Why pot?

Asked why I teach pottery, for a short film documentary by students from the local college, I found myself recounting my two or three ‘stock’ anecdotes:

‘The potter digs up the lump of inert mud, and by creating a pot, imbues it with his creative energy and gives it a ‘tension’ that holds the energy. The viewer or recipient sees the pot, immediately or long after it was made, and receives that energy. In some way, the creative energy of the recipient may also be stimulated by the experience.’

‘The new student comes to the pottery with a view that they’re not going to be any good at it and they’re not ‘creative’. I say that I will show them that they can make pots without a lot of training and that everyone is creative, they just have to find it in themselves, and I can help with that. This works, and after a few sessions, the student feels proud and uplifted by achieving a creative goal.’

‘For me, art is a form of communication, and pottery is a very immediate and ‘visceral’ language, compared to, for instance, abstract painting. It’s all about form and texture, about a sensuous process. If the potter feels something, his pots should express that. Even if they don’t know it, the feeling people get from their favourite cup has been communicated by the maker.’

Ok, but when asked about what gives me joy in making, I admitted that I don’t really feel that much joy. I had to reconsider what I’d said about communication and transfer of creative energy in light of the fact that I’m not feeling that joy. I still want to rise to the task of teaching. I still want to receive the affirmation from the fulfilled student. I still want to see the growth and development in the people I teach, but I no longer feel (or at least temporarily do not feel) joy in making, and I need to know where that went.

There must be a wider context. You can’t assess one aspect of your life when it is so greatly influenced by the other parts. So what’s going on? What’s getting in the way? There are questions which need to be answered.

Why create art if you do not feel the drive to create? Why try to communicate through it if you haven’t got something meaningful to say? Who do you want to create for? What do they want from you? But so many artists just to ‘show up at the page’ and work through it, day by day in a devoted way. Dig deeper and find the meaning.

We’re living in a world where there’s such shit going on, where the level of destructive influence overwhelms that peace we associate with the creative process. It’s tempting to succumb to fear and loathing, to be paralysed by internalising the news, swallowing the effluent. It’s tempting to drown it in drink and TV and chores.

What takes priority in a life-stage where it’s more of a struggle to maintain currency and value? Work or making? Is it indulgent to slip into the pottery and ‘play’ when there’s ‘real’ work out there to be done? Surely these negative forces which surround our ‘practice’ can be used. Surely they can be channeled. Why does it feel like defeat at the hands of…?

Time to respond to the clarion call: Just get up, get out there, and make the fucking pot. Get off the fucking pot… Stop gazing at your navel and work at it!

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My Friday morning silence.

The office is now a therapy room and meditation space and the hallway is an office. The desk has been butchered to fit, and there’s a new view.  There were no phone calls, or toilet flushes.  The dog didn’t decide to skit around in the kitchen with her new toy.  The coffee grinder was not used and the kettle had already boiled.  The only sound was the gentle clicking of the Apple keyboard, and my breathing and an occasional morning cough.  The new solid pine doors separated us and our respective mornings, but your mindfulness was interrupted by the consciousness of another being in the house, and mine by the knowledge that you’re now working at home too.  The sounds of traffic and distant bells, or Cork’s buzz, such as it is on a Friday morning, were removed, and the residual silence screamed. It will take us both time to adjust.

Your peace, albeit interrupted, was counterbalanced by my apprehension, as thoughts about the final preparations for Monday trundled through my mind.  The coffee is strong and fresh at least.  23 American potters will be here for four days, perhaps sharing over 900 years of combined experience, and they will be taught, or not, fed and watered, entertained, for the week.  This will need to be military in its planning, but not in its presentation.  Why are they here?  They’ve paid well for a two week tour of Ireland, concentrating on visits to craft shops, to galleries and castles, museums and attractions, but they’ve chosen the trip for the workshops. They want to learn from their Irish colleagues, and to see some new techniques, but they’re also here to soak up the atmosphere, partake of the craic, feel the love we have of our craft.  Yes, it is, again, a performance as much as a series of workshops. They want a relationship with the tutors and the place, its history seeping into them.  Last year, the group of 16, when surveyed about their trip, commented on the cleanliness, or lack of it, here.  My first reaction was irritation: it’s a working pottery for God’s sake!  But that criticism had its effect, and the whole place has been cleaned, the table tops replaced, the toilets polished… And now it’s the small things – the food allergy notified, the projector focused, the potters’ knives washed, the fridge stocked with ‘sodas’, and the weather watched for the outdoor day.

And why am I doing it?  Well, I could be crass about the money it makes, or I could make up something about engaging with like-minded people from across the pond, but in fact, it is part of the steam engine that shunts up and down a track, whose boiler was stoked several years ago and still has a head of steam, collecting and delivering loads. It is an extension of the overpowering summer during which, in three months, 550 people took classes and courses here.  And it is another welcome distraction from the looming editing task for the novel, and the winter ahead.  It’s is a function.  It centres me to know I have my year punctuated with jobs that must be done.  It fills the silence of my Friday morning.