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On another topic, while painting trim last night - finishing up on the memorial day weekend house projects - it occured to me that it's one of the few things left that doesn't have 99 layers of Undo associated with it, at least in my daily life. Instead, it is an immediate, visceral experience, and one that requires a steady hand, even breathing, and a lot of detached right-brain concentration. That Zen stuff keeps popping up everywhere!
Certainly nearly everything in the clay studio is this way - immediate and unforgiving - but I've sorta taken that for granted and forgotten about it. I take this as further proof that, while Undo is a godsend in Photoshop or Word, the more of it we have in the virtual world, the more "real" and permanent we want the rest of life to be. Cutting a tomato for dinner can be an interesting experience after 8 hours of making things jump around on a computer screen. If this world is The Matrix, we're doing a damn fine job of creating a matrix within the matrix, and of creating the need for good, solid, physical un-Undoable perceptions.
I've been watching the Ceramic Art films made by Richard Peeler*, who taught at DePauw back in the 60's, and was struck by what a wide range of stuff he made, and pretty unselfconsciously at that (or so it seems). It's as if he was just playing with the material, seeing what it was capable of, without a lot of looking over his shoulder as to whether it fit some preconception or standard. And now that I write that thought out, it seems like an awfully strange preconception on my part; that a playful approach to the medium would be an usual thing. When did we, as potters, lose that? Or - when did I, as a person, learn to get by without it?
I've been having a related email conversation with Stephan Robison about potters' styles and variety of work. He's been getting flack at workshops, etc., for the wide variety of clay stuff he and his wife/studio partner Cathy Guss create, as if the variety is a bad thing. The presumption of their accusers seems to be that going wide vs. going deep equates to a lack of commitment; that it's skimming along the surface of what is possible instead of knuckling down to do some serious work. I find this a strange and horribly restrictive idea. At some point, dabbling and playing around have to transition into decisiveness and complexity, but isn't it good to not only explore but also to show the results to the world outside your studio?
Perhaps it's a generational thing. I imagine that in the 60's the exploration of the conceptual boundaries in modern ceramics was just getting started, and so it was cool to make pots and sculpture and everything in between. This is the approach Peeler took, making everything from simple dinner plates to masive concrete sculpture to films. So is the negative reaction to an artist's diversity because it's all been codified into styles and genres that now have an inertia to them? Or because people's egos and livlihoods and portfolios get enmeshed in an ideology that needs advocates to protect it? (Or perhaps the diversity of skills and ideas demonstrated by one person is threatening?)
There's an innocence to those films that is sweet and nostalgic, like putting your pots out on a board in the backyard to take slides, instead of every BFA student needing a professional photographer at their disposal. Times change, for better and for worse. Peeler's teaching approach, as shown in his films, was the "try everything" method**, which seems like an endangered species in a field whose standards now require fine specialization to succeed. The high standards are wonderful, but I think the clay world's desire for legitimacy as "fine art" has bled some of the variety and casual exploration out of the medium... that's a bittersweet trade-off in favor of expertise, recognition, exhibitions and higher price tags.* Along with his wife Marj, whose contribution isn't mentioned often enough! More info on the Peelers: profile by Russel Fouts and DePauw Archives profile.
** I recognize that these films are instructional, which presents a different sensibility than seeing someone working in their normal environment, but the implied values are consistent.