Don’t hate me because I’m pretty

Brandon Phillips' pretty pot

Brandon Phillips’ pretty pot

“It’s not often that I make “pretty” pots. But I really like what this glaze does over my bright white slip.”

Isn’t it interesting that some potters avoid making pretty pots? They could if they wanted to. Quite easily, in fact. But for whatever reason they have chosen to aim at something other than pretty. And that has to be alright. Not every pot has to be pretty. They can be alarmingly beautiful without affecting ‘pretty’.Β The question we need to ask is whether avoiding pretty is itself a goal or the side effect of aiming differently.

If you cook and serve meals without using salt are you aiming at bland food or is the blandness a side effect of some other reason to not use salt? Are there other flavors hidden in too subtle ways for us to make easy connection with? Is what we perceive as blandness not always the lack of taste but the absence of overpowering tastes? Salt may heighten perception, but it also obscures. We can become sensorily jaded.

Salt is too easy on the palate. Pretty is too easy on the palate. The human temptation to believe ‘What You See Is All There Is‘ makes us blind to difficult nuance. Salt and pretty swirl around us and make certain things stand out, but only at the expense of subduing quieter or humbler accents.

There is nothing wrong with pretty. I am thankful for it. But it is not everything. We should not dumb things down by surrounding ourselves with only the prettiest. We miss too much if only the pretty survive. There is more to the world than pretty.

So don’t hate me because I’m pretty. Simply learn to love a wider range of things than the pretty. Educate ourselves to the strange hidden and unexpectedly perplexing beauties that also surround us. Don’t settle only for the obvious in your face qualities. Search deeper. Look wider. Wait until you understand more before casting judgment. If there is a crime pretty perpetrates its that we are urged to make quick judgments. Because its easy. It teaches us not to work hard for beauty. Pretty casts a vote for simple and easy. Its lazy.

We should be thankful of pretty because there are times to be lazy. Just not all the time. Just not now. There is too much at stake to sell ourselves to simplicity and obviousness.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about how and why people misunderstand each other. We can’t learn the way others see things unless we take the time, suspend our own judgment, and earn our impressions. Pretty is a shortcut. Sometimes shortcuts are necessary. But life is not a shortcut. We know less than we think we do, and every time we settle for what we think we understand we can be guaranteed we are not getting the whole picture. Certainly not with the things that seem most obvious to us. They are the blind spots we have. Their obviousness is blinding.

Beware the pretty, but don’t give up on it.

Things to think about, at least….

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, Creativity, Imagination, metacognition, Pottery. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Don’t hate me because I’m pretty

  1. Linda says:

    This can quickly turn into a semantics discussion, Carter. I read this a couple times and I keep getting stuck on the sentence “we should be thankful for pretty because there are times to be lazy” ? Attractive, appealing, beautiful, fetching, pretty. Pretty might be a “lazy” word – but pretty certainly isn’t always lazy. There is an audience – a big one – all about pretty. Lazy, obvious, simplicity (I’d say derivative here) should be avoided in any rigorous practice. I love GOOD pretty and I think there are a number of makers out there making great pretty work!

    But cute!! I struggle with cute 😊

    • The distinction I am teasing out is that we don’t have to work hard to make sense of pretty, and that this is not a bad thing necessarily (as long as its not the only beauty we settle for πŸ™‚ ). There are times when its perfectly desirable to not have to work hard at finding the beauty in a thing. It doesn’t have to be a struggle to understand why something appeals to us. Its pretty, and that is enough.

      I like pretty things. I am grateful the world is full of pretty things. The ease with which pretty makes sense of the world is the ease of a warm summer day, sitting under the shade of a willow tree watching the gentle flow of a stream while the wafting breeze tickles the field of flowers in the distance. You’d have to be blind not to find the beauty there. That beauty does not make us work hard to understand it. And there is nothing wrong with it! If we can’t enjoy a lazy day in the summer sat under a tree there is something wrong with us.

      Pretty is simply not demanding: Pretty is generous. I never said pretty was not ‘good’. Pretty IS good. Its just not the only good.

      And easy on the eye does not mean it didn’t take work to make it happen! πŸ™‚ I never said that bringing pretty to the world was itself an easy task πŸ™‚ No one should be ashamed for having made the world more pretty. A flower is an amazingly complex thing. The fact that it stands out as an obvious source of beauty is not a condemnation of flowers. We should celebrate that πŸ™‚

      One problem, possibly what you mean by ‘bad’ pretty, is when pretty is used to sell something defective. Like a gorgeous model in an ad for some piece of crap merchandise. Pretty can be used to deceive us because its so easy on the eyes and it does not always ask us to look deeper. Its the idea of curb appeal. We can sell something much easier by making it pretty. That’s just a fact. If its easy to understand its easier to buy into. If beauty is that much more accessible, if it doesn’t ask us to look too deeply, we can connect with it more readily. Pretty doesn’t mean its cloaking an inferior product, but you CAN cloak an inferior product with pretty. You can’t easily hide poor craftsmanship or poor quality if it doesn’t look pretty.

      Perhaps the lesson is that we as artists should not trade attention to quality for the accessibility granted by making things pretty? I can’t help but think of the whole lipstick on pigs line. We know this to be true. Pretty shouldn’t fool us if its being used to hide lesser things.

      • I just read this moments ago :

        “And a study has shown that the fact that you have to be slower when you take notes by hand is what makes it more useful in the long run.

        In the study published in Psychological Science, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles sought to test how note-taking by hand or by computer affects learning.

        “When people type their notes, they have this tendency to try to take verbatim notes and write down as much of the lecture as they can,” Mueller tells NPR’s Rachel Martin. “The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective β€” because you can’t write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them.”

        Mueller and Oppenheimer cited that note-taking can be categorized two ways: generative and nongenerative. Generative note-taking pertains to “summarizing, paraphrasing, concept mapping,” while nongenerative note-taking involves copying something verbatim.


        But the students taking notes by hand still performed better. “This is suggestive evidence that longhand notes may have superior external storage as well as superior encoding functions,” Mueller and Oppenheimer write.”

        • Scott Cooper says:

          I like the idea of having to work at decoding some instances of beauty being similar to those longhand notes. More valuable because you had to work at it.

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