Score one for the teacher

Unconventional pitcher

Unconventional pitcher

“Oh Carter, looking at this I’m reminded how so grateful I am that you taught me that a shape like this is a beautiful thing (and not a fail).”

A recent student made that comment seeing this pitcher posted on fb. I’ll take it as a testament to how good a job I’ve done to help at least some of my students to see the broader range of beauty. If there is one thing I hope I can leave my students with it won’t necessarily be the potting skills and techniques of their hands in clay, but the conceptual evolution of how they are able to see the world. If I can help them see the possibility of beauty in unexpected places, for them to not simply accept that beauty looks this one way and nothing else, then I will imagine I’ve done a good job.

The truth is probably that my student would previously have looked at that pitcher and found it ugly. A ‘fail’. At best it would have merely been uninspiring. As many of our pots seem to be when countless members of the audience walk by our booths with their noses in the air. The failure, if there is a failure, is not in the form itself but in the audience’s ability to make sense of it. The fail is not the property of blame apportioned to the pitcher but to the audience.

Its like saying that a person speaking poetry and philosophy in Latin is a fail because the audience has no clue what the words mean. Not everything expressed has to communicate, because the language it is cast in may not live in each member of a potential audience. And it is okay to use languages that others don’t yet understand. The value you are expressing is not simply a side effect of how well it has been understood. You can say important things, and NOT be understood. And you don’t need permission to do so…..

In the end, if there is a failure surrounding artists and the arts its that we have less curiosity than we should. The failure is perhaps that we are too confident of our own choices and do not admit the equal standing of others’ conflicting choices. Trying to see what those choices were, trying to understand how they come to have the value they do for others, is the exact flip side of our own position in the eyes of a judging audience. We should have the humility to admit that while we may not have made the same choices, often they were done for good reasons. Just not our reasons. We might not ‘get’ those reasons until we can adequately put ourselves in their shoes. And we will never do that unless we are open minded enough to see the world beyond the security of our own convictions.

Convictions belong to convicts, and convicts live behind bars. While it may be safe inside these cages, the question remains whether there is more to life than playing it safe. Not every conviction we hold is justified, and not every justification actually matters. Find the beauty that is hidden by our own lack of ability. Stay curious. Exercise beyond the limits of the known. Go broad. Go deep.

Things to think on!

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

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