Both time and memory are expendable and fragile. Time is quite independent in attitude. It will not slow down its daily rush to suit those of us who wish to delay its finite length as measured in our life span. Due to my long life, I now have an extensive span of assorted memories stretching back to early childhood. I know that the older memories are not very reliable, and that even the more recent ones bear my self-serving version of what I think happened. Others close to me who had witnessed the same events might have a different version of what we think is a single reality. Even with the most earnest and honest attempts to retrieve the past, memories do play tricks on all of us. It is only natural for people to try to remember only the happiest moments of the past and let go of the rest. Others cannot forget those terrible hurts or incidents that brought them such recorded pain. These unwelcome memories often do not seem to fade with time but become all too durable. They are a few wise philosophers who have advised us that we have more to learn from our past pain than from our past happiness. What do you think?
The calendar allows us an excuse to make an accounting of the year just passed and the possibilities for the year newly engaged. How do we make such an assessment? I am not talking about New Year resolutions here. They are easy to make and even easier to forget. One cannot assess how one wants to change in the New Year without seeking improvements in both behavior and circumstances. If the wish for the new year consists of a desire to win the state lottery or thousands of dollars on the television game show Jeopardy, then these desires will remain largely dreams or fantasies of an easy and unearned success.
So wanting to change behavior must come before wanting your circumstances to change. The economic recession we are in now is not going to change immediately just because of our wishes for it to do so. The same can be said for our hope that the war in Afghanistan will end so our troops can come home. These and other similar issues appear to be out of our direct control or influence. So maybe the first decision to make is to identify those behaviors of your own that you might actually be able to change or modify. Then you can realistically organize your efforts to execute that plan during this coming year.
The hope of course is that by changing our behaviors we can also change to some degree our circumstances. I do not think this is an unrealistic goal and well worth some reflection and effort. We can marshal our energy and resources at the beginning of this new year and offer ourselves a fresh supply of hope. We can make new beginnings in a number of gestures, testing and trying out new behaviors that can modify or even abandon those old habits that did not enhance our situation. The delicate balancing act of recognizing the issues that confront us while at the time refusing to be just a victim of circumstances allows all of us the opportunity to be our own local heroes. Simply getting through the day requires a kind of courage. Getting through the day with grace and generosity requires an affirmation of the human spirit and the commitment to make a positive difference in the world. We all cope daily with a number of variables that test our mettle and strain our capacity. There is a new movie just out, a remake of an earlier film that was originally a novel. It is called “True Grit”. How would you define that term? Could you claim it as your own personal virtue?
Are there specific attributes of the maker that reflects this ability to renew oneself? Are creative people more able to create new behaviors for themselves as well as their creative moves on the potter’s wheel? Is the creative act itself a form of renewal? Isn’t it time, at the beginning of the rich promise of a new year, to try new things? To experiment with technique or style even despite your currant success with the old? Isn’t it better to try something new when you are contented with what you are now doing, rather than attempt to change when you are stuck and desperate? Isn’t that true in your private life too? Perhaps an unreflective state of bliss can become a kind of stupor. Success does breed complacency. What do you need to happen to arouse your creative juices and dare to try something that you are not sure you can even do? Aren’t all makers risk takers?
I want to provide you with one viewpoint regarding the questions above from a creative maker. Among the dozen or so books I am currently reading, one very fine book is “Choosing Craft: The Artist’s Viewpoint”, edited by Vicki Halper and Diane Douglas. The entire book is a series of statements by craftspeople made over the post Word War II years in America. Anni Albers was one such craftsperson, director of the weaving workshop at the Bauhaus in Germany, refugee from Nazi Germany along with her husband, the painter Josef Albers, published in Design Magazine in 1944 that was quoted in “Choosing Craft”. Here is just a sample of some of her thoughts in a series of her statements I selected from her essay,
“Our world goes to pieces, we have to rebuild our world. We investigate and worry and analyze and forget that the new comes about through exuberance and not through a defined deficiency. We have to find our strength rather than our weakness. Out of the chaos of collapse we can save the lasting: we still have our ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, the absolute of our inner voice – we still know beauty, freedom, happiness…unexplained and unquestioned. Intuition saves us examination.”
“We learn courage from art work. We have to go where no one was before us. We are alone and we are responsible for our actions. Our solitariness takes on religious character. This is a matter of my conscience and me. We learn to dare to make a choice, to be independent; there is no authority to be questioned. In art work there is no established conception of work; any decision is our own, any judgment.”
“We learn to trust our intuition. No explaining and no analyzing can help us recognize an art problem or solve it, if thinking is our only relation to it. We have to rely on inner awareness. We can develop awareness, and clear thoughts may help us cultivate it, but the essence of understanding art is more immediate than any thinking about it.”
“We learn patience and endurance in following through a piece of work. We learn to respect material in working it. Formed things and thoughts live a life of their own, they radiate a meaning. They need a clear form to give a clear meaning. Making something become real and take its place in actuality adds to our feeling of usefulness and security. Learning to form makes us understand all forming.”
You will notice that Albers takes a somewhat different perspective than my own. I always think it is a good idea to listen to a variety of differing viewpoints, but finally you have to trust your own judgment. She emphasizes the intuitive over the intellectual approach, feeling over thinking. Is it necessary to make a choice between the two? What do you think? How do you feel about this? It is a matter of temperament and preferences that will always differ between individuals. It is also reflected in their work. Some ceramic art is highly designed and obviously crafted through a tight control of technique. Other work is highly expressive, vivid with the emotional impact of a more spontaneous style of the maker. I have both approaches represented in a variety of artifacts in my pottery collection. I think the creative act inherently contains elements of both the emotions and reflected thought. In the best of times, both the expressive and analytical elements work together, silent partners in the creative act. They need not be on the surface of the maker’s consciousness but they are there nonetheless.
I think that both Albers and I agree that the creative process is therapeutic for the maker in a number of ways. It too is a place where time and memory play a part in the steady construction of self as w ell as the creation of vessels or other ceramic work. The embedded memories of all these experiences accumulate in an increasing mastery that can command a greater and greater vocabulary of possible results. In that sense, both time and memory are friends and allies of the maker. I want to end this particular blog with a quotation from my book, “Searching for Beauty: Letters from a Collector to a Studio Potter”, concerning how makers create themselves as they in turn create the pot.
“The observable integrity of the individual pot is a representation of the integrity of the person who created it. Ironically, this stumbling struggle to attain mastery only becomes convincing when it also demonstrates the fallibility of your human status. You are embedded and enshrined in the artifact – including the unconscious orientation of your time and place, the worldview grafted on you at birth, the parochial elements of the neighborhood of your youth. You cannot ever erase all evidence in the pot of the world that made you. You can only add self-conscious elements that form the truly creative aspects. This dual struggle requires great energy – to create yourself and those self-advertising artifacts that celebrate that self – all at the same time. You must surely learn to love yourself – forgive yourself – and go on. In fact perhaps the greatest triumph will occur when you find yourself in the pot, when the pot represents a personal identity that you could never understand any other way. Perhaps each pot becomes a self revelation to yourself as you fuse person with pot.”