The doctrine of Yo

While making some bowls this morning I decided I would write a doctrine of Yo, not knowing what others had made of this word, and knowing only what I intended to use it for. Happy coincidence that others’ use seems compatible with what I have in mind 🙂 Thanks, wikipedians, for providing the info! (See bottom of page)

As I was having lunch yesterday with a fellow potter friend he expressed that he felt his pots needed to be more loose. I’ve heard many potters express this over the years, and it seems a fairly natural human tendency to occasionally desire something more than just tightness. Tight is fine, but its not the only way, and its not always the best way.

I told my friend what I thought and I went home to think about it some more. These are some of the ideas I came up with:


What is kindness? We can point to things that are kind, kind actions, and say “That is kindness.” And its true, being kind means doing kind things. Kind people do kind things. The kindness of a kind person isn’t just reflected in their actions, it is their actions. Their actions are what being kind means. It manifests as kindness. This is what it means to be kind.

But its also true that some people act a certain way for appearance sake. Some people are said to be kind by some and others know it for a lie. “That’s not really who they are. They are just putting on a front, for appearance sake.” Some people can act kind but their hearts are in another place.

And so when a potter says they want their pots to be more loose my question is whether the important thing is that the pots are loose or that they are manifesting looseness. Do the loose pots you want to make say something true about your intentions, or are you just doing something for appearance sake? Its a big difference.

If you have the skills you can make anything you want, and loose pots are not hard to master. As a different potter (who had also at one point expressed a desire to make looser pots) once said looking at my students’ attempts to copy loose master Ron Meyers, “If students with this little experience can get this close to making decent loose pots it must not be very hard.” There are plenty of really good potters who make pots that seem loose but are actually the stingiest expression of tightness this side of symmetry.

Making the product loose is just a matter of finding the right details and mastering the techniques of putting them in the right places. Its not that complicated really. If you are skilled enough you can make other people’s loose pots. You can copy what they do, usually within a few attempts. You can even make up your own version of a loose pot. But does that make you a loose potter? Now that you can make a loose pot are you necessarily a loose potter? Does looseness motivate you? Do you understand what it means to be loose? Do you know the doctrine of Yo?

Its certainly a start. But just as a person doing kind things does not make them kind, we need to close the gap between making loose pots and being loose.

Unfortunately the idea of loose stands on the opposite spectrum of doing things with specific purpose. So, in a sense, you can’t try to make loose pots to be loose, you just do it. Trying belongs to a different agenda.

Do you try to fall in love? If you are in love its not often as a result of trying. Trying may even get in the way. And that is because falling in love, much like looseness, is more like giving in rather than taking. These are things that happen to us. In both cases the rational controlling mind would call us an idiot, and that surely says something important 🙂

To phrase it differently, its not so much about the product as its an attitude about the process. The pots themselves don’t matter. They are not the point, merely a consequence. What counts is how you get there, why you get there.

Being loose is simply the permission for things to happen. Its allowing the process to unfold to at least some extent on its own; without your grandiose plans stepping in and gumming up the works. The part we play is not so much designer and architect as midwife. Its not enforcing our own will on the clay as much as its easing the birth of something other, something new. It takes the possible over the definite.

Being a loose potter is not having loose products to show for yourself but having made things that loosely describe your position in the making process. The pots themselves can be all over the map, because our own role in making them was loose.

Its like a parent whose kids have run of the house. A strict parent is a disciplinarian, and if all goes well the kids are obedient and focused. A loose parent allows the kids to do what they want, with some limits and some help along the way, but its less a matter of enforcing obedience than it is freedom and collaboration. A loose potter collaborates with the clay, listens to it, and allows it to speak for itself. A tight potter coerces the clay like an imperious tyrant.

To be a loose potter we need to be the kind of potter who can let go. Ron Meyers always describes his process as ‘casual’. That’s exactly it. Don’t obsess about loosening up. That’s what George Carlin would call a Jumbo Shrimp. Looseness doesn’t mean not caring, but caring in a different way. You don’t have to have absolute control to show you care. Loose means the absence of obsession. It means not clinging. It means loving the other for who they are, not what you want them to be.

So you can’t just make loose pots to be a loose potter, they have to be made loosely. The looseness of any given pot should be the manifestation of looseness, not a tightly struggled or perfected outcome. We need to embrace looseness the way kind people embrace kindness. It needs to flow through us rather than start and stop in the pots themselves.

And that, my friends, is the doctrine of Yo (as I tell it).

Something to think about at least 🙂

Peace all!

Happy potting!

Make beauty real!



Yo is an English slanginterjection,[1] commonly associated with American English. It was popularized after being used commonly in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania since the 1940s.[2]

Although often used as a greeting, yo may come at the end of a sentence, often to direct focus onto a particular individual or group or to gain the attention of another individual or group. It may specify that a certain statement that had been uttered is more important, or may just be an “attention grabber”.

The interjection yo was first used in Middle English.[3] The Middle English term originated from Old English ġēa (“yes”)[citation needed] In addition to yo, it was also sometimes written io.[4]

Yoism: According to its founder, Daniel Kriegman, Yoism (founded 1994) combines rational inquiry, empiricism, and science withSpinozan or Einsteinianpantheism.[25][26][27] Inspired by the Linux operating system, Kriegman describes his religion as “open-source” and explains that, similar to open-source software projects, participants in Yoism do not owe their allegiance to any leader and that their sense of authority emerges via group consensus decision-making.[1][28][29] Yoism adopted the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike copyleft license for sharing original works in May 2015.[30]

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

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