Potters make pots. They sit down at a potter’s wheel, grab a lump of clay, and before you know it: A Pot!
And potters’ pots are all pretty much the same, in a basic sense. They are all made from clay. Many of them start out and finish up mostly on the wheel. There are few real surprises: A cup is a cup, a bowl is a bowl….. And even pots made by different artists all still owe something fundamental to the lineage of pot-making. As far as we stretch the boundaries, as different as one cup is to the next, they are still cups. They are still pots.
So its really simple, isn’t it? Potters make pots. End of story.
But even if you are making basically the same damn pot you’ve been making for the last 15 years, you still can be making them for different reasons. Its like driving a car. Sometimes we drive to get to work. Sometimes we drive to run errands. Sometimes we are on the road to enjoy a beautiful day in the countryside. Other times we have other agendas or different non-agendas at all.
You can’t just look at a pot and tell why it was made. Often the artists themselves have not thought it through clearly. Sometimes its just something we do. Sometimes its just what we feel we are required to do. Like a habit. Or tradition. There may not be sensible or adequate reasons if we dig too far. But other times our reasons can be quite specific. For example:
I need this shape to fill gaps when I’m loading the kiln.
I would like this type of pot to use in my kitchen.
Someone has asked me to make them a pot in this particular style in these dimensions.
I need cups for my inventory.
The gallery called and said they want more of X.
My display won’t look good without a variety of shapes.
I’m working on specific pieces for a show that has a specific theme.
I haven’t made plates in a while.
I just saw a pot online by an artist who inspires me.
Its an assignment for a class I’m taking.
Its a challenge from my studio-mates, who can make the most X, who can make the biggest Y.
I need to figure out a pitcher shape that pours without dripping.
I’ve got to figure out how to get the walls thinner, no matter what I’m making.
I need to perfect this one form, get it right.
I need to try something different.
I’m running out of space in my studio, so I have to work small and stackable.
Its almost the holidays, so I need to make ornaments.
I need to make the pots that will stand the best chance of selling.
My mom suggested I make this thing she saw in a catalog.
Its part of a set.
Its a variation on a theme.
No one else has done anything like it (as far as I can tell).
Everyone seems to be doing it, so why not me?
This form was made by ancient potters.
This shape and design is cutting edge.
This is the kind of pot that will get me into shows and galleries.
This represents my signature style, which I am hoping will become collectible.
This shape appeared in my dreams.
The little green man who lives in the mushroom house told me to make it.
I sketched it out first.
The clay is too stiff to make anything bigger.
The clay is too wet to make anything bigger.
I haven’t learned how to do it any different.
I’m not curious about making things that are different.
There is pressure on me from the marketplace to not make things too different.
……. and on, and on.
Well, that’s already a long list of possibilities. And the one thing all these potential reasons have in common is that they are all externally driven if not motivated. In a sense, these reasons are all extrinsic. So what would an intrinsic motivation look like?
To be intrinsically motivated means we are doing things for their own sake, not the sake of something else. So it really ends up being quite simple: To be intrinsically motivated we make this thing because its what we want to make, or need to make, other concerns aside. Its something we do in spite of the pressures on us to do something else. We may not always enjoy it, in the sense that it makes us laugh or smile, but we often find it fulfilling in deeper and more personally significant ways.
Of course we can also like doing and find satisfaction in the things that are externally or extrinsically motivated, but the question is whether our liking it and our satisfaction are the source of our creative ambitions or merely a side effect. In other words, enjoyment and the feeling of fulfillment can be both a cause and an effect, and the difference is very real. But its not always obvious, and we can’t simply assume that because we like doing it or find it satisfying that this is our only or even our primary motivation. Its the difference between enjoying driving your car and having no other reason for being out on the road, and enjoying driving while you are out running errands or driving to work. The reason for being there couldn’t be more different, despite the fact that we enjoy it both times.
So, what motivates the pots you are making? Have you thought about it much? Are you happy how little of your creative production may be intrinsically motivated and how much is often generated from external demands on you? Would you rather be doing more simply for the pure joy of doing, whatever it is? That it is important to make this one thing despite any other consideration or pressure? Or is the best we can hope for that amidst all the pressures facing us we eek out a modest portion of joy and fulfillment in making our work? That even if we’d rather be making something different at times we still enjoy the devotion to our treadmill? Do we simply need to become like hamsters and get up on the wheel, for no other reason? Is it important simply that we make, regardless of what it is or why we may have been led to make it?
Or is art something different? Is art something that sometimes needs to stand on its own feet rather than be supported by things like marketability and how much space we have in the kiln? Is the importance of our art, in fact, that it sometimes stands in defiance of all the credible reasons for doing it some other way? That our art is a dream of things that shatter preconceptions and have this otherworldly inspiration? That our art is fundamentally not of the world, though it is born into it?
What do you all think?
Make beauty real!