Sunday, July 19, 2009

We were mesmerized by this video interview with the master potter and theorist Pete Pinnell. It’s an older video, but it’s the first time we’ve come across it and we thought it worth sharing with others who had not seen it.

You really should watch it, but just to summarize, Pinnell begins with a capsule history of modern art’s movement from abstraction and detachment at the turn of the 20th century, to the 1960s engagement with politics and public life, finally turning to the need for art to engage with private, daily life as well.

Pinnell argues that pottery, being something both beautiful and functional, is the ideal medium for artists to engage with daily life. To simplify, objects that we pick up, serve food from, put to our lips, and put in our mouths, land higher on the hierarchy of intimacy than any other object in our lives – many of which we may look at but not touch, touch but not taste, etc. They are, therefore, in the perfect situation to speak artistically to us on a daily basis, and to speak to us with a variety of sense languages – touch, taste, and scent as well as sight.

I’m grateful to Pinnell for his observations on how pottery communicates. It finally gives me a way of thinking about why we at Old Cat Died feel so strongly about narrative pottery and finding ways to communicate our own personal images and stories into our work. I am a Romanticist and rhetorician by trade, a writer by craft, and while there’s a lot that I don’t know or understand about pottery (Carrie’s been in it for quite a few years now, but it’s new to me), if I understand anything, it’s communication.

Many potters want to think about their craft in strictly utilitarian, practical, or scientific ways, and while the chemistry and physics of pottery is fascinating, and the perfection of form is an honorable pursuit, it seems that too few really give any thought to what their work communicates. Even those of us to concentrate on surface decoration often confine that consideration to practical details like color, balance, smoothness, etc. Few of us think about what is being communicated beyond whether it is “pretty” in some superficial way.

That’s where narrative comes in for us. By foregrounding storytelling, even when that storytelling is simplified and abstracted, we make communication primary. That priority does not have to come at the expense of form or composition, either, though sometimes it may obscure or distract from other elements.

The mistake made by many potters who concentrate on surface decoration is to disregard or short-change the form. But a good piece of pottery should treat all aspects equally. The whole work has to communicate; the whole work has to be beautiful; the whole work has to be well-formed. If one element is lacking, the work is incomplete. And to us, at least, if a pot doesn’t tell a story – about life, about someone, even just about itself – we are not interested.


juana said...

hey. nice blog. now... can i have a house? i am a fan!

sealeymorris said...

sorry Juana, someone beat you to it on yesterday's post. stay tuned for the next give-away! Hey how was Ashville?