Hooking up with pottery

You can try different things out, see what happens, see if you like it, in the same way that we date different people to find the partner we’d like to spend more time with. Finding something you want to engage with long term is something like our choice to move in together, eventually get married. In a long term relationship the commitment is much different from a dating relationship. If you are just picking up phone numbers of people you meet, hooking up with an assortment of partners, you can be said to be playing the field. It can end right there and no hard feelings. The more we invest in something the more bound to it we feel we are. The question is, do we go on dates simply to interview candidates for potential long term romance, ridding off in the sunset together, or do we date because we like spending time with that person, and that’s enough?

Trying new things out in our art practice can be as committed or as casual as we want it to be. Just don’t get confused that a date has to mean we are stuck doing something we may not like or that a casual affair won’t occasionally lead to something we truly fall in love with. Dating only has the rules you accept. Try something new. Run with it as long and as far as it will take you. It may surprise you to find years from now that you have been committed to more partners and much deeper than you imagined. Anything that puts a smile on your face, a reason to get up in the morning, is a vital part of your life. If it means exploring life with a familiar partner, honor that. But if you like an occasional taste of something new, find what you have been missing, uncover the missing pieces in the unfamiliar and unexpected. Do that too. Its only clay, and if you mess around with different ideas it won’t take it personally. If anything, what you learn will only deepen your understanding of those previous relationships…..

A few days ago the fabulous Whitney Smith posted in her always interesting blog about a practice she has been experimenting with. The idea is to give one’s self a specific non-normal creative experience that we can consider something like a holiday or a date (such as when parents need a break from the kids, or when a couple who never see each other need a special moment to remember the passion and bravery of their relationship). Things can get so worn down by the mundane that we sometimes simply need to treat our studio selves with the special agenda of rekindling the romance. Put on the make-up and fancy clothes! A splash of cologne and those new shoes we bought for that ‘special occasion’! Get out of the hum drum and into the candle lit Trattoria or opulent concert hall. We sometimes just need to step outside of ourselves, the daily routine that grinds us down, that impoverishes our soul. Rekindle the Romance! Bring your special self a bouquet! Get frisky with some new media or practice! Break some rules and defy propriety! Challenge the tyranny of dullness that has crept into our lives……

Here’s what Whitney did:

“The experience of trying to come up with the exact right date for myself brought me back around to the general problem I have of trying too hard, being a perfectionist, and then freezing myself through judgement. It’s torture. When I got back to the studio in the later afternoon, one of my new, big tall pieces was waiting for me. I decided to be completely crazy and just give myself an hour to complete it. No thinking, no processing, just go. I needed to undo a creative clusterfuck I created a few days before when I was inspired by some fabric that was pale, almost translucent yellow with some white designs on top. I worked on the idea with a piece and then undid myself with judgement. I don’t know how this one will turn out, but I’m happy I just did it.

This is how I responded in her comments:

This is fascinating! I don’t go off on tangents as much as l’d like to, but I appreciate when circumstances sort of put me in the position where I have to step outside of myself, get over my own presumptions of what’s supposed to matter, and simply do something I’d never have done left up to myself and my mediocre ‘wisdom’.

But maybe the wisdom is in knowing when to make those steps away rather than knowing what they will be. I’ll take at least a tiny bit of credit, as you must for dedicating yourself to the artist dates. Forcing ourselves out of our habits is sometimes the smartest thing we can do…..

So I always look forward to when I teach. I’m not there simply to show students how I would do something, but to give them the wider view of possibility. So I absolutely have to step outside my preferences, to some extent at least, and give them a taste of things I could not anticipate. Almost any demoing or putting together of examples for them to look at requires that I try something that breaks a bunch of my own rules. If I prefer one thing, I now have to do something different, and so on.

A particularly fun class I sometimes teach is the ‘Copying the Masters’ course. Generally I like the pots we choose to make, but the truth is that none of the pots are things I would have made on my own, and that seems to be the important part. There is a little bit of educating my hands to do different things, but mostly its about learning how other artists judge the world, what details matter and why, and then also just seeing value in something beyond the way I have trained myself to look.

We can step outside ourselves in different ways. We can put ourselves in new situations, see where our own sensibilities fit in new media and unusual practices. But we can also adopt different takes on familiar media and comfortable practices. The change can be what things we can do with new materials, but also what we can do with old ones. And that just fascinates the hell out of me!

Here are some images from the class I am teaching, some pots I made the other day that might never have found their way onto or off of my wheel had I not been teaching. Yes, the big handles look like things I might have done otherwise, the foot is familiar to me, but the pots themselves and the combinations and proportions of shape are generally from another universe.


It turns out I like the casseroly pot on the left, and I may toy with taller bottles that are squeezed. The decorative flourish on the butter dish probably needs to be toned down for my tastes, but I’m not opposed to making that sort of statement with embellishment.

So three ‘dates’ out of four will probably lead to something further. That seems like better odds than I had any right to expect! Chalk one up for taking risks, for walking up to that strange notion and seeing what it has to offer. “You heard about Pluto? That’s messed up, right?”

Be brave! Be adventurous! Risk a lump of clay, and if it doesn’t work out, no real harm done. But you won’t know unless you try.

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, Beauty, Ceramics, Creativity, Imagination, Pottery, Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

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