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Once upon a time, when I was quite young, I mentioned to a friend’s father that I was taking a pottery class. He pontificated on the ceramic arts for a few minutes, then said “When you can sit down at the wheel in a floor-length black dress and throw ten pots and not get a spot on you, you can call yourself a master potter.”

Some twenty years, a few college semesters, and the occasional class to keep my hand in later, I cast my mind back to this incident and thought “Wow, what an idiot!”

Why would you even try something that stupid? You couldn’t get a black dress through the door of a pottery studio, they’re wall-to-wall clay dust. And why would you want to? Half the joy of clay is that you are elbow deep in muck. Splash pans are there for a reason, but you wear pottery pants, because dude, that’s just life.

Well, remembering him now, he was a great explainer-of-everything and I suspect inventor-of-authority-out-of-whole-cloth on the side. I’d call it mansplaining, but I’m pretty sure he did it to everybody. I was young and polite and had a large vocabulary and visited this friend often, so he enjoyed expounding at me.

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. The important thing about all this is that the measure of a master is creating damn fine work, not looking good while doing it (unless that’s your field, like ice dancing or something) and not meeting random people’s definitions of mastery. The world is full of idiots who will tell you that you are Doing It Wrong, often before you’ve even done it.

I won’t tell you to ignore them, because frankly, some of them are hard to ignore and you’ll probably spend years tying yourself in knots trying to figure out how to Do It Correctly, because that seems to be the way of life.

But sooner or later, if you’re lucky, you do get to the point where you can look back on some of those givers of lousy advice and tell ‘em where to go.

"Why would you even try something that stupid? You couldn’t get a black dress through the door of a pottery studio, they’re wall-to-wall clay dust."

I just do regular sculpting and I was thinking the same, dust everywhere.
Even if I haven't done it in a while, there's still dust everywhere, it's almost impossible to get rid of entirely.

I'll bet the same guy would have griped about vanity if a woman showed up at his studio in heels or something.

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And never, ever, look at the backside of the scenery. Especially if you let a student with no experience with a staple gun put it together.*

* It's a wonder we didn't require tetanus boosters for everyone.

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I guess the only way, assuming some sort of bizarre pristine studio, for not getting a spot on you would be never overwet the clay, but that's hardly the be-all and end-all of construction. I mean, I threw lots of things on the wheel without splatters! Not a damn one was centered, though.

I mean. What?

I suspect that some people have a lot invested in the world around them being aesthetically pleasing. Part of that, for them, is spreading the 'swan theory' of mastery as far and wide as they can. The bit that's visible to the public –or at least to the theory-spreader– should be as beautiful and serene as the swan on the lake. To them, any actual sign of effort is unseemly, distracting, and aesthetically displeasing, and should be concealed much as the swan's busily paddling feet are concealed by the water it floats on.

Total bull-pucky as far as I'm concerned. But then again, I really like watching how muscles move and the strange contortions and messes people get into before the bit where the curtain is drawn and everything looks perfect.

Speaking as a woman who is sick of people telling her to paint her face and wear clothes that they find more aesthetically pleasing: Anybody who thinks other people exist to give them something pretty to look at is welcome to jump in a giant vat of molten gold. Or, failing that, wax.
Stupid wannabe pimps wanting to own other people's bodies. *mutter*

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Oddly enough there is a part of me that wants to agree with what I think is the essential thesis of that idea, that a true master can do a routine version of their task without any wasted motion, resources, or mess.

Then I look at the state of my computer desk. A place from which comes ultra-crisp, clean, precise vector work, the production of which ostensibly consumes nothing except time and electrons.

And I laugh sadly.

then I spend about ten minutes putting away stuff from the electronics hacking I did yesterday with Rik, and wonder where the heck I'm going to put the Digger window decals I got along with the hardback, what with not actually owning any windows...

I agree; his description IS true mastery and perfection. It's a theoretical idea, and there's nothing wrong with it so long as we remember that it IS theoretical, and not something a flawed, mortal human being can actually achieve.

It's a superhuman ideal to strive toward, even if we can never completely reach it.

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That in and of itself is excellent (and genuinely helpful) advice. My ex-husband was one of these, "let me expound upon My Opinion, which is of course World-Shaping, and help guide you down the right path, oh person of any gender" people.

I also hate people who won't tell you the answer to a question. I had a teacher once who asked a question of our class and then never bothered to answer it, even after we asked him for the answer. Apparently we disappointed him by being clueless. To this day, I wonder what the hell he was thinking and what he thought the answer was.

Hmmm, wondering if Mr. Condescending, misogynistic, elitist ever followed his own advice. Still, mental pic is quite interesting.

It's posts like these that really inspire people. I'm not kidding. I found you and your art at a formative age a long time ago, and I think your honesty and positivity had a huge effect on me, because it's these kind of ideas that have *really* paid off after practicing them hard. Thank you so much for everything.

Tons of this. and I always put the coffee down before I start reading you. The friend who advised me to read you warned me.

To be fair.. being able to do that WOULD be the mark of a master potter... but the trick is that is not the ONLY mark of such. So technically he's correct, but has high standards.

Edited at 2014-01-12 08:36 pm (UTC)

Not sure about this, with a lot of care and slow work, if you carefully kept the clay only just damp enough to work, you could probably make pots without splattering, but that wouldn't necessarily mean they were good, they might still be lopsided and ugly and shatter in the kiln because they have bubbles in them...

His statement seems to me to express a personal, inept understanding of sprezzatura.

It is a rather romantic image, you have to admit.

But yea, you have to dive right into it. Get dirty. Get everything between your fingers.

As an aside, I do love the term, "Manspaining". I definitely have my fair share of examples of that sort of thing.

Kinda like gardening with pretty fingernails. um, not happening.