In praise of less obvious charms

I saw that the new Bond Girl is to be the fabulous Monica Bellucci. She’s 50. Hey! That’s around my age too! Which got me thinking about how wonderful it is that she gets this role that has been preferred to marginally post-adolescent runway models and the like…. I said this on facebook:

Our culture worships the obvious charms of the young and perfect at the expense of the more hidden less brilliant glamour of those of us who have lived long enough for that superficial shine to have worn thin. Some of us have simply endured enough for all our youthful virtues to have had their perfect edges knocked off, their taut lines to have softened, their slender curves to have grown up.

This merely means that we have changed, not that we are damaged. We are as damaged as butterflies are in emerging from their chrysalis. Our culture mocks us as we get older, but it has simply traded the majesty of our hard won victories over life for the plain and simple virtues of our perfect and pure innocence. We worship the purity of the chrysalis, nothing more….

While those youthful things may sound good and worthy, and they are, they are not more good or more worthy than a callous, a wrinkle, or a scar. If we can’t always see this we just need to look harder. Older people are not beautiful despite their age. The signs of their age are a source of new and different beauty…..

Can we look with eyes that have seen a few turnings of the world? Can we look with eyes grown sharp with experience? Can we even look with eyes that have grown tired of bright lights and flash? Can we expect more from beauty than the simple perfections?

And the thing is, its not just youth we venerate at the expense of experience and its repercussions. No. We also trumpet the spectacle of obvious eye candy and easy accessible charm wherever it finds a home. And what we chronically miss out on is the harder to find qualities and less obvious charms that amazingly surround us everywhere while we are busy being dazzled by the inside joke of a bar being set so low that you can’t easily see under it…..

What that means for me is that, as far as pottery is concerned, its no surprise that galleries (who should know better) and general audiences (who may not) too often take the easy way out. They don’t look very deeply as long as the surface glitter shines away all their doubts. They are so easily seduced by what they can understand, the obviousness, and this deflects them from needing to reach for the forbidden fruit of the as yet unknown. As Michael Simon once observed,

“In our culture the graphic has largely supplanted perception of shape and texture…. I feel a contradiction in drawing images on the pot forms I make. The marks can distract from the more profound aspects of the pots. Pattern can render the shape a secondary concern…. Some pots are lost in the painting, others are improved.” (From his book, Evolution, p.81)

Not that its not charming, this easy virtue. Rather, by putting all our eggs in this one basket we create a culture that has no incentive to look deeper, no incentive to find alternate truths, and one that can easily pretend that THIS is the only value worth pursuing….. Eerily similar to our obsession and glorification of youth…..

The further I get from my invincible and perfect youth the more it seems worth defending these other virtues. I’m not denying youth or perfection, I simply want space to be made for other things. The world is entirely too narrow if we only pay attention to its candy. If the only voice heard were the voice of youth, how just would that be? Shouldn’t we aim for plurality? Shouldn’t we aim for diversity? Shouldn’t we aim beyond the obvious?

The Kizaemon teabowl, very old and very beautiful, but if most people saw it on the street they would pass it by. They might even prefer a brightly decorated beginner's bowl to its serene majesty.....

The Kizaemon teabowl, very old and very beautiful, but if most people saw it on the street they would pass it by. They might even prefer a brightly decorated beginner’s bowl to its serene majesty…..

Think about it.

Peace all!

Happy potting!

Make beauty real!

Make beauty that takes effort to find!

Or as the Velveteen Rabbit would say,

velveteen rabbit

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. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to In praise of less obvious charms

  1. alison says:

    i would take that teabowl home with me in a heartbeat.

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