Tales of the butterfly and snake

The great potter/blogger Whitney Smith just ran a post in which she confesses feelings of shame about her older work, which is much different than her new explorations. She says;

“This puts me in a strange spot with my older work right now. The standard collection that I’ve been pumping out for the past 7 years or so is all slip cast now, and I have made the decision that a lot of that collection is going to be discontinued– the cupcake stands, the bird bowls and vases for starters, and probably other items as I get used to saying good-bye to this work. But it’s still with me, taking up a lot of space in my studio, and sometimes the things people say to me about this work makes me feel strangely defensive and even ashamed. Another artist friend of mine said, “I loved your cake stands, but enough with the cute already! I like this new work so much better!”

I’ve had many comments from other people that they like this new work better than my older work. Which is nice, it’s a compliment and I know that, and I totally agree with them, but it gives me this feeling that I’ve been walking around with my underwear hanging out, and everyone has known it, and now they can tell me since I finally tucked it back in. It’s just this weird shame.

Whitney's new and better than 'cute' work. Me like!

Whitney’s new and better than ‘cute’ work. Me like!

This was my response:

Hey Whitney,

I think that any creative person who is evolving will be tempted to feel less kindly about their previous work than the current work that they are now excited by. I look at some of my pots from a few years ago and I feel that shame you are talking about. I’m almost embarrassed that some of this stuff is out there in people’s homes. The trick is to not see this new attitude as a reflection of the work as much as its a reflection of our own developing tastes. The person who made those old pots no longer exists. Or that person is slowly being replaced by someone new. Its like we are butterflies metamorphosing. So don’t feel so bad. You are like a snake shedding its skin: The only way to grow is to leave something of ourselves behind.

The price of moving forward is sometimes that we need to give things up that we were not prepared to part with. But that’s okay. All life only exists on the ruin of that which has been surpassed. To stand still is to be removed from the cycle of creation and destruction. Its a different sort of death. The corpse still breaths, and mouths words, but all autonomous activity has been replaced by autopilot responses and a life support apparatus. An artist has to embrace the many small deaths, the constant shedding, to affirm life. Creativity MEANS a certain sort of annihilation. You break eggs to make an omelet.

Or so it seems to me……

Peace all!

Happy shedding!

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.
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