Responding to Tom Sutcliffe on The Great Pottery Throw Down

A friend and stellar student of mine shared an article on fb from the Guardian and asked me what I thought of this quote:

“Pottery, rather literally, brings the philosophy of beauty down to earth and lets you turn it in your hands.”

Definitely stuff I have been thinking about, and I let out a rambling response to the whole Tom Sutcliffe article:

I thought this ending quote was also interesting: “Pottery’s idea of what is precious is the least precious of all the art forms. This is sculpture you can, and should, use. It’s at its most alive in the hands of makers who prefer the sturdy, slip-splashed title of potter to that of artist, and at its most cherished on an ordinary sideboard in Leeds.” And while this humility is certainly a part of what draws many folks both to making pots and appreciating them, it focuses too much on a questionable distinction between that humble quality and what makes other things art. People hang paintings in humble private homes just as much as they stash pottery on shelves and sideboards. Humility is not a razor that separates art from non-art, and neither is what we can or cannot do with these things in our hands. But the great thing about pots is that they DO (sometimes) belong in people’s hands. They DO (often) belong on the table at mealtime. This, at least, is their potential. Its a unique advantage that pots and meals go together which opens up a possibility of aesthetic experience that for much other art experience gets cordoned off behind glass cases and velvet ropes in museums and galleries. That physical separation is not what it means to be art. Using pots doesn’t make pottery not-art. Rather, it extends the things that art is responsible for doing in the world. Its not just passive contemplation but interaction AND participation.

There is still a visual quality that does not operate in this hands on way, and that is every bit as fascinating as the visual aesthetic contribution of other arts (in my opinion), but with pots there is this other possibility as well. That doesn’t make pots non-art or a lesser form of art, just different. So yes, pottery does bring a philosophy of beauty down to earth, but that’s not all it does, and that’s not specifically why it needs to be respected. It can be respected on all sorts of levels. The author does a good job expressing this one characteristic, but paints only that one part of the story….. It is entirely probable that potters and pottery advocates have played up this difference to the point where it only endorses the idea that pots are not art in the sense that other things are art. Its one thing to take pride in our difference, another thing to deny any kinship. Perhaps one thing that is lacking in the art world is precisely the humility that pots naturally bring to the table? That this is a deficiency in their end? That other art is seen as somehow ‘special’ when the only thing making it such is our attitude that it is? ………. 

Peace all!

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, Arts advocacy, Arts education, Beauty, Ceramics, Clay, Creativity, Imagination, metacognition, Pottery. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Responding to Tom Sutcliffe on The Great Pottery Throw Down

    • I saw that a few days ago on fb. Here’s how I responded there:

      This attitude is what’s wrong with most people writing about art. They are so sure of their opinions, their gut feelings and incomprehension of what they find dull that they have no problem spouting this chauvinism as some sort of gospel. Talk about repression! But closed minds rarely see the cages they are in, just the skewed truths and distortions of shadows cast by the bars holding them prisoner…..

  1. Pingback: Clay Blog Review: November 2015 - Pottery Making Info

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