Craft is what enables you to work when you haven’t got any inspiration
Anyone can, and should, at some time in their lives, make a pot.
You don’t need anyone’s permission. You don’t have to be ‘artistic’ or think of yourself as ‘creative’. You just have to really want to do it and be prepared to learn some basic rules and then stick at it. The consistency of your presence, pleasure, and most importantly, the intention to make something, will take you further than talent.
Society tells us that artists are special people, endowed with gifts that the majority of us do not possess, a few specialists who do all our making and dreaming for us. This is a post industrial fantasy, one which William Morris argued against as long ago as 1884 in his lecture on Art and Socialism.
In fact the greatest artistic gift any of us can possess, is desire.
Doing art takes time, and a lot of us feel we don’t have enough time. We are all so busy. We let technology push us around, spending more time than we really want to on our phones, drifting further and further from ourselves while our real lives flow by underneath us like a hidden cataract of hours that internet-time, clock-time, selfie-time don’t know how to measure. We trade so much to inhabit spaces where our tender, irreplaceable bodies are reduced to imagery, and intimacy is compressed into mere information, that to close your eyes and sink your hands into a big cold primordial lump of clay is to begin to know the world, and yourself, in a new way. To begin with, those hands are the only tools you will need: those, and your full attention. You’re starting a relationship. Who knows what will come of it.
You will make something you’re pleased with. It might not be something that the art world can convert into currency, into commodity. But it will be none the worse for that. This art is part of what Lewis Hyde calls ‘the gift economy’ and it emerges from your own engagement with your own profundity, centred in your own body, immersed in the flow of time, of tradition, of other bodies, fully present to the body under your hands.
A couple of years ago I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture by Brian Eno. One of the most memorable, plangent phrases he used in this lecture was ‘beautiful things grow out of shit.’ That is to say, art comes about as part of a practice of dedicated attentiveness and determined development. It’s something we can all do. It may not be very good to begin with, but keep going. A lot of the time participants in our classes are surprised and pleased by what they have made after only a couple of hours. Or they start off with one idea but end up with something else – as if the clay has its own ideas. There’s reciprocity to the process, and a dignity and value to the finished vessel which takes in aesthetic categories, but also goes beyond, or around them.
It’s important to us that whatever they make, people will take their pieces into their lives and use them, handle them, eat and drink with them, pass them around.
I think art in general is as much about behaviour as it is about artefacts. I don’t find it helpful to think in terms of who is an artist and who is not, so much as ‘here’s an art practice, get involved.’ I don’t want to live surrounded by art objects detached from how they got there. I don’t see pottery as a middle-class hobby. Making is a necessity – beauty is a necessity – and the healing energy that comes from doing art is vitality for everyone.