Your art is a language

“Pattern recognition is a priceless skill that comes with practice, with the experience of noticing. Noticing what works, what you’ve seen before, what might not work.

Because pattern recognition is so valuable, some people have erroneously concluded that the way to succeed is to slavishly follow what’s come before. Pattern matching is for amateurs. It rarely leads to the creation of much that can stand the test of time.

The art is to see patterns, but to use them to do something new, something that rhymes.” Seth Godin

This quote was too perfect not to use as a further example of how creativity functions like a language. Imagine you were stuck on a pattern, and that was the only way you could express yourself:

See Spot run! Run Spot run!


Kids are amateur language users, so they have to repeat themselves over and over again. They repeat the pattern. Is the pattern an end in itself? Does the pattern itself have value? I have never until now used the phrase “See spot run” as an adult, so its a thing I learned and then left behind as being no longer necessary. I repeated it enough times that I got the gist, and then moved on to more complicated things, and from there to constructing my own sentences. I went from repeating the patterns to, as Seth puts it, “using them to do something new.”

Our art is in the same position. Are we merely repeating ourselves like kindergartners learning phrases or are we connecting unfamiliar dots like poets and expanding the universe of imagination?

I’m not saying we can’t do both, I’m just interested in why we would choose to do either of them and what that says about our ambitions for the language we are using. I’ve got plenty of phrases that are important enough to repeat over and over again. If what I’m saying is important enough I may have to repeat myself to be understood.

But there are also times when what I’m trying to say could be stated differently. I can make the same point with different words. I can make the meaning I am after look different and thereby perhaps reach others more successfully. There are advantages to holding fast and to giving things up. I’m just asking whether we are enough conscious of these situations to make informed decisions.

Stuff to think about, at least 🙂

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

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