Wood and Soda Fired Pottery

Looking Back, Looking Forward

In preparing for a few upcoming events, I’ve been cruising through images of old work and  thinking a lot lately about how this whole pottery thing got started and where it has been going.

Here is the quick version:

like a lot of clay people, I got started by accident and I was hooked before I even knew it.

Having realized that I wanted to refine and expand my skills as a craftsman and a potter, and that this might very well require so much time that it could not be relegated to a hobby, I decided the best way to improve my skills and therefore my work was to simply work as much as possible.  The theory was that the act of creating pots in the studio would lead to better and better work.  Although I do not stop and critically assess my work as often as I should, I have always had my own little inner critic which pushes my work forward even if it seems to be in tiny little steps.

I always wondered if other potters and creative types had this same little voice, the “perfectionist” voice?  I’ve long since accepted that the little voice will not go away, and so I’ve had to adopt various strategies to deal with it and still maintain my own sanity. Especially as a creator of things who returns to the same forms in a repetitive cycle, who then subjects those things to an uncontrolled firing process, one must not wait for perfection.  But I do believe that the “perfectionist” voice has value as it has caused me to always seek to improve my forms…sometimes in tiny little ways that no one else may even see…but to continue improving and refining as I go.

I’ve found several examples of this recently.

I heard a story on the radio about an Olympic athlete describing her training process.  She described the physical and mental rigors of training day in and day out, of the hundreds of thoughts racing through her head and she raced around the track.  And how after crossing the finish line and looking up to see the time, she felt ‘it is always bad’.

I sighed when I heard that…I know what you mean I said.

I found another expression of this idea in a video clip of Ira Glass discussing what some creative people go through as they are honing their skills.   He was talking mainly about writers and producers, but the point is the same.  I would summarize it as:

As you are working, you know that your work lacks something and even without knowing what exactly it is that is lacking it does not measure up to what you consider ‘great’.  So you keep working.  On your skills and your product and refining and editing.  And this may take years.

I just ran across this letter, which was in response to this article. These point to this issue plus a whole lot more for another day.

I can really relate to both sides of this discussion.  There are some days when I want to smash half of the pots I just made simply because they are not right, just not good enough.  Then again how can I go around smashing half of what I just made?  On “those” days I have come to remember a passing line I never forgot, uttered by a potter more experienced than I:  “it’s an emotional roller coaster,  being a potter.”

I have determined that the little voice really is helpful.  On “those” days I usually walk away from the ware board before smashing many pots.  And although I generally still do not like looking back at older pots, I tend to look now at where things have gone rather than where they were then.

Here are a few examples of one of my favorite forms, one from each of the last four years.  I certainly like the most recent one the best, but maybe it’s just me.

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