January 23, 2012 § 2 Comments

It’s been an interrupted time recently, with not as much of it as I would like being spent at the wheel. Tomorrow I’m taking my kiln to Northern Kilns over in Lancashire, where I’m going to exchange it for a new one. I hope that this will resolve my under-firing issues. Fingers crossed. Northern Kilns are a great company, with customer service second to none.

I’ve been reading a fascinating essay by Daniel Rhodes, in A Potter’s Companion, called ‘Pottery and the Person’. It’s a beautifully crafted essay about purpose, acceptance (of limitations) and patience. He writes about how pottery comes out of our urge to form, which is to actualise, make real what was not there before, to create one’s image; and how this impulse is basic to the human condition. In contemporary society, though, there is no means to project ourselves out into the world through objects that we have created. The opportunities for using our hands, for communicating with others through the tips of our fingers, for investigating our own sense of identity through the creation of objects have been ‘thwarted’. Identity is increasingly located in ‘commercialised images on screen or paper, images projected by promoters of a world that does not exist’. Craft, Rhodes says, ‘has become a precious remnant’.

Rhodes writes of the way of the artist and craftsperson being a difficult one, alone, cut off from society, with traditions that have become ‘weakened and confused’, struggling to earn a living. He believes that the artist faces ‘insuperable difficulties’ in his ‘heroic’ efforts to assert his ‘original and personal statement’. The potter, he says, has more ‘modest goals’. This is the beauty of pottery and why I find it so engaging. Functional pottery is humble, offering ‘something of utility’. It has limitations, of material and method, which I believe give it strength and vitality. The artist, with no use in what he makes, hopes that someone will be moved by what he has made. The craftsperson creates something that will ‘function through daily use, through touch, through intimate acquaintance’.

Acceptance grows out of the understanding that the development of a style, of skill, of the understanding of form takes time. We are connected to a particular moment in that time and therefore the objects that we create are tied to that moment, too. ‘Tomorrow we will make something different, something not now imagined.’ What is made becomes the projection of the maker. This rhythm, like those of our daily lives, bring together all the emotions, positive and negative, tumbling one after the other. But there is no cheating time, it has its own pace. Acceptance: of the good and the bad, of the pain and the joy. ‘Failures can be defined as searches in the byways, and as such can be absorbed without damage to the self.’

It is all very much related to the philosophy of Slow. Let things take their own time and rejoice in what is there at any particular moment. The search for perfection is illusive but beauty can come from what is already before you.

‘As in the growth of plants, the emergence of forms from the hands proceed in small steps, gradual unfoldings. One must be satisfied with small gains, evolution rather than sudden revelation’.

Two pots made by Shoji Hamada, a Japanese potter Rhodes discusses in his essay and found to be hugely impressive.

(Images from V & A Collections)

§ 2 Responses to 23.01.12

  • Joseph says:

    Good luck at Northern Kilns, they are great guys over there and I have been over there a lot due to the fact they are very close to where I live.

    During my time at University I always thought about the Slow movement with regards to food and trying to relate it to functional pottery.

    • Thanks for the comment, Joseph. Dylan and Adrian are great. It’s a little further to travel for me but it’s a lovely part of the world over where you are. How is the throwing going? Have you managed to spend much time at the wheel yet this year?

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