Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Bernard Leach and Striking a Balance

Pottery has an endless array of subjects to explore, from chemistry to structural proportions to philosophies behind creation. I think the most intriguing part of functional pottery is it’s ability to connect the artist, the material, and the user. The marriage of function and beauty in pottery demands a sincere awareness of and commitment to reality from the artist. 

Bernard Leach 
I have mentioned Bernard Leach before and have been thinking about his journey recently. Bernard Leach was a British potter who, after a trip to Japan, brought a new energy for pottery back to England and eventually America. His ceramic work, books, and lectures inspired the emergence of studio potters across the West. He brought bits of Eastern thought into a Western mindset, something intriguing if we seek to marry community and tradition with individualism and new frontiers. Leach says, “We cannot all be like a star of the films. No, there are stars born, but there will never be many. We do not need to be a star to make beauty.” 

In this vein, Leach is also keen to promote the value in making repeat work, similar to Hans Rookmaaker’s value in perspiration, saying that no art is instant; it comes from long hard work, practice, and repetition. It is not merely 'good genes.' Leach demands a balance both in the artist and in the pot. He demands thought behind every action, analyzing the clay, the foot, the form, and more.
“We are searching for a balanced form of self expression, and potting is one of the few activities today in which a person can use his natural faculties of head, heart, and hand in balance. If the potter is making utensils for use – simple bowls, pitchers, mug and plates – he is doing two things at the same time: he is making ware that may give pleasure in use, which provides one form of satisfaction to the maker, and he is traveling in the never-ending search for perfection of form, which gives a different gratification. As these two activities come together and the potter is at one with the clay, the pot will have life in it.” 
To use my new arts management lingo, that "pleasure in use" is rather like 'external marketing' or thinking about the user, while the "perfection in form" is like 'internal marketing' or thinking about your personal standards. We can't get stuck on just one or the other. As usual, it is about striking a balance.

by Sarah Coffin
How can we take these practical ideas of non-star seeking external and internal balancing into our thought processes? The idea of thinking of others just as much as we think of ourselves is quite counter-pop-cultural (New term. Just coined. Spread the word.). As I embark on a year or so to another culture (Commonwealth of Dominica, West Indies), I look forward to seeing how this move will affect my professional and personal direction, my artwork, and my outlook. That connection of artist, material, and user in pottery is one that I hope to find in Dominica as well... perhaps not in ceramics per say... but we'll see what I find or what finds me. 

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