Recently I was chatting with my ceramics instructor during class. I was sitting at my wheel with pots just trimmed, a bunch of clay tubes I had just made and a pile of coils I had just extruded. He walked by with a sideways glance and I laughed and proclaimed(probably in a nervously defensive so I’ll laugh about it way), “I’m making ugly pots. I’ve decided I’m giving myself permission to make ugly pots!” His response, “I think that’s great…”
Just two weeks before that I threw, then manipulated, then painted then carved over a dozen tea bowls. They were made based upon an idea that keeps popping up again and again in my head about the relationship between touch and our experiences. I could see an aesthetically appealing (to me) representation of them in my mind and set out to reproduce it. People would love them I thought to myself...
Sidebar- I have shared this story before but I will again (and likely again) about a painting mentor of mine who marched in to the studio one day and as everyone was working stated loudly, “Maybe you didn’t get the memo. The louvre isn’t coming today.” In other words, stop trying to create a masterpiece and just do the work.
I fired the teabowls to bisque and they looked great. I dipped them in my favorite clear shino glaze for firing knowing they would be beautiful. I could picture them. I placed them on the kiln room shelves and waited.
Yesterday they came out of the kiln and... they were ugly. Not even boldly slightly fabulously ugly, to me upon first sight, kind of quiet, drab, sad... UGLY. (Typing this reminds me that one day I'll write about how I constantly need to remind myself it's not my job to judge, it's just my job to make the work.)
The pieces were not what I expected. They weren't what I set out to create. They were ugly to me as they were objectionable to what I had set out to create. I laughed as I held them even though I kind of wanted to cry because I was just revisiting the "I'm making ugly pots" discussion with my instructor just minutes earlier.
The pieces were, metaphorically speaking, new sounds in this visual language I am trying to build in clay and at first glance to me they were really kind of meek little whispers. Somewhat flat, barely audible.
So why is it important that I decided I'm making ugly pots and proclaimed it? It's important because when we’re constructing a visual language and trying to communicate piece by piece it won’t always be pretty. It just won't "sound" right. It often won’t work the way you expected. If we are too committed to a pretty outcome (and man oh man is it easy to be) we probably won’t try new things and broaden our vocabulary. We become one hit wonders singing the same song over and over. Likely entertaining the audience (and one’s self) the first and second timeshitting all the right notes but growing old and tired by the third.
When a new idea pops in to our heads that doesn’t feel familiar or look like something we find aesthetically pleasing often because it isn’t familiar it’s easy to shush the idea. To shut it down. To say no thanks... What fun is that?
So… I’m committed to making the ugly pots. To painting the ugly paintings. To embracing the ideas that pop up for me as much as I can keep up with them and taking the time to notice the beauty that happens in the process. I'm committed to finding my new voice and embracing the uglies along the way...
(and I hate to admit it but this morning in new light and after looking at them a few times those tea bowls I found so objectionable yesterday... they're kind of growing on me.)