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perfection and pots

updated mon 27 aug 12


ksavino@BUCKEYE-EXPRESS.COM on mon 27 aug 12

It's hard to look at pottery out of context. The object itself, in a glass =
case in a museum in 100 or 1000 years -- almost stands alone, wrapped only =
in its history. But the way we see our own lifetime's pots doesn't, ever.

As potters we can't see the forest because we ARE the trees.

There's a natural progression with many of us, from beginner to advanced. =
Beginner handbuilding is fun but feels simple and summer campish... and the=
WHEEL seems to many like the "legit" pottery challenge. Then there's the =
struggle to master height, and symmetry, the standard grammar of making thr=
own work -- until mastery of basic skills provides, for some, the dissatisf=
ying realization that the wheel "only makes round."

Then -- many begin to alter, to loosen and soften, to dart and decorate. S=
wing to gestrual expression, then back to clean lines, and back -- over yea=
rs. Try new clays, new temperatures.

Next, many rediscover handbuilding with a whole new respect -- a process li=
mited only by imagination and skill. Vince's workshop did that for me.

It's very much like writing. Those who read are better writers, like those =
who look at the pots of others have a richer set of examples to pull from. =
You can't skip learning grammar and sentence structure, and decide you'll j=
ust write like ee cummings -- you have to learn the rules before you can br=
eak them. Like potters who start making "arty" pots before they can center,=
raise walls and trim, finish and design -- it's not gonna go well.

A similar heirarchy seems to apply to kilns and firing, for those who choos=
e to buy into it. Cone six electric and packaged glazes can be too predicta=
ble, raku offers new possibilities for accident and experiment, gas kilns h=
ave that university-program-or-big-art-center panache, salt/soda is out the=
re for people who are geeked about kilns and atmospherics. Wood firing was=
for a long time the be-all and end-all... owned, if we follow the stereoty=
pe, by mostly grey bearded male tyes. So the temptation to step out of your=
"category" has a certain appeal as well... whether it's a grizzled veteran=
of studio pottery switching to lowfire electric, or a group of middle aged=
women rockin' an anagama. There are so many directions to go, all tools in=
the toolbox... you could try a hundred new things just in a pit fire, each=
one connecting you to history and innovation at the same time.

These are all, of course, oversimplified generalizations and stereotypes. Y=
MMV and there are more individual roads and exceptions than there are hard-=
drawn lines. My point is that everything we see in pottery is so laden with=
context -- which magazines we read, if any, in which decade we became pott=
ers, who our teachers were, what's held up on the posters as the creme de l=
a creme.

Teaching art apprec to non majors and a community college has made me aware=
how much of art expression is an "inside" conversation, artwork that's com=
menting on, inspired by, rejecting or reacting to art that came before. It'=
s often like trying to explain an inside joke to a third party, with a simi=
lar deer-in-the-headlights response. It occurs to me that every medium (pai=
nting, pottery, glass, fiber) has its own inside conversation as well, a sh=
ared set of impressions and assumptions that are ours to accept or reject. =
It's that "society" within which we all make art.

My prof's response to navigating the waters of trend and identity, inspirat=
ion vs. derivative work, was simple: we have several thousand years of cera=
mic history to look at. Take in the ancient historical context, not the fla=
vor-of-the-month on the cover of whichever mag is on the coffee table.

I look at a lifetime of Edith Franklin's work and it shows a need to try it=
all, experience everything, understand by doing. Her 60s pots look 60s, he=
r 70s pots look 70s, her work shows the influence of her peers, teachers an=
d compatriots: Soldner, Voulkous, Autio, Littleton, years ago when they wer=
e young.

I stood and held her hand today, with my big kids standing behind me, watch=
ing over the peaceful denoument of the life of the little potter they could=
pick right up off her feet with a hug. How lucky we all have been to have =
potters like Edith blazing a trail ahead of us, without the resources, webs=
ites, books, ready-made equipment and tried-and-tested formulas.

Kelly in Ohio
listening for the fiddler on the roof tonight... sunrise, sunset...