Understanding and Knowing

I saw it, briefly, last night. Or rather I heard it. The settling dusk making my trips out to the kiln carrying freshly glazed pots even more treacherous, my nose firmly to the grindstone of beating full darkness and the chill that was spreading, I had no other thought but finishing my task and the insistent rumblings of hunger that had started an hour or so earlier. But finish I must, and so I bore down.

And then I heard it. Somewhere, somewhere close, a neighbor had their door open. I knew that sound! Was it an accordion? Someone in my neighborhood was playing some instrument I could recognize but not easily name. But the sound. I knew that sound! And in that moment my heart swelled with a passion I had been missing for the past week. I understood that sound! I was listening to a neighbor pouring their own soul into one of the songs from the Amélie soundtrack by Yann Tiersen, an album I had listened to over and over again in days gone by.

Heart suddenly beating, I quickly placed the pot I was holding where it belonged in the kiln and strode off into the night, up the driveway, out searching for the faint notes hanging in the air, coming from where I knew not. I had a neighbor who plays the tuba from his rooftop, but that was to the right and this was coming from the left. Was it Ben? The former rockstar drummer from the Counting Crows? A dozen or so steps in that direction and I could rule him out. Not his side of the street. But there it was! The lights were on, the door was open, and the sounds were definitely from that direction. My heart thumped with excitement.

And then the notes faltered, and with them my feet. I stood in place, halfway down the block, fearful that if I moved again the spell would be broken, the magic lost, hoping for more, but the sounds petered out and came to a halt. I waited a few minutes more, but it never took back up again. The door to that house eventually closed. And then I remembered the cold. I remembered the growing darkness, my lack of food, and the need to get my kiln finished. The world returned to me in all its crushing beseeching neediness.

But for one brief moment I had understood again. I had understood that there is something worth more than the daily grind and our fixation on what is wrong with the world. I understood the beauty that has been lost to me in recent days. It was there, nurtured for a brief moment, cradled in ephemeral hands. And then it was gone…..

I know the power of art. I am just having trouble understanding it right now. Its not an intellectual problem, it is a problem for the spirit. The spirit trembles on unseen winds. And if we are not careful, it will perish. If we take our eyes off it for too long, fail to nurture and encourage where these things live and are born, we may end up losing them. Among the many horrors we face, that too must be confronted.

For the past week I have felt like a fraud artist. I was lucky I had already made the pots I was to fire, so my creative investment had mostly already been cashed in. All I needed in this last month before the sales was to glaze and fire, glaze and fire, glaze and fire, up at 3, to bed at 8, up at 4, to bed at 9…. I will get my mojo back. I know too much about beauty to let it die in me. I have too much invested to let it wither. But will I understand it again soon? I simply don’t know. The brief spell of my neighbor’s serenade made a difference. I simply need to recapture it from where it has hidden.

But here is to all of you out there who are continuing to make the world bright. And especially also to those of you who encourage beauty by supporting the artists that make it come alive. We need your belief and we need your support. Thank you sincerely. Beauty will not die while you are creating homes where it belongs. Beauty will not die on your watch. And for that the world owes you a debt. If beauty is going to still matter in the world that is to come, we owe it to ourselves to make it as realizable as we can. Beauty is one of the world’s gifts to us, and the more we cherish it the more our humanity is rewarded.

Who better to make that case than Amélie?


Peace all,

Make beauty real. Yes, please do.


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, Ephemera, Imagination, metacognition. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Understanding and Knowing

  1. Hi Carter. I tried unsuccessfully to post a comment so I figured I would comment to you directly because of course I will read carefully anyone who references the philosophic distinction between knowing and understanding and because I had a particular reaction.

    I think that at present we had better give freedom equal status with beauty. After all they played music in the concentration camps.

  2. Joe says:

    Two days ago you were asking if art matters. If you were rushing around in the dark trying to find it, I guess you found your answer even if you didn’t find the source

  3. alison says:

    yesterday i was sitting in my favorite korean cafe in brattleboro, eating lunch, reading the valley advocate, and came across this quote while reading my horoscope …
    “i still think the [real] revolution is to make the world safe for poetry, meandering, for the frail and vulnerable, the rare and obscure, the impractical and local and small.” ~r. solnit
    which pretty much dovetails precisely with how things have been going for me lately. so, far out, brother. you hit this nail on the head! 🙂

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