What do I do? Quite simply, I make clay mugs, vases, jars and masks. I may call myself an artist while others call themselves potters but it's really just a matter of semantics. Much the same as an article and a book are made with words and some writers call themselves journalists and others authors.
Some would say the difference is the intention in the creation. Does the work have meaning? Did the writer or artist create to express a message? Is this the true intent of art?
I read this quote from writer, Ursula K. Le Guinn, in a wonderful article in the online magazine, Brain Pickings.
Le Guinn writes, "A well-made clay pot — whether it’s a terra-cotta throwaway or a Grecian urn — is nothing more and nothing less than a clay pot. In the same way, to my mind, a well-made piece of writing is simply what it is, lines of words. As I write my lines of words, I may try to express things I think are true and important. That’s what I’m doing right now in writing this essay. But expression is not revelation… Art reveals something beyond the message. A story or poem may reveal truths to me as I write it. I don’t put them there. I find them in the story as I work."
I've worked with both words and clay in my life and I have to confess, I never set out to create meaning. I write a piece that feels it needs to be written just as I form the clay into the jar or mug. It is a series of words or a lump of clay in my hands. It's not until after the mask or mug or story is done that a message emerges. And even then, it might not be clear to me at all.
One of my mixed media pieces, Lion and Sheep, was based on a classic Zen story. But in reality, I made all the individual parts of the piece, not knowing there was a story or message there at all. I was merely sculpting a clay face, a screening animal, pushing a landscape into a piece of copper. It wasn't until I got finished that the story emerged and was written.
It seems obvious now. But like Le Guinn says, expression was not revelation at the time. I did indeed find it in the work, too, later.
Here's another surprise from the same piece years later: A mother and daughter were looking at the Lion and Sheep piece quite intently. I walked up and saw it was the paper I used as a background that had caught their attention. I told them it was a shopping bag I'd gotten from an oriental grocery store and I confessed I didn't think the Chinese characters on the bag made any sense. I'd used it because it was an Asian design and it fit the piece.
But yes, they said, it did make sense. The characters on the paper meant 'teacher' or 'lesson' and my piece and the story were all about a Lion being taught a lesson about himself. I was shocked, I did not have any idea. But they did.
Here's another quote from Le Guinn, "What my reader gets out of my pot is what she needs, and she knows her needs better than I do. My only wisdom is knowing how to make pots. Who am I to preach?"
I make clay cups, platters and masks. I write blogs. Do I fill them with messages? I don't know. Now, thanks to Le Guinn's quote, it's not for me to know. It's for you. And in time, with your help, I may find it, too.