Last post I argued that the arts making their case by instrumental means was actually counterproductive. If the value of art is that it does creativity and innovation well, not only does that displace the importance of art but it invites competing means to achieve those ends. If you read the original post my essay was a response to you may have been struck with the thought that arts advocates seem to put the cart before the horse: They want to argue that art is important because it leads to creativity rather than that creativity is important because it leads to the possibility of art in our lives…. Art is how we inscribe our will on the world. Its how we bring meaning to a meaningless Universe. Its what makes us human and expresses our humanity. Or, one of many important things that does so…..
Asking us to defend art as an instrument for some other ‘good’ simply seems like asking the wrong question. But potters probably know all about this sort of scenario. We are accused of making ‘merely functional’ work when you can get something from Walmart that is cheaper and functions just as well. If pottery is just about the utility of serving food, transporting liquids, displaying contents, and storing things, then not only do other materials and technologies do it as well, but oftentimes they do it better. If the point of pottery is its function as a traditional vessel, then clearly we are selling ourselves short. Cheap mass produced ceramics trump studio pottery on economic grounds, and plastic trumps ceramics on durability. If its just about function, why would we ever choose relatively expensive and breakable hand made pots?
So, potters have to argue their worth on other grounds. Handmade is itself a virtue. Supporting your local artisans is itself a virtue. Sophisticated and nuanced beauty is itself a virtue. Nurturing our own creative expression is itself a virtue. Perhaps even the tradition of pot making is itself a virtue….. These things don’t need to be defended: They are the things that justify our other actions and interests in the world. Place the horse in front of the cart….
When we are asked “Why handmade pottery?” we can’t simply answer that everyone needs a bowl to eat from and a cup to drink out of. Its not what makes us unique and its not why what we are doing is valuable. As potters we are attempting something more important than that. Isn’t it obvious?
Make beauty real!