times we invent them off the cuff. We imagine something, and draw out the connections. And the connections multiply, like some bubbling high school science experiment gone awry. Sometimes using language is like driving a car and going on several different roads in several different directions all at once. Meaning can seem so obvious and yet imprecise at the same time. Just how amazing (and yet everyday ordinary) is that….?

Sometimes I think that language’s greatest gift is that of metaphor. And that this is somehow also something to do with humor. And art. And maybe even human life itself…. As if, when we squint our eyes in that peculiar way, the world becomes somehow fantastic, and ordinary, and the silly bones of the world are finally revealed…. That seems like something important.

So how do we talk (or not talk) about pottery? Here’s Eric Idle talking ‘football’ with John Cleese:

“I hit the ball first time, and there it was in the back of the net.” What more need be said? Anything?

And here are the lads with another fine example:


In my mind what they are doing is displaying the difference between thinking, and doing, thinking about what you are doing, and also doing what you are thinking, not doing what you are thinking, thinking but not doing, and doing without thinking. The question is, how does thought touch the world? Language? What we think seems to matter. But then again, sometimes it doesn’t. Why is this?…. What can we and can’t we say about things? Pottery? And why?

Well, maybe that digression was a stretch…. And maybe there is no one clear answer. But I thought I was onto something there for a moment. Not having a palatable solution doesn’t mean examining the questions is a waste…. Anyone out there have ideas what all this has to do with talking about pottery? Language? The imagination? Or what humor has to do with understanding the world? Objectivity? Ambiguity? The social nexus of agreement? The postmodern quagmire of disagreement? Our blind spots and transient peripheral vision? Evanescence and ephemera? The treachery of images?

Possibly something to think about, at least…..


To sum up: What is the difference between getting a joke and not getting it? Seeing beauty and not seeing it? Picking out details from the welter of brute sensory data? Isn’t this how we as human beings give meaning to the world? That we can SEE the difference? And isn’t it a difference in how we are able to connect certain dots? What we do with them? And doesn’t that tell us something very interesting?

And so, while we can cheapen things with talk that goes nowhere (that may in fact be your impression at the moment), isn’t it also true that words are sometimes the ladder that allows us to climb the mountain to see the world differently? That despite senseless linguistic fraud and random acts of verbiage words do teach us things about the world? So, isn’t it worth learning how to talk about our art? What can be said, what dots there are, what lines can be drawn, and just how far our imagination can carry us in making it relevant?

Any of that make any sense to anyone?


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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3 Responses to Monty Python help explain pottery, language, and the imagination

  1. Scott Cooper says:

    “What is the difference between getting a joke and not getting it? Seeing beauty and not seeing it? Picking out details from the welter of brute sensory data?”

    This reminds me of something Don Pilcher said: “What’s the difference that makes a difference?”

    • Indeed! (Where did he say that? I may need to quote him on that!)

      • Scott Cooper says:

        Oops. I thought it was in his Looking at Looking article, but the only instance I find there is: “Yet the difference between something which is retiring and something else which is vague is not so clear.”

        Maybe it was at my kitchen table, or in an email? (Sorry, Don!) Not only do I not remember half the stuff I’d like to, I can’t remember the proper attribution for the half I do! In any case, I doubt he’ll mind claiming credit for it. I think it’s a great way to distill critical comparisons and evaluate the choices we make in our work.

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