The Black Pearls of pottery

“When black pearls were first introduced to the market, nobody wanted them. But then the famous jeweler Harry Winston placed black pearls in his display windows alongside his rubies, sapphires and diamonds. He set the price of black pearls high, and they have been very valuable ever since. An important lesson from this story is that people tend to make relative judgments and to use only objects that are easy to compare as the standard for appraisal (like those rubies, sapphires and diamonds).

This implies that when you’re examining future purchases, you should ensure that you don’t just compare the object of your desire to similar objects but to other, very different things that you might also want. As you expand your scope of comparison, you should be able to make more reasonable decisions.”  Dan Ariely

Or, a bowl is not a bowl is not a bowl. A cup is not a cup is not a cup….. Its just silly to lump them all together just because they do the same things functionally or look similar in shape. The Jack of Diamonds is not the same thing in every card game played. ‘The same card’ in different games is not the same card. A bowl is not simply a bowl like all other bowls. There is a difference in intention, what its aiming at, who its aiming at, the role it plays, the function it fulfills, its value in the game, where it fits into a person’s life, who can afford it, who can appreciate it, and so many others details of its existence, and so on and so forth.

That was essentially the point I was making last post, and I think its a point worth repeating. We tend not to rate the differences between similar looking objects, things perhaps broadly related by ‘form’ or ‘use’. Or, more subtly, we see them as too related (both as ‘pearls’) and then use our other standards and values to discriminate on that basis. No one in a White Pearl world wants black pearls unless they are shown that black pearls are not a lesser version of pearls.

black pearls

This has consequence for how we look at everything from beginner pots to anything we might be tempted to call out as a ‘bad‘ pot. Essentially, when we do this we are guilty of imposing one set of standards (our own) on objects that might never have known they were playing by those rules. Its like going into a coffee shop, and because they don’t serve scones you call it “a poor coffee shop”.

Did they know they were supposed to have scones? Whatever else like that they ‘got wrong’, does it matter what they were actually trying to do, and how well they got that part ‘right’? In other words, what sense is there to call a coffee shop without scones a lesser version or a ‘poor’ coffee shop? And yet we do this with pottery that fails to live up to our preferences all the time.

And unfortunately those preferences can be as rigorously assembled as having been charmed by evenness, flattered by consistency, romanced by symmetry, lulled by balance, and all other persuasions to ideals that come to make sense to most professionals. The more you have been ‘educated’, sometimes it seems the more you have been indoctrinated into a world view, complete with mythologies, superstitions, and systems of value already intact.

In the end, our preferences alway say as much about us as they do the world beyond. What we see and how we see it is a comment on our own insight, whatever else it is. Black Pearls surround us everywhere, just waiting to be seen in the right light by forgiving eyes. You can’t see them for what they are until you forgive them for not being what we expected, what we wanted, the White Pearls in our lives…..

I’ll end with how I ended the last post, because some things are worth repeating:

The key, as I see it, is not to be such fascists about our preferences, calling work we disagree with ‘bad’ or having ‘made mistakes’. Its more like we are playing different games from one another, and even though all bowls may look bowlishly alike, the truth is they are not all aiming at the same things, even as far as specific function goes, much less aesthetically or craftsmanly. A person playing Go Fish isn’t doing it wrong by not declaring trump or what the wild cards are. Just because beginning potters look like they are playing a remedial game we should not expect that they are playing the wrong game or an inferior one.

(The magician slows down so you can see all the movement, the trumpet springing from his nose and what the other hand is actually doing)

What they are doing only LOOKS like the game that professionals play. But how naive would we have to be to expect that beginners necessarily have the same standards as professionals? Just because you are playing cards doesn’t mean you are playing bridge. And not playing bridge doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong….. People starting out on the wheel are only potentially standing at one end of a spectrum where, at the other end, folks who have investigated and evolved and poured themselves into the medium reside. They are not beginners in the sense that they are lesser versions of professionals, merely that professionals start here to get there.

The interesting thing is that the same person can play Bridge AND play Go Fish. Right? What would have to be the case for a professional to throw pots like a beginner? Would they have to give up their hard earned skill? Or would they simply not have to care about the sacred standards and lofty virtues they somehow swallowed on the way to becoming professional? Now THAT is an interesting question!

Peace all!

Happy potting!

Make beauty real!

And if you haven’t read the previous post, please give it a look. Thanks!!


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, Creative industry, Creativity, Imagination, metacognition, Pottery, Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

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