“Some days you are the puppet, and some days you are the hand”

I wish I had thought of that myself, but credit goes to ‘The Clay Professor’, Steve Hansen, for at least first sharing it on the internet if not coming up with it himself.

And it seems right, doesn’t it? Some days we are self directed, pulling our own strings, and other days we are at the mercy of some alien puppeteer or outside influence/circumstance. Some days we are the definitive origin of our ideas and behavior, and other days we are reactive. Some days we are marching to our own beat, and others we are obviously being spoon fed, acting out the roles, mouthing the mantas, snugly stereotyped. Some days we are the doers, and others we get done upon…….

This was a topic we discussed a bit in my class this last week. I think it has application throughout our lives, but as creative beings it seems especially suggestive. For artists the question is often how to put ourselves in the right position to foster and capitalize on our inborn creativity. We don’t always know where out best ideas come from, its not always like plucking ripe fruit from the tree. Sometimes its like sticking a shovel into the mud and hoping we come up with more than dirt……

How is this related? How is artistic creativity often a question of victim and protagonist? It seems we are at least occasionally a mix of the two, the hand and the puppet. The truth seems that usually the hand can’t fully express itself without the puppet to put things in context, to dress up the potential in recognized ways, but also that the puppet obviously just lies there lifeless when no hand inhabits the framework to pull its strings….. We might even say that wanting to play the puppet can be a sort of intention. These things are not necessarily as separate as might appear at first.

A guest lecturer in one of my grad courses explained it this way: Any time you prepare to sit down and be creative it makes sense to ‘prime the will’. In other words, artists position themselves to be more successfully creative by arranging the conditions such that the muse is more welcome, more at home when it gets there, and more able to thrive in the practice of creative work. Whatever the powers of your own originality it makes sense to be in the best position possible to take advantage of them.

Once upon a time it seemed that if I was having a bad day there was no reason I should sit down and attempt to be creative. The baggage I carried to my studio would overwhelm my process and defeat any possibility of fruitful exploration. My will had been obstructed at square one. I was more dependent on these circumstances than responsible for my own success. A classic victim. But eventually I discovered that even with defeatist baggage in tow simply being creative sometimes had the power to transform my day. Just getting involved in the process allowed for a transformation that I might not have achieved in any other way. That seems like an interesting observation…….

Here’s something related: Warm-up exercises. Say you were going to run a marathon. You woke up one day, after years of sitting on your couch and eating fried food, and you decided that running a marathon would be a good idea. Obviously the couch time and poor diet won’t be doing you any favors, but its also true that even in the best of circumstances you don’t just decide one day to run a marathon and step out the door to do it. You need preparation. You need practice. You need to construct the conditions that will lead to your eventual accomplishment.

And its this longer view that comes in handy. Say you are a novice potter and you want to throw a large bowl. Well, you can try straight off, but it might make more sense to ease your way into the process. You might work your way up to big by starting in a range you are more comfortable with. Challenge yourself but not risk implosion. Trying to do too much too fast only sabotages our goals and harms our sometimes fragile confidence. It can deflate rather than bolster our will. Make intermediate shapes and sizes as a way of establishing and nurturing your confidence. Lay a foundation of accomplishment before you tackle the higher priority projects. Set expectations on the back burner and work on putting yourself in an optimal working condition. Work on conditioning. It only counts as opportunity if you are in a position to take advantage. Stack those odds in your favor. Prime your will.

So, preparation and setting the right conditions are obviously important for the practice of lesser experienced artists, but what about established professionals? Can we give up on these insights once we have mastered our medium? Perhaps we are more naturally in control then, but why would you knowingly operate at less than your optimal capacity? Why would you accept obstacles in your path when you already know the procedure for painlessly removing them?

Famously, well known successful artists have resorted to all sorts of extremes in personal will priming. We do what it takes to bait the hook for our muse and get the creative process kicked into gear. Occasionally this verges on the superstitious. Take, for instance, Truman Capote. He “wouldn’t begin or end a piece of work on a Friday, would change hotel rooms if the room phone number involved the number 13, and never left more than three cigarette butts in his ashtray, tucking the extra ones into his coat pocket.”

Or this anecdote about Friedrich Schiller:

[Goethe] had dropped by Schiller’s home and, after finding that his friend was out, decided to wait for him to return. Rather than wasting a few spare moments, the productive poet sat down at Schiller’s desk to jot down a few notes. Then a peculiar stench prompted Goethe to pause. Somehow, an oppressive odor had infiltrated the room.

Goethe followed the odor to its origin, which was actually right by where he sat. It was emanating from a drawer in Schiller’s desk. Goethe leaned down, opened the drawer, and found a pile of rotten apples. The smell was so overpowering that he became light-headed. He walked to the window and breathed in a few good doses of fresh air. Goethe was naturally curious about the trove of trash, though Schiller’s wife, Charlotte, could only offer the strange truth: Schiller had deliberately let the apples spoil. The aroma, somehow, inspired him, and according to his spouse, he “could not live or work without it.”


What do you do that sets the table for your creativity? How do you prime your will?

Is ambient background music necessary? The radio? NPR? Podcasts? Or an absence of music? Does sound distract or contaminate what you are trying to do? Do you surround yourself with images? Make the studio a haven of resources from other artist’s ideas? Or are other people’s creativity dangerous influences that might adversely change what we are trying to do? Is a clean studio necessary? A knolled studio? Or is it important that order reign in its absence? Do we need to start working at specific times of day? Do the crossword puzzles first? Do we need to get to work only on a full stomach? Does an empty stomach and a sense of desperation get the creative juices flowing? Is coffee a creative stimulant? Whiskey? (Somehow a cold beer and grad school often seemed to go hand in hand for me) Do we warm up before first sitting down? Are the first few lumps of clay exercises designed to get us in the groove? Do we practice brushwork on paper before we commit to painting on pots?

There are so many potential ways we can take better control over our process. What do you do to make your time in the studio more productive? What things are in your control that you have identified as promoting your chances of creative accomplishment?

I’d love to hear what folks have to say, so don’t be shy about sharing 🙂

Peace all!

Happy potting!

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, Creativity, Imagination. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to “Some days you are the puppet, and some days you are the hand”

  1. Meg says:

    Nice piece Carter. Wonder though if sll our prepsrations are in the service of msking us better hsnds/doers or better puppets/receivers.

    • We prepare the hand so it can bring forth magic from even the lamest puppet, and we design a flawless puppet that any child could make amazing gestures with……. But of course the training of one usually has little to do with the training of the other. Which, if you think about it, is probably why we are so used to thinking of them as entirely separate properties of our creative path. And not fully understanding the connection only makes us more the victim of this lack of comprehension.

      (“Comprehension”, now there’s an interesting word! Understanding as a means of grasping and being able to make use of. 🙂 The hand and the puppet at work together!)

  2. togeika says:

    Inspiration? My most common one is a deadline….

    • Lee, that’s interesting. Do you put yourself in the position of having deadlines just so you can make pots? Is the control you exert over your process the taking on of deadlines? Do you find that without deadlines your pots suffer or are harder to make?

      The thing this essay asks is how we find a connection between the success of our process and the conditions we allow ourselves to work in. If we can fine tune the stuff that works for us we can have greater control of the outcome. They say that with a big enough lever you can shift the world. Finding those levers is what makes a difference….. I suppose I can see how deadlines would light a fire under my a-s, but is that all the control you’ve got?

      • togeika says:

        I don’t think inspiration is the craftsman’s dilemma. Much of the creativity comes out of the process. Things like deadlines help you keep your attention out of your head and on your work.

        • As someone who had studied in a Buddhist monastery I was interested to hear whether there were special rituals you had that prepared you for working with clay. Is the work itself the mindful meditation? Are there things about the studio itself that make a difference in your craftsmanship practice?

          The question is whether anything really matters: Are you making it up as you go? Do you care about the preparation? Could the studio be either a complete mess or tidy and clean and it wouldn’t make a difference to you? Do you like having your dogs in the studio while you work or is it hard to get work done with them in the shop with you?

          These are the sorts of question this essay was asking……In what ways are you in control of the outcome and in what ways are you simply the victim of circumstance? How can you put yourself in a better position to make good work?

        • Remember that Hamada story that Michael Simon tells in that interview with Mark Shapiro?

          “Hamada tells a story about how he would, if he had to make some important pots, he would invite the neighbors over so he wouldn’t have to think about what he was doing when he was throwing; there is a lot of truth in that.

          If you can get into that state-it’s hard to make it. If you try to make it, you can also just make distractions that are not the same, but if you are just in there working and you are using some kind of deep judgment about what it needs to look like, you know, you’re basically making your clay-well, you can almost get to a place that is like a folk potter-as close as we get anyway, as close we are able to.”

          THIS is the question I am asking, really. Hamada would invite neighbors over. What are the conditions that effect that change in our own approach and practice? What are the conditions that allow us to ‘just get in there and work’ without it being a distraction? Or, is your (or anybody’s) practice dependent on distraction? I’m sure some artists need to be working differently than those old folk potters and do their best work when they are not just making with ‘deep judgment’ but are actively contemplating a work’s existence in the context of their own output, the context of art history, and the context of a marketplace. The work for some may not simply stand on its own but be a symptom of all these other influences. The question is how we put ourselves in the best position to express whatever those conditions and effects are.

  3. From NPR:

    “After winning the Tour de France last Sunday, Vincenzo Nibali was tested for a bunch of performance-enhancing substances. But Nibali and his fellow competitors were welcome to have several cups of coffee (or cans of Red Bull), before their ride into Paris; caffeine is not on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned list.

    Still, the drug is definitely a performance booster. Just in the past few months, studies have shown that caffeine helps female volleyball players hit the ball harder and jump higher, rowers go farther, and cyclists go faster in a 20K time trial.

    A large body of research shows caffeine helps in “pretty much every kind of endurance exercise,” giving a performance advantage of 1.5 percent to 5 percent, says Mark Glaister, an exercise physiologist at St. Mary’s University in Twickenham, U.K., and an author of the recent cycling study.

    “Of all the legal supplements an athlete could take, it has the biggest effect on performance,” he says. The suspicion is that caffeine increases the frequency or size of neural transmissions and suppresses pain, he says. It’s not clear that it speeds very short sprints — Glaister is studying that — but it can help in any burst of activity that lasts longer than about a minute, he says.

    Athletes see a benefit with a dose of between 3 to 6 mg per kg of body weight, which means that if a 140-pound cyclist were drinking an average cup of coffee, he’d get a lift after drinking about two to four cups. (Many brands of coffee have a lot more caffeine than the , average of about 100 mg per cup though.) It takes 30 to 60 minutes for caffeine levels to peak in the body and provide the biggest benefit, Glaister says.

    But if just enough caffeine might make you pick up the pace a bit, too much is a really, really bad idea. Ingesting more than the recommended amount doesn’t bring further improvements in performance, Glaister says, and even nondangerous doses can cause anxiety, sleeplessness and restlessness in some people.”

  4. One of the best books on creativity is “Imagine – How Creativity Works by Johan Lehrer. Unfortunately the book was pulled by the publisher when it came out that he had fabricated some of the stuff in the book and self-plagiarized other parts. The biggy – a quote attributed to Bob Dylan that he made up. That is too bad as I found his book extremely enjoyable and he explains the complicated workings of the brain in a very understandable format. I have summarized his two main themes – insights and working memory in part I and part II of my blog.
    The chapter on insights is extremely helpful. Just yesterday I experienced what Lehrer was talking about. Carter’s post got me thinking about how I get my creative juices flowing and most often it is by sketching which I did on our way to our farm yesterday while my husband drove. I was sketching small wall plaques with abstract designs and then wondered how I would hang them, thinking that I would use kanthal wire loops embedded in the back. At that moment another idea jumped out at me! A few years ago I had given up on trying to make yarn bowls – those bowls with spiral cutouts on the side that knitters put their yarn balls in and then pull the yarn through the side via the cut out. I had found that the bowls with the cut outs often would distort and they did not look very elegant. As well if the person did not end up using it for yarn,then it would be hard to use it for other uses as it had all these holes in the side. What came to me in the car while i was sketching wall plaques was a true insight. – I would make a spiral out of the Kanthal wire and imbed one end of it in the rim of a yarn bowl – the knitter would run the yarn through the wire spiral. This would look much nicer and also would be multi-functional as a serving dish if one wanted to…This proved Lehrer’s statement that you will never get a true insight – a totally new solution to a problem unless you are stumped, given up on it (I had not thought of the yarn bowl problem for several years) and now are thinking about something totally different!

    • I was a big Jonah Lehrer fan, and I miss his blog over at Wired. He always pointed folks to interesting research, and I used his essays numerous times as starting points for my own posts. I was able to purchase a copy of his book before it was pulled from the shelves, but have yet to read it. Someday I’m sure I will.

      I think you are right to point out the importance of ‘breakthrough’ moments and Lehrer’s take on this. Its only by challenging ourselves that we confront the unknown. ‘Insight’ is the term we use for the unexpected solutions where we may not have even identified problems yet. Sometimes finding a ‘solution’ actually frames the problem. Insight often shows us why other options are less satisfactory.

      So in a sense this stands opposed to what I am advocating in this post. Insight is almost the exception to nose to the grindstone work. In a sense. Of course they are related and not mutually exclusive, but if you aim at insight you may be doing some things that you may not find helpful in just ‘warming up’. This is worth considering.

      Jonah Lehrer had lots to say on this topic, and back in February of 2012 I wrote a post exploring these issues. It owes everything to Lehrer’s research.


  5. togeika says:

    To paraphrase John Lennon (modified for our topic): Insight is what happens while you are making other plans.

  6. Joseph says:

    Inspiration always seems to be a very slow thing, I have a sketchbook that I keep and doodle forms in, though I wouldn’t say the biggest breaks come through that process. I would say some of the biggest breaks lately have come from listening to Tales of a Red Clay Rambler while I am working, and the smallest thing can spark an idea.

    Since getting accepted on an MA course for this coming idea, I keep having ideas completely unrelated to my research subject. So now as I type this out it seems I come up with most ideas when my mind is already busy with something else, as a lot illustrators seem to say just go to work you haven’t got time to sit around waiting for inspiration.

    Many years ago when I first became an artist I had ideas constantly, I was writing poetry constantly, and drawing constantly trying to learn all these new things, and I had more ideas than I could focus on, and would wake up in the night to write things down. I read Terry Brooks “Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life” and the one thing I took away from the book was ideas can wait and many will be nonsense, especially in the middle of the night and if they are worth it they will stick around and not just vanish in a puff of smoke.

    So now when it comes to the ideas though I have to let them sit and mull over them, for weeks and months. I write them down from time time time in a sketchbook set aside for such notes and it can be interesting to go back to that sketchbook and see if there is anything I can steal for this moment.

    • Sounds like you have a real process for putting yourself in the path of inspiration and success. And as you point out, the muse doesn’t always care what you think you should be focusing on.

      I am interested in the idea of a sketchbook for recording these insights. You can’t always control when you first get an idea but you can give it some solidity and return to it when the timing is better. That’s a great point to make.

      I would say that I’m not so sure that the ideas stick around just by themselves. I haven’t read that book, so I don’t know what the reasoning is, but to me it seems that ideas become more solid by making them a part of something larger, by connecting them up with other ideas and practices. Just having the idea is no guarantee that it will stick around. Its not the responsibility of the idea to stick or even its choice. Rather, the human mind retains some things and loses others. The mind needs to be prepared to make use of the idea or the idea won’t have anything to stick to.

      And that’s why recording ideas in sketchbooks seems like such a good way of pinning individual thoughts down. Its by expressing ourselves that our thoughts take on a life of their own. We give them a context that they can be located in and found when we look for them. Without the further scaffolding the idea isn’t connected to much that we could return to or navigate in an attempt to find it again. The more ideas are embedded in a way of life the easier they are to recall.

      Starting to ramble, but I liked your thoughts. Thanks Joseph!

  7. David Foster Wallace:

    “The writing writing that I do is longhand. . . . The first two or three drafts are always longhand. . . . I can type very much faster than I can write. And writing makes me slow down in a way that helps me pay attention.”

  8. From NPR:

    “Pump-up songs make us feel capable and powerful. Athletes know that intuitively — batters swagger out to raucous walk-up songs, stars like Serena Williams and Lebron James warm up with headphones on (except when, in James’s case, the headphones come off to blast Wu-Tang Clan in the locker room).

    But what is it about a good pump-up song that makes us feel invincible? According to a new study, the answer is in the bass.

    A research team at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business began with what we know about music and power. Past studies had shown, for example, that heavy metal and hip-hop music are linked to dominance and aggression, which are associated with feeling powerful.

    So the team, led by Adam Galinsky and his student Dennis Hsu, did a series of tests to isolate exactly what it is about certain music that makes us feel powerful. First, they asked people to listen to dozens of songs and answer questions about how powerful they felt while they listened.

    From there, controlling for genre, they made a list of the top three most powerful song:

    1.”We Will Rock You” (Queen)
    2.”Get Ready for This” (2 Unlimited)
    3.”In Da Club” (50 Cent)

    And the three least powerful songs:
    1.”Because We Can” (Fatboy Slim)
    2.”Who Let the Dogs Out” (Baha Men)
    3.”Big Poppa” (Notorious B.I.G.)

    Then, the team had people listen to either the powerful songs or the not-so-powerful songs and asked them to complete various tasks. For example, they asked participants to fill in the blanks: P_ _ ER

    Those who listened to the powerful music were much more likely to complete the word as power, rather than paper.

    In another test, after participants listened to music they were presented with a dice game in which if they correctly guessed the result of a rolled die, they would win $5. They were given the choice to roll the die themselves, or have the experimentor roll the die.

    “Usually a little bit more than 50 percent of people want to roll the die themselves,” Galinsky explains to NPR’s Arun Rath. “When people listen to high-power music they wanted to roll the die themselves 86 power of the time. And so what you can see here is it’s making people more action-oriented.”

    In the final test, Galinsky and Hsu focused solely on the bass line of the songs. “Deep voices tend to be associated with power and bigger, stronger bodies tend to produce deeper voices,” Galinsky explains.

    To do that, they took an original piece of music — something none of the participants had heard before — and cranked up the bass.

    Here’s the music before:

    (See original NPR post)

    And here is it after:

    (See original NPR post)

    With the music playing the background, they asked people to do the word completion task from earlier, filling in the word P _ _ ER.

    “What we found is when the song had higher bass in the music, that actually made them feel more powerful,” says Galinsky.

    And feeling powerful can be a good thing, even if you’re not a pro athlete.

    “People who have been made to feel more powerful can endure more pain,” says Galinsky. He has also done a study showing that in a business school setting, people who feel more powerful are more successful in interviews.”.

  9. From the Opinionator essay ‘The Wisdom of exile’, by Costica Bradatan:

    “To live is to sink roots. Life is possible only to the extent that you find a place hospitable enough to receive you and allow you to settle down. What follows is a sort of symbiosis: Just as you grow into the world, the world grows into you. Not only do you occupy a certain place, but that place, in turn, occupies you. Its culture shapes the way you see the world, its language informs the way you think, its customs structure you as a social being. Who you ultimately are is determined to an important degree by the vast web of entanglements of “home.”

    Uprooting is a devastating blow because you have to separate yourself overnight from something that, for as long as you can remember, has been an important part of your identity. In a sense, you are your culture, customs, language, country, your family, your lovers. Yet exile, should you survive it, can be the greatest of philosophical gifts, a blessing in disguise. In fact, philosophers, too, should be uprooted. At least once in their lives. They should be exiled, displaced, deported — that should be part of their training. For when your old world goes down it also takes with it all your assumptions, commonplaces, prejudices and preconceived ideas. To live is to envelop yourself in an increasingly thicker veil of familiarity that blinds you to what’s under your nose. The more comfortable you feel in the world, the blunter the instruments with which you approach it. Because everything has become so evident, you’ve stopped seeing anything. Exile gives you a chance to break free. All that heavy luggage of old “truths,” which seemed so only because they were so familiar, is to be left behind. Exiles always travel light.”

  10. From the ‘You Are Not So Smart’ podcast, starting at 45:50:

    “I love this quote by J.M.Tanner who is a world class hurdler and was the world’s expert in body growth and development: ‘Every one of us has a completely unique genome. Therefor, for optimal development everyone should ideally have a completely unique environment.’ And part of what I don’t like about how some people have interpreted the 10,000 hour rule is this idea that the same path of development would work for every person. And that’s exactly contradicted by what exercise genetics is showing. So just like medical genetics showed that because you have a different gene that is involved in acetaminophen metabolism from mine you might need three Tylenol while I need only one, or maybe Tylenol doesn’t work for you at all, the same thing is showing up for the medicine of training: No two people respond to any particular training the same way. And we see that in lots of cookie cutter exercise programs where people get widely varying results. So I think the most important thing is to go in to whatever you are doing with a sense that you are a scientific experiment on n = 1 with a mind toward trial and error, and if you are not getting the same results as your training partner, is to try something else. And then to go through that process that I described for soccer players from the Netherlands who go on to the pros who exhibit what’s called ‘self regulatory behavior’ and ‘self assessing behavior’. They do something, they reflect, then they stop and reflect on what they need to get better at. They think of something that they can try to get better at and then they asses it, and they continually assess and assess and assess. So they are always tweaking what they are doing. And I think one of the reasons why the athletes exhibiting that behavior…..need that behavior is because they start homing in on that ideal environment for their unique genome. And so I think that can apply to across anything you are doing. So instead of cookie cutter approaches, viewing your own training as this unparalleled sort of inquiry into who you are as a biological machine.”

  11. togeika says:

    I think Hamada invited folks to chat while he was making chawan, so he wouldn’t over intellectualize the process. Preparations? The big thing I learned during my apprenticeship, was that you always knew what you were going to make before you got to the wheel. You were give a model, thrown by the head thrower, and a measuring gauge. So, you never had to figure out what the form was as you were making it. When I teach, I recommend doing this kind of work, even if it is only from one from, like a yunomi. Because, as beginners, rather than developing skill, when the clay doesn’t do what you intended, you go with what it does and make something else, rather than the form you originally hoped for. Working from a model to the potter is like sketching for the artist.

    I did do Chi Kung breathing at the start of every wheel day of my apprenticeship. But that was because an apprenticeship with a National Living Treasure was so difficult, and it was a way to settle in before beginning work. After my apprenticeship was finished, I took up doing azen at my wheel, instead of on the floor, as a start of the day.

    Studying at Shimaoka’s was a lot like being at a mud monastery. In fact, a good friend visited me in Mashiko, a Priest who studied with the same teacher as I, and I brought him over to the workshop to see the new workers and apprentices workshop at Shimaoka’s. I opened the sliding door and let him in, and I said to him, “Doesn’t this remind you of….” and he completed my sentence, “Like the traditional Soto Zen zendo.” I said, “Yes, except no tatami to sit on, and a hole in the platform for the wheel.

    A really important aspect of the practice during my apprenticeship was the first half hour of the day. At 7:30am, all the apprentices began their day by working in the garden. (the craftsmen did not arrive until 8am.) The garden and buildings were situated like what you would find at a Zen temple. My area included the 17th century tea house that was moved from Yokohama to my teacher’s compound. Raking, sweeping and pulling weeds always refreshed us for a new day. On memorial day weekend in 1983, I came to Minneapolis to get advice about monastic study in Japan from Dainin Katagiri Roshi. I quickly realized, that I needed to learn more before I went to Japan. I studied 7 years until his death.. But at his 3 days wake, where I was an attendant, instead of continuing my studies to become a zen priest, that I’d learn pottery and try to share what I learned from Katagiri through clay. I felt that in the West, we intellectualize Buddhism too much. So rather than lecturing, it might be better to share in silence, through what is made. I began my first clay class that same year.

    Three years after Katagiri’s, passing I made my first return to Japan. Eight years after his passing, I was invited to a show in Japan by Warren MacKenzie in Nikko. He showed 100 pieces and he invited 12 potters to each show 10 pieces (I was the newest of the 12.) Nine years after his passing, I moved to Japan and finally found myself in a clay temple, doing what I set out to do 16 years before.

    • That’s an incredible story! So amazing that you have been able to live the life you have lived.

      And, yes, those scenarios are more of what I was talking about in terms of placing ourselves in a position to make best use of our time and experience. Thanks for sharing! I wish more folks had responded with their own stories……

  12. togeika says:

    Thanks Carter! Here is something I wrote for a friend about how I got into making pots. I wrote it about 16 years ago, while I was in Japan. Also, my first interest in pottery came about in college, during an anthropology of S. America class, when I asked how a a shard of Jomon pottery ended up in Peru. She said, “Nobody knows. It is a strange fluke.” I thought, ‘how ethnocentric not to be able to admit that Asia had access to the Americas 10,000 years ago, and that they made their way all the way to Peru.’


  13. Werner Herzog:

    “I work best under pressure, knee-deep in the mud. It helps me concentrate. The truth is I have never been guided by the kind of strict discipline I see in some people, those who get up at five in the morning and jog for an hour. My priorities are elsewhere. I will rearrange my entire day to have a solid meal with friends.

    When I write, I sit in front of the computer and pound the keys. I start at the beginning and write fast, leaving out anything that isn’t necessary, aiming at all times for the hard core of the narrative. I can’t write without that urgency. Something is wrong if it takes more than five days to finish a screenplay. A story created this way will always be full of life.

    The problem isn’t coming up with ideas, it is how to contain the invasion. My ideas are like uninvited guests. They don’t knock on the door; they climb in through the windows like burglars who show up in the middle of the night and make a racket in the kitchen as they raid the fridge. I don’t sit and ponder which one I should deal with first. The one to be wrestled to the floor before all others is the one coming at me with the most vehemence. I have, over the years, developed methods to deal with the invaders as quickly and efficiently as possible, though the burglars never stop coming. You invite a handful of friends for dinner, but the door bursts open and a hundred people are pushing in. You might manage to get rid of them, but from around the corner another fifty appear almost immediately… Finishing a film is like having a great weight lifted from my shoulders. It’s relief, not necessarily happiness. But you relish dealing with these “burglars.” I am glad to be rid of them after making a film or writing a book. The ideas are uninvited guests, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t welcome.”

    • More Herzog:

      “I don’t consciously reflect on aesthetics before making a film because, for me, the story always dictates such things. Of course, aesthetics do sometimes enter unconsciously through the back door, because whether we like it or not our preferences always somehow influence the decisions we make. If I were to think about my handwriting while writing an important letter, the words would become meaningless. When you write a passionate love letter and focus on making sure your longhand is as beautiful as possible, it isn’t going to be much of a love letter. But if you concentrate on the words and emotions, your particular style of longhand – which has nothing to do with the letter per se — will somehow seep in of its own accord. Aesthetics, if they even exist, are to be discovered only once a film has been completed.”

  14. togeika says:

    Usually the last bowl inspires the next one….

  15. From a post I wrote a few years ago:

    “So what’s the lesson there? Possibly that talent is all very well and good, but that it needs to be utilized to its best advantages. Just what is talent good for if not making a difference? If its not put in a position to make a difference? So how do we put ourselves in a position to take advantage of our talents? How do we give ourselves the opportunity to do this? Just what are we good at? That seems worth knowing.

    As we go through life the world has all sorts of interesting things for us to try, and we only know what we will like doing if we give some of them a try. If you never try, how will you know? And if we find something we like, say pottery, we can hope that not only will we continue to like doing it, that it will have longstanding relevance and interest in our lives, but that through training and perseverance we may someday get to be good at it. If we are lucky we will have a talent for it. If we are lucky we will have the opportunity to exercise that talent. If we are lucky we will be able to nurture the seed of that talent so that it grows into a healthy tree with all sorts of fascinating branches and deep roots. If you are a teacher, that is your gift to your students.

    So, to put the finishing touches on another interminable ramble, find what you like doing. Then, explore your talents for these things. Put yourself in the position to take advantage of your opportunities. Don’t waste too many of them. Work hard, but not mindlessly. Work with a purpose. Let that purpose be your joy and the dreams it takes to get there. Imagine the possibilities. Dare to dream. Its an open question whether a lazy genius is better off than an industrious drone. Don’t be either. Talent and hard work together are more than the sum of their parts. That’s the alchemy. That’s what each of us can find in our own way.”

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