So a few weeks ago now I received a comment on one of my instagram posts on @musingaboutmud suggesting that I should stop talking politics and stick to sharing pretty pots. You know, trolls being what they are online I should have just ignored and moved on. But I couldn’t. You see everything I do in my art practice I believe to be political. In fact I have a hard time disassociating much of my life and how I live it from questions of/or the context of political and ethical concerns. So being the stubborn workaholic that I am I decided to turn this person’s question into a an action. I know so many artists, potters, sculptors, painters, bread makers, you name it, that see their craft as political. Thus @potteryispolitical was born on instagram as a platform to have some discussion about the role of pottery in politics, or politics in pottery. Why this feed focuses specifically on pottery rather then all forms of political ceramics (installation, sculpture, etc.) is that I think pottery for many audiences isn’t really associated with politics. And that is a misunderstanding. So this feed aims to bring attention to the many makers both contemporary and historical that have used the vessel to present political subject matter, or used their lifestyle as a potter as a political stance. There are so many beautiful voices out there relaying the context of our time through their work. From personal stories to headline news. The magic ability of the vessel to take those narratives, those commentaries and put them straight into the audience’s hands, into the domestic sphere of the home, into the workplace through a coffee cup on an office desk, is beautifully subversive. May we resist in any way we can, and may our voices be heard through our artwork as well as our actions.
In the last two weeks I’ve been in touch with many artists who have shared stories and suggestions of artist’s works relevant to this topic. I wanted to share in particular the words of the artist Carter Gillies. If you follow him on facebook you will be keenly aware of his way with words and his desire to ponder many great topics relative to the arts and life in general. In a recent email he stated the following which coincided with my constant questioning if making political pots is effective.
Carter Gillies at his studio
“With so much going on in the world that seems urgent, I started to question whether making pots was enough for me to do. In the times we are living in, does making pots make sense? Does making pots make a difference, the right kind of difference in a world with so many terrible needs? And in the world that is being shaped inexorably by politics, are pots part of that conversation? Are pots political?
Some art is overtly political, but not all art claims to speak out on issues. So the question is whether being political is more than merely explicitly stating something. If it’s not necessarily commentary, what is it?
The first thing I would say is that making art, maybe especially making pots, perhaps, is an act of resistance. So many signs in our culture point us away from the value of art, from the value of beauty in our lives. There are exceptions, of course, but lets face it, the arts are not always encouraged. Funding in schools is often the first to go. Art seems trivial to too many in our culture. A luxury. It needs to be explained. It needs to be justified. And it has no real place in our daily lives.
Why bother with a handmade cup when we can get a mass produced one for a fraction of the cost? Is this an economic question? It could be. Is it a practical question? Possibly. Is it a political question? Yes it is. Politics aims to give us the shape of our world, what things are possible and what things are right to pursue. It places the options in front of us and asks us to choose. Immigration. Taxes. How we intend to lead our lives.
The opportunity to drink from a handmade cup is as much a feature of politics as the availability of jobs. We claim this for ourselves and for the wellbeing and future of our community. THIS is the shape of the world we seek to bring about. Beauty BELONGS to us. Handmade has real VALUE. The arts are worth encouraging and worth supporting. They are worth DOING. We build our lives around that fact. And we resist those who diminish what we do. We contest the shape of the world that does not include us, that does not include beauty, that does not include the value of the handmade.
We are responsible for making the kind of world we want to live in. That is politics in a nutshell. Translated from the early Greek, πολιτικα, or Politika, means “affairs of the city”. This is precisely what we are engaged in. Pottery is political.” – Carter Gillies, 2018.
At the same time as I was getting this instagram account going, the incredible crew over at East Fork Pottery was preparing to launch a similar campaign about #potteryispolitical. So nice to see so many people having the same types of conversations about pottery and its greater impact.
I highly encourage you to head over to East Fork Pottery either in person (if you are so lucky to be close by) or online. Support the work they are doing to raise awareness in our political times.
You can purchase this shirt to let the rest of the world know how you feel here.
From their site: “At East Fork, we believe that businesses, artists, public figures – all of us – have a responsibility to contribute to the holistic wellness of our communities. We know that communities thrive when all voices are heard, when marginalized voices are listened to extra closely, when our children are safe from threats of gun violence, and when everyone has access to basics like health care, clean water, and education. So when people tell us to “keep our politics out of our pottery” we say, no can do.
Proceeds from the purchase of the Pottery is Political t-shirt will benefit Everytown USA and Higher Heights.
- Higher Heights: Higher Heights “invests in long-term strategy to analyze, expand and support a Black women’s leadership pipeline at all levels” to “elevate Black women’s voices to shape and advance progressive policies and politics.” If you’d like to know more about why we think electing progressive women and people of color to political power is essential to our country’s well-being, you can find some good info here and here and here.
- Everytown USA is a “movement of Americans working together to end gun violence and build safer communities.” This one’s a no-brainer. None of us need assault rifles. Period. “
I’ll leave you with this fitting quote below by Toni Morrison that Jill Foote Hutton sent me the other day, and with a call to action for you to get involved. I’m working with a few guest hosts on the Pottery is Political Instagram feed, but I want to hear from more folks, share more voices and more diverse work. So please reach out and share your work or the work of others either in the comments to this post or by using the #potteryispolitical hashtag on instagram. Thank you : )
“All of that art-for-art’s-sake stuff is BS,” she declares. “What are these people talking about? Are you really telling me that Shakespeare and Aeschylus weren’t writing about kings? All good art is political! There is none that isn’t. And the ones that try hard not to be political are political by saying, ‘We love the status quo.’ We’ve just dirtied the word ‘politics,’ made it sound like it’s unpatriotic or something.” Morrison laughs derisively. “That all started in the period of state art, when you had the communists and fascists running around doing this poster stuff, and the reaction was ‘No, no, no; there’s only aesthetics.’ My point is that is has to be both: beautiful and political at the same time. I’m not interested in art that is not in the world. And it’s not just the narrative, it’s not just the story; it’s the language and the structure and what’s going on behind it. Anybody can make up a story.” ― Toni Morrison
I should explain. This isn’t so much a guest post as it is a “Carole asked to repost a great post from Carter’s blog” post. He didn’t write this specifically for musing…. Carter Gilles is one of my favorite writers and thinkers (and provocateurs). I’ve long been inspired by his view of things (whether I agree or not) and his thoughtful and poetic means of getting his ideas across. Last week after movie day here on musing, Carter had some thoughts. Once again I was compelled by his writing and only wish I had more time to enter into longer conversations with Carter cuz I like how his brain works. I love the discussions and debates he’s having. My thoughts are so much less focused and cohesive. They are interrupted, infantile and stalled. Carter seems to fill alot of those gaps in my thinking for me. I hope you enjoy his writing as much as I do. Please take the time to visit his website for more and to follow him on facebook as well since sometimes those amazing discussions happen over there as well.
Do you exhibit your art? Are you an ‘art’ exhibition-ist? Are you, in fact, an exhibitionist?
Does exhibition live comfortably in your psyche, in your soul? Is
putting yourself out there for public consumption nothing awkward,
nothing against your normal persona, and possibly even something you
enjoy? Do you like strutting your stuff and scrambling for your 15
minutes of fame? Is living in the limelight exactly where you need to
When you put it like that it becomes an interesting question.
We live in a world where extroversion is taken as the norm.
Introverts are often seen as people with a problem. They like keeping to
themselves more than is healthy and don’t fully embrace La Dolce Vita.
They need to be ‘fixed’, as if something is broken inside them. An
affliction. Introverts are often happiest when they are by themselves or
with small groups of friends, their family, or partner. Crazy, right!
Its not that they can’t be sociable on occasion, act casual in the midst
of a social storm, but that doing so is not always agreeable to them or
in their own best interest…… Surely we must save them from themselves?
So we have this default in our society that often misunderstands the
introvert as somehow deficient, as somehow abnormal, as somehow
anti-social. And the parallel to how society understands artists can
quite easily be drawn. We expect artists to be exhibitionists.
We think that if you are not putting your work out there with the
abandon of extroversion you are somehow doing it wrong. Starving artists
are almost a type of sociopath. They just don’t understand that lurking
in the shadows makes them dangerous. They don’t understand that wearing
the occasional lampshade at parties is proof that you belong to
If your ‘Exhibition Record’ doesn’t include things like “Danced
partially naked at the Normal Bar in front of 150 strangers, February
12th, 1994″, “Got sloppy drunk and proposed marriage to five marginal
acquaintances, June 23rd, 2007″, or “Sang the entire Oklahoma song list
in the subway train on the way to work, November 3rd, 2012″ somehow the
word is that you are missing the point. Don’t let the highlight of your
‘Exhibition Record’ be tame things like “Smiled at a complete stranger
as we crossed paths, September 27th, 1972″. Right? More is better.
Ostentatious extroversion trumps milquetoast introversion the way the
world plays out.
We tend to think that the ‘normal’ way of being an artist is that we
get up on the commercial stage and flog our wares. We expect an artist
to be this almost flamboyant purveyor of their own creativity. The good
ones are always the eccentric ones. ‘Selling it’ means getting out there
and putting on a show for the customers. The work doesn’t speak for
itself (quite often), so we have to spin the stories, weave the yarns,
and tell the tall tales to get our creative progeny successfully to
But don’t ask an introvert to do that naturally (or often well). Its a
model built on extroversion and exhibitionism…… The values of the
marketplace are the qualities of extroverts. That seems important to
Astonishingly, perhaps, not every artist is a natural extrovert.
Being a professional artist simply means that for some of us there are competing values
in our lives. And our occasional native introversion may be called on
to bear the burden of sacrifice. You can’t sell work unless you put it
out there, and there may be nothing more contradictory to staunch
introverts than doing so. This seems worth pointing out. It seems worth thinking about.
Not that every artist is an introvert at heart, or that even the
introverts among us are all as threatened by the seeming need for
‘professional extroversion’. I’m just pointing out that the
environment of the selling arts is not based on or even nurturing to the
psychological make-up of many folks who are artists. If we haven’t looked at the situation from this perspective we are likely missing something that is important.
Society operates on all sorts of defaults, and our expectations and
understanding are often ruled by how these divisions are constituted.
Maybe we need to investigate a bit deeper.
Take for instance the prejudice we seem to have concerning our inhibitions.
To be inhibited means “unable to act in a relaxed and natural way
because of self-consciousness or mental restraint.” Its a restraint of
something that is assumed to be our natural state. Being
“self-conscious” is somehow the wrong state of affairs. And inhibition
is therefor something that is looked at as being unnatural. We expect ourselves to be fully free in exhibiting ourselves. Unselfconscious. Do you see where I’m going?
There is some confusion in our language about the ins and outs of our
world, interior and exterior. ‘In-‘ and ‘ex-‘ divide the world, and as
with other divisions we often seem to attach values to the way things
fall out. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ are qualities assigned to things according to
how we feel the world is supposed to be. And in a world dominated by
the values of extroversion is it any wonder that the ‘in-‘ values take
such a beating……? Does that make it ‘right’?
Here’s another way of looking at inhibition. In a sense inhibition aligns itself with the values of introverts. Being self conscious is the natural work of introverts. Its not an unnatural condition and its not the defeat of more objectively valued exhibition. Being self conscious is one of the things that everyday ordinary people justifiably do.
Of course I’m not suggesting that some inhibitions are not bad for
even the least exhibitionistic of us. But then some forms of exhibition
are not that great either. If there is a flaw in extreme exhibitionists
you might say that they are not self-conscious enough. You simply cant
judge a quality on the extremes only (and if that last
statement isn’t sufficiently meta, I’ll have to try harder….).
‘Inhibition’ shouldn’t be a dirty word.
Inhibition means keeping it close, not getting carried away with things that are not integral. It means choosing the values that are specifically internal. It points to a direction that is inward. It places priority on the inherent qualities of our personality and experience. It means a focus on the realm on insight and imagination.
‘Inhibition’ has gotten as bad a rap as ‘introversion’ if not worse. It
might be better if we thought of ‘integrity’ when we refer to
And if we look at it this way is it any wonder so many natural
introverts are drawn to making art? Don’t we often see art as being
something intimate to the maker? Isn’t an activity that asks us
to sit in often quiet solitary contemplation and investigation as the
basis of practice a natural sanctuary for those with introverted
inclinations? Isn’t an artist’s studio a refuge from the hurly burly of
the outside world?
For instance, in today’s world we see art functioning as a way of
discovering who we are as individuals. These are values that introverts
seem especially inclined towards. We look inside and see how
that manifests in the conditions of our world. We bring forth ideas and
imagination to discover our own place in the world. We discover our
path. And its because so many of us are drawn to the contemplative side
of introversion that art is such a haven for our creativity. We discover
who we are by uncovering the language of the things that move us. What
things matter? How do I see the world?
But art wasn’t always like that. And people throughout history didn’t
always face such existential confusion about their role in the world
and their purpose. Creative expression wasn’t always something we do to
figure out who we are, to write our own destiny. This seems as much an
accident of history and culture as any other.
Take this brief history of Western art and craft.
(Thanks to Carole Epp for sharing this!)
The point being that until Michaelangelo made creativity a function
of individual genius (exceptionality) and celebrity things were
operating on a much less extroverted basis. Tradition ruled ‘art’
production, and the individual craftsman was more dedicated to
expressing part of that culture. They expressed themselves as part of
that culture. Artisans were the keepers of value, preservationists
rather than gymnastic exponents of novelty. Expression was something
internal to a culture. An impression of that culture, one might even
say. Expression was defined by its internalism. Identity was
also much more focused on belonging to the group than in standing apart
from it. The individual as representing that culture rather than
something uniquely risen up from it.
Times change. Only as creative expression took on the character of
the unique and exceptional did art seem to break away from its
substantial grounding in tradition. And looking at art as requiring
this ample extroversion only pays deference to an historical cultural
accident and not some objective necessity. The door to extroversion was
thrust widely open as soon as we made celebrity part of the equation.
And that seems worth thinking about……
Signature style, brand, selling the sizzle, reputation, celebrity…
all these things have extrinsic value written boldly across them. And if
the current world, the status quo, seems to value these things more is
that a lesson we all need to respect and obey? Are there
equally worthy requirements of intrinsic motivation that escape this set
of values? And are they less precious, in and of themselves?
I sure hope not! But maybe we need to do a better job of figuring
this out. Maybe we need to look at the problem a bit closer than we
(perhaps) often do. Something to think about at least………
Make beauty real!