Daniel Garretson posted a message to Michael Kline on Facebook the other day that bespoke an ability to see the artistic side effects of what an artist normally focuses on. In other words, while making our art there are often things that didn’t make the cut, things that didn’t become the finished work, but which on their own have an inherent innocent charm that is worth noticing. Outtakes on the cutting room floor. A turn of phrase that simply didn’t fit in this particular story or poem. A musical passage that was left out because the song was headed in a different direction. Scraps of clay that were discarded as the artist honed in on a particular shape. Practice and warm up exercises where we leave it all out there, but for no audience, and with no greater purpose than improving this thing we do…..

Cast offs and tailings. Residue and dross. Scraps….. And really, anything in daily life that is not always seen as a significant part of some identifiable larger whole. Miscellany. Ephemera. The insubstantial and the serendipitous. Accidents and inessentials. Extraneous and contingent. Adventitious and extrinsic…. Things like a ray of sunshine through a morning dappled window. A shy smile that unexpectedly brightens a child’s face. The stirring branches in a Wintry wind. Echoes of distant laughter. A foot print in a meadow. The first warm breeze of Spring. A cold beer after a hard day’s work. The wafting aroma of breakfast coffee. The scent of a lost loved one on a carefully kept sweater. The nearly full moon tucked behind a cascade of trailing clouds. The patter of children’s tiny feet…… There one moment and gone the next.

And because we are too often careless, these moments slip through our fingers unnoticed and soon forgotten. Some would call these things ‘trivia’. And to the world weary and blinkered, perhaps they are…. And so, because they are the underprivileged of our attention, the derided and scorned, perhaps also they are important to cherish. They are the underdogs in a world that seems fixated on the loud and boisterous. But the world is so much more than that. It is simply pregnant with quiet potential. Pregnant with humble meaning. Do we dare reach for it?

Here’s what Daniel had to say:

Daniel Garretsonposted toMichael Kline

I have been following your blog for a long time and just perused the images you posted. Couldn’t resist writing… As an artist I feel like some of the most beautiful things I see are ‘small’ moments in the studio; a chunk of reclaim, trimmings left from a pot, the edge of a kiln door, or maybe some slip drips that didn’t quite make it onto the pot. I can’t help wonder if we should be packing THIS stuff up and exhibiting in galleries. But maybe this is the stuff that forms the foundation of the work we do send out? Maybe it is our reward for our commitment to the studio? Maybe just seeing/noticing/regarding these things creates meaning in a way that cannot be generated by other means? At any rate I do appreciate the pots you make and the images/thoughts you post. Thanks

And here’s how I responded:

“Daniel, I think being an ‘artist’ means being open to all these small moments of beauty and grace. In a sense this experience of ephemera is a reward for letting art into our lives and as you put it “our commitment to the studio”. But I hesitate to claim it as a professional’s provenance. I feel awkward claiming it as our due. Its hard to see it as our exclusive right. And I don’t think professionals are always in the best position to exploit it.

Unfortunately, being a ‘professional artist’ too often only means promoting the things we can get paid for. I think its a problem with our culture that ‘art’ is thought of mostly as a commodity. That turns ‘artists’ into producers, and the rest of us into consumers. And it often seems that this division stops most ‘non-artists’ from feeling they have much in the way of creative capacity. As if only professional artists get to see the world this way…..

But if art is all these small things, picking out the beauty and potential in a morning’s sunrise, drips of rain running down a shed wall, the ephemeral and the insubstantial, then clearly it is something we ALL have access to. Its not always something that requires technical training. Rather, its the CAPACITY of seeing. And its not any one kind of object, or necessarily an object at all. Art isn’t just the predigested efforts of some professional, baked up in a soufflé of gallery worthiness. Moments of real beauty and grace are often undigested, spontaneous, and raw. They are often wild things and untamed accidents.

We don’t need job titles or membership cards. Art is something everyone can participate in. Its an activity and a process. An ability. A sensitivity….. The beauty of the world is there, patiently staring us in the face, waiting to be noticed, picked up, and handled. Meaning lurks under every stone waiting to be uncovered. Only, its up to us to do so….

Kids can do this effortlessly. And when we grow up as adults and lose or diminish this capacity for dreaming the world, for investigating the weird and unexpected, have we lost something precious?  Something that we mistakenly throw away on the more ‘serious’ trappings of adulthood? Isn’t it worth keeping our native curiosity and imagination intact for as long as possible?

My best guess is that it is. The question is, how best do we nurture that tiny flame? And by treating art mostly as a commodity are we undercutting the more ordinary miracles of the everyday? Is doing so a distraction from something fragile yet vitally important? Beauty that escapes our jaded stare, meaning that evaporates before a bludgeon of obviousness? What can we do better? What can we do differently? I think talking about it is at least a small step forward…..

Thanks for bringing this up!”


Peace all!

Make beauty real!


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.
This entry was posted in Art, Arts advocacy, Arts education, Beauty, Creativity, Ephemera, Imagination, metacognition. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Ephemera

  1. “I do not doubt but the majesty and beauty of
    the world are latent in any iota of the world…

    I do not doubt there is far more in trivialities,
    insects, vulgar persons, slaves, dwarfs, weeds,
    rejected refuse, than I have supposed…

    I do not doubt interiors have their interiors, and
    exteriors have their exteriors – and that the
    eye-sighted has another eyesight, and the hear-ing another hearing,
    and the voice another

    -Walt Whitman

  2. Pingback: What was I thinking… in 2013? | CARTER GILLIES POTTERY

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