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Letters from a Collector to a Studio Potter

Posts Tagged ‘moderation’

Van Gogh’s Ear & the Fate of the Potter: an argument in favor of moderation in all things

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

Richard's House DetailI fear that my remarks here might drive you all away.  I am seeking to build up a community of ceramic enthusiasts who might get in the habit of regularly visiting my blog site and now I come out in favor of such an unfashionable notion as moderation.  Given how polarized our nation’s politics are right now, given the deep investment and commitment to opposing points of view and the number of violent conflicts spread over the globe, surely moderation is a weak, if not cowardly approach to human affairs.  The application of moderation to ceramics might pose an even greater problem.  Don’t you have two choices in ceramics as stereotyped by one side when considering the other – either you are a traditional, conventional potter making predictable containers such as teapots in comfortable patterns of endless repetition, or, on the other extreme, some weird ceramic artist making off-the-wall stuff with lumps of clay that doesn’t look like anything ceramic that my mother ever put on the dining room table?  Does the ceramic world have to be as polarized into warring camps as the rest of the world appears to be?

What happened to the peacemakers?  Where are the ceramic artists and potters who seek a middle way, a creative synthesis that can integrate elements or traces of functional approaches and yet display creative deviations that provide new and innovative ways of making artifacts with clay?  So, what is it with you? The maintenance of the humdrum status quo or total revolution and the overthrow of past ceramic legacies?  Are these extremes really our only choices?  Do we benefit from the culture wars in ceramics?  Does one side have to win and one side have to lose?  Do we need to discredit those who have very different creative approaches in order to justify our own approach?  Are conflict and creativity natural partners or can reconciliation and harmony produce better results for all of us?  In life as well as ceramics?

Richard's House

I have been reading the Roman Stoic philosophers this summer.  I am a native Southern Californian but summer is my least favorite season.  I can’t garden in the extreme heat and the fires above me in the foothills have contributed to very poor air quality here in Glendora.  I have been stuck in the house all summer and getting rather agitated about the heat and the fires.   The Stoics believed in moderation as a way of life.   When I was a child all the Hollywood movies I saw about famous artists told me that they were all seriously unbalanced and in a constant state of near madness.  I have not met too many potters in such condition.  Is that kind of nonsense about artists helpful or accurate?  We all know about Van Gogh’s ear.  All the potters I know have two ears and they are disciplined and hard working, focused and committed to what they do.  There are many myths about creative people in the popular culture that do not reflect the reality of the life for most creative people that I know.

I am now going to quote two of my favorite authors.  First Seneca, a Stoic philosopher of ancient Rome, than a certain Richard Jacobs, the contemporary sage of Glendora. I have just finished Seneca’s essay, “On Tranquility of Mind”.  Here is what Seneca has to say,

“So we should make light of all things and endure them with tolerance:  it is more civilized to make fun of life than to bewail it.  Bear in mind too that he deserves better of the human race as well who laughs at it than he who grieves over it; since the one allows it a fair prospect of hope, while the other stupidly laments over things he cannot hope will be put right.  And all things considered, it is the mark of a greater mind not to restrain laughter than not to restrain tears, since laughter expresses the gentlest of our feelings, and reckons that nothing is great or serious or even wretched in all the trappings of our existence.”

Richard's House

I really like the idea that beautiful artifacts should cause us to celebrate life, to take joy in the infinite genius of the human imagination.  I would hope that all of us have more occasions for laughter than tears in our lives.  I would hope that art and craft make it easier for all of us to be more gentle and loving on all the occasions when we engage each other.  Now for the thoughts of my very dearest friend, Richard.  In his book, “Searching for Beauty”, in his thirty-sixth letter to Christa Assad, Jacobs (that’s me) has this to say about moderation,

“We need to further explore the aesthetics and principles of moderation for pottery and our very lives.  Ironically, despite it’s dull reputation, perhaps moderation is not composed of weak compromise, but rather requires the greatest concentration of moral courage and creative intelligence of all the possibilities.  Perhaps moderation is that state of grace most difficult to attain and yet most despised by those on the extreme margins that seek to recruit and convert the center.  Passion and creativity are not the natural or exclusive property of fanatic forces.  Ego and ideology are not the only sources that could guide our individual and common behavior.  We know their contribution to the twentieth century.  We can be grounded in our time and place, devoted to our individual and common purposes, and find meaning in our behavior and in our culture.  Stability is not the result of passive conformity.  Stability can be the culmination and reward for a just society and a creative and intelligent citizenry.”

I wish you the very best and truly hope that you can find both harmony in your heart and creativity with clay all at the same time and place.


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