Intention and Execution

So… more than one person is having difficulty with my recent posts. I put them out there, and undoubtedly I could have done things differently. I will take that blame and accept that my own intentions and their execution are further divided by what gets understood once these ideas are sent out in the world. As I’ve said plenty of times before, there is a sometimes radical disconnect between expression and communication.

And we thought being artists was hard! Making sense in a language most people don’t understand as we do, don’t comprehend as natives, the things we ourselves see and attempt to pass on are both elusive and illusory in the hands and minds of outsiders…. And the irony being that our own native spoken language only gives us the appearance of direct communication.

There is no ideal to communication. No exact meeting of minds. We do not fundamentally grasp what other people are saying simply by having the same words at our disposal. We approximate. The rules of interpretation are much looser than for things like mathematics and physics. There is no one right and obvious answer.

Spoken language is different. Sometimes the familiarity itself breeds misunderstanding. We look at the words themselves as manifesting the intention, and yet we mistake that intention all the time. It’s as if the intentions were located behind the words.

Our agreement in language is only imprecise. It is a gossamer thread on a breezy day. Convention overlaps harmoniously enough that we identify as a culture, as speakers of particular languages, but the veneer of our shared words hides many worlds. Our different assumptions and the staring places of incredibly diverse values and motivations lead us in often opposite ways.

Misunderstanding is like standing in an archery field: You are going about your business and some damn fool sends a volley close enough to almost hit you. You feel yourself threatened. Where you stand and what you stand for are under attack. Never mind that the archer was aiming at something entirely different and in fact may have hit precisely what she aimed at. You are more concerned with the close call, the brush back, and it certainly seems like your truths were being aimed at.

Because we all understand the world as we do, not as other people do, we are outsiders to each other in a fundamental sense. And so when someone says something that has the appearance of threatening our values it is only natural to read into the words that this-is-how-they-were-intended. We understand on our own terms, not always necessarily on the terms that others practice their own understanding. There can be happy agreement, and there usually is. But the blissful harmony is exposed for its fragility when things go wrong. Mostly we hope others are not entirely opaque to us and just get on with our business. La di da di da…..


Apparently my last few essays have been interpreted in drastically different ways from what I intended. I am concerned at how words so clear to me, that mean something specific to me, could so clearly mean something different to someone else.

So what did I say that I apparently only thought adequately expressed my intentions?

  • “being an artist is not like other jobs”
  • “making our art specifically as a means to earn a living confuses getting paid with making art.”
  • “Making a living as an artist is essentially a conflict of interest”
  • “Professional artists have both a calling and a job.”
  • “In an important sense artists are there to serve their art, and not the art being there to serve the artist. And yet it somehow must…..”
  • “Almost anything can be bought and sold, but does that mean it should? Does having a skill, a good, or service automatically mean its for sale?”
  • “The issue is whether something we do for its own sake, for our own sake, should also be thought of as something we do for marketplace reasons.”
  • “Just because it LOOKS like a marketplace good or service does not mean that we are always supposed to treat it that way.”
  • “They will start to learn that the reason they are doing things is no longer because they are the right things to do, that they should be doing them, but instead that they will get rewarded for doing them.”
  • “The more focused we are on the bottom line the less attention we have for the wonder.”
  • “What we think important may not be what others even find interesting.”
  • “when we don’t get what an artist is saying its not always a failure to communicate but sometimes rather a different and unfamiliar agenda.” (And boy was that ever a prophetic conclusion for that post!)

Now somehow several people took all this as me saying that ‘artists are prostitutes’ and ‘bad children’, when those scenarios were merely examples used to make my argument. The one just stated above. THAT was what I intended. They were not the argument itself. And saying that these examples reflect on issues that artists face at most says that we share similar difficulties. At most we are like these people in some respect. Not that we are them. The sense that artists like getting paid is something many of us have in common with people in EVERY profession. I was simply making the point that:

  • “Almost anything can be bought and sold, but does that mean it should? Does having a skill, a good, or service automatically mean its for sale?”

And the answer is that for some of us certain things are too personal to make commerce easy. For others is is not. And that’s okay too. Far from making these people actual prostitutes it makes them like bankers and house painters, like landscapers and architects, like doctors and cabdrivers…. If you are not conflicted by selling the goods you have you are just like many other people in that regard. Amazingly and yet apparently problematically that makes you just like sex workers too, in addition to the bankers and cab drivers. The point behind using sex as an example is that

  1. it makes non-professional people uncomfortable as a marketplace value
  2. there is a whole industry that supports people doing it

The tension I am describing is that in the first instance some people have a value that is not connected to money, is compromised by it, and in the second that some people have a value that is dependent on money. People are motivated by different things. Right? And people who find themselves in the position of needing to place monetary value on things they hold dear for other reasons is what we call:

  • “a conflict of interest”

In other words,

  • “being an artist is not like other jobs” for some, at least,

and therefor for many,

  • “Professional artists have both a calling and a job.”


Maybe this explains what I was suggesting a bit better? I take full responsibility that my words were so easily misunderstood. I was perhaps sacrificing clarity for the sake of a flowing exposition. But if it is still unclear that I am NOT calling artists ‘hookers’ or ‘bad children’ I invite anyone who still sees me saying those things to copy and paste any condemning passages or phrases from the original essays into the comments here. I want know where I went wrong, where my intentions were less clear, where I encouraged these misunderstandings, and any other information that will help me do a better job next time.

Artists serve many masters, and it is shortsighted to imagine the pull between placating them all is entirely smooth sailing. We have, often times,

  • “a conflict of interest”

And if some artists are steadfast in maintaining their sanity, that their daily practice does not thrust these troubles to the surface in a desperate and often schizophrenic scramble to appease many masters, that is not to say that others do not. Our own placid demeanor is no measure of the conflict writhing in the minds of other people. We are lucky if money is the biggest source of our internal conflict. We are lucky if our many masters do not end up tearing us down, as it does so many others….


And if some out there still feel I am just making this stuff up, there has been decades of research on how these very issues play out for people. In fact, the ‘sex’ example is not even my own invention. If there still is difficulty understanding what I am getting at I can only direct you to this great article by a very smart guy who compiles some of the relevant research in psychology and studies done by behavioral economists. You can read that here:

The Overjustification Effect

All I can say is I tried. My intentions were pure, if my execution perhaps less so.

Peace all

Happy potting

Make beauty real

Make a difference that matters


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, Creative industry, metacognition, Pottery. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Intention and Execution

  1. “…and the Daughters of Memory shall become the Daughters of Inspiration….
    Rouse up, O Young Men of the New Age! Set your foreheads against the ignorant hirelings! For we have hirelings in the Camp, the Court, and the University, who would, if they could, for ever depress mental, and prolong corporeal war. Painters! on you I call. Sculptors! Architects! suffer not the fashionable fools to depress your powers by the prices they pretend to give for contemptible works, or the expensive advertising boasts that they make of such works!”
    -William Blake

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