There has been some interesting conversation in the comments to the previous post! That is something I cherish about the blogging experience. It can be a forum for testing ideas and discovering new ways to look at things. Too often it seems like an echo chamber, which is still better than not having said something. But when its just me rambling out thoughts it can seem like a dead end. Once someone else picks up the thread in their own hands it becomes a conversation. It goes from a dead end to who knows where. And its not over until everyone agrees its over. And even then the end is only until someone else picks it back up. Its never really finished.

So, one comment that got my thinking cap pointed in an interesting direction came after a series of good exchanges between the two of us. I’ll throw the part out here a bit truncated and wholly out of context, but it provoked a decent response from me. Les said. “The creative process is just that, a process. In the end you need to get to the finished, polished product.” My response was this:


I’m not sure I agree that you always “need to get to the finished, polished product.” Not always, at least. But I do agree that there is all sorts of outside pressure on us to do so. Galleries are one such obligation. Sales. Challenges like the RPM and NaNoWriMo are another.

I think for an audience the desire is often that an artist will give them the finished product, not something half baked, or cobbled together in haste. And that makes sense. They are usually paying for it, if not in money, in time and attention spent. If artists are ruled by audiences this further baking and polishing is how it usually gets done. Ready for Prime Time. But if its something the artist does entirely for her own reasons, only sometimes will the end product be necessary. Sometimes, not always. Its up to her.

For instance, I’ve heard of plenty of composers who have small snippets of music that they keep hold of. Sometimes they find their way into a song, but sometimes they don’t. It can be more satisfying when things come together in this way, but sometimes they are just formative ideas. Notes. Prospects. Clues. Tangents. Latent potential. They can be suggestions rather than requirements. Possibility rather than reality. And that’s okay. They are not deficient. You can’t disown them as being ‘merely unfinished’. A child is no less important for not yet being an adult…..

Not everything we dream has to find its way into something an audience can stomach. Parboiled art, sketch books, and practice sessions are just one part of an artist’s world. An important part. I look at a sculptors’ studio and see all sorts of random pieces, miscellaneous collections, and unfinished projects. Ideas that have not lead anywhere, but worth saving. Raw materials. Because that’s what we do. We gather ideas and we dream dreams. And then we sometimes make.

I do a lot of ‘finishing’ and ‘polishing’ for the pots that come out of my kilns. I spend time adding the parts together, slapping a coat of glaze on, and loading and firing kilns. I go from the beginning of a process to the end. I am involved in churning out objects, products for the market, so it makes sense to look at them as adequately finished in some sense. I would never put a piece of bisque ware up for sale and I only occasionally have seconds that I sell. Selling means a minimum of completing the cycle.

But you know, part of me also feels like all I have been doing is making rough sketches. Part of me feels that if there is a real pot I’m supposed to make I haven’t gotten to it yet. If I had only one pot left to make, one lump of clay to work with, I would still never end up with something I could call ‘finished’.

Because I’m not done yet. I’m not finished. The pots I make are just stepping stones, as much places to jump from as places to land. If all I was interested in was sticking the landing, that would be one thing. Instead, my eyes shift almost immediately to the next stone, and importantly to the spaces in between. If my art is a process, its a process of taking leaps as much as it is making landings, practicing as much as ‘finishing’. I am in motion rather than at a stand still. I haven’t crossed the finish line yet….

So, while part of me puts the ‘finishing touches’ on each pot, part of me is always dreaming of what comes next. I’m not finished, and neither are my pots. Even if they may look like a polished product, better than some, worse than others, they are still only links in a chain. The last piece of clay I pick up before I shed this mortal coil will be the end of that chain, and I will be finished whether I want to be or not. Until then the ideas come and go. Some get to live inside lumps of clay and glaze and others never find their home outside my sketch book and imaginings.

If you only look at the objects themselves you can sometimes believe that the artist was finished. Some artists were dead years before they stopped making things. If you look at the changing evolving artist you can see that she is never done.


Here’s hoping you finish some things, maybe, if that’s what you want or need to do. But here’s also hoping that you are not done yet, that you still have a mark left to leave on this planet, and that the song you are singing has a few verses yet left unsung.

Happy potting, 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 education, Ceramics, Creative industry, Creativity, Imagination, metacognition, Pottery. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Finished

  1. spike39 says:

    In my “real-life” occupation as a graphic designer, I came across a quote that spoke directly to me in where I am as a visual creator:

    “The most important thing an artist
    can discover is a love of process.”
    —Kody Chamberlain, comic book artist

    At times, I wonder if I could be considered a “hoarder” when I view my studio containing sketches, important (only to me), notes and reference material. Yet, when one of these snippets of ideas make it to a completed project, or have contributed in the process of creating – it’s. . . liberating, satisfying.. “finishing” – and I am ready for the next stone to turn and ponder.

  2. I agree!

    In a sense its like celebrating your birthday. ‘Another year has turned’ is one of those landmarks that sort of stand out as worth making a big deal of. And its not that the time between birthdays was squandered. Its just that getting to that special day becomes a sort of summation. An anniversary.

    The idea of a landmark should also tell us something. Like the stepping stones in my essay above, its not a resting place as much as a break from one activity or place to another. Its the stuff that crystallizes in the chaos. Leap… land. Leap… land. Leap… land……….

    Its the sense of being in the air that sometimes makes us uncomfortable. No wonder we rejoice when something comes out finished! We often feel ‘ungrounded’ if we can’t see where we are going, where its taking us. If we are too high up to see the landmarks we can feel lost.. And giving form to our ideas sometimes helps us find our place. If we suffer a fear of flying we can find some solace in being tethered back to the stepping stones and landmarks or our process. “Aha! That’s where I’m at right now!”

    Thanks for chiming in!

  3. Pingback: Clay Blog Review: January 2015 - Pottery Making Info

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