Thursday, August 26, 2010

I Can't Be New

My friend, Cheney, said that ever since he got into making movies/film, he’d never again been able to watch a movie the same way – never with the same abandon. From that point on (the point of his education in the art of movie making), every movie viewing became a dissection – how was the lighting done? …were the effects believable or distracting? …how might he have done it differently?

Oh, he still enjoys movies – maybe even more. He enjoys analyzing them as much as he’d ever enjoyed getting lost in the magic of what he didn’t before understand. Still, he wondered if he hadn’t lost something of the magic that his earlier naïveté brought to a movie.

He then asked me if I was able to enjoy pottery – the objects – without going through analyzing, taking them apart, defining them? When I looked at the pottery of other potters, did I more immediately see a pot ... or how it was made? Could I, now knowledgeable and engaged in the business of making pots, any longer see the forest for the trees? Had I eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and been thrown out of Eden?

…okay, I made up that last one. But I got his point. I feel it. But I’m not sure I can answer it directly. At best, today anyway, I might just try a few oblique swipes at near-answers.

First, I think something is lost, but more is gained. Maybe.

But, on the other hand, many craftsmen I know (myself included) would give their right arm (provided one would grow back in its place so that we could continue practicing our craft) just for an instant of being able to view our own work without preconception. We’d like to be capable of seeing our work as others see it.

Then again, if granted that wish, (I think) we’d likely cover our eyes with our hands and, with great trepidation, only sneak a peek through gapped fingers – knowing, as we’ve discovered through the distance of time and experience, that we may not be as pleased with the reality as we are comforted (if deluded) by our intentions and the tunnel vision of seeing only what we want to see -- those parts of the piece that make us believe the endeavor was worth the effort.

Third: Gibson Guitar Company just published (online) a list of “Ten Greatest Instrumentals”. The list – as that kind of list usually is – was silly. But it brought up an interesting side-discussion with my music friends. See, one of the “Greatest Instrumentals” was “Wipeout”. That made many – especially the more accomplished musicians in our circle – groan. “Wipeout”? “Great”? An unflagging, unimaginative drum beat with scant melody line to accompany it….”? Great”?

But, well, yeah. “Great”. Sort of.

I suppose I should have avoided using an example (like “Wipeout”) because maybe the specifics of the example will cloud the point I'm hoping to make. That is, if you think “Wipeout” is a good song, you might continue to listen with an open mind. If, on the other hand, you had a little brother who regularly beat out “Wipeout” on the car dashboard, the kitchen counter, his bed (in the bedroom you shared), the stairway banister as he climbed the stairs…and again when he came back down. In other words, ALL THE TIME…

…anyway, if you had such a younger brother, you may stop listening to the rest of my point, being now stuck on my example (and the fact that it’s now worming itself a permanent residence in your ear). But here’s my second point:

Becoming educated often (ironically) leads to this one horrid ignorance...

... that complexity is the same thing as artistic value – or a successful pot. It's just not. So often (it seems to me) education leads to abandoning the simple as we mistakenly replace artistic expression with intellectual conquests.

  Here’s yet another observation about my education in clay, and how that education may take something away from (rather than add to) my ability to see my work for what it really is: My customers view my work through a different filter than the filter that created it. And their assessment is often a better one than mine. Certainly, at times, more valid.

In a perfect creative world, one would have total recall of the magic and delightful misperceptions that drew them into that creative world in the first place ... and made them want to ultimately de-mystify all that....stuff. Then, given those new tools, gained by that demystification, the process of delighting new initiates might be not only more complete, but maybe more satisfying as well.


  1. When I look at my own work, I only see what I didn't accomplish -I was like this before I went to art school but going to art school made the list of non-accomplishments longer -thank goodness I'm an optimist or I would never be able to keep on...

    Seeing my work as my customers see it is one of my dearest wishes! (but I'm keeping my arm.)

  2. Your work is creative, unique, unified, clean, beautiful. I think you've got lots more reasons than mere optimism to keep on.

  3. I'm reminded of what Tony McManus said at a workshop. When he first learned to play guitar in that most Celtic of tunings, DADGAD, he thought everything he wrote in it sounded fantastic, and most other players he knew who got started on it were the same. Eventually, he came to realize that not every pretty noodle was a work of art. Eventually, you (hopefully) come to a space where you can honestly critique your own art - at least with the thought of making it better. And you no longer think that every piece of junk is perfect. Or the opposite, that everything is a piece of junk.

  4. I made an informal but serious study of "who sees what" a number of years ago when I taught a seminar on aesthetics and criticism. The variables are many but the one almost nobody deals with is the psychological makeup of the viewer. The line that encapsulates this notion is "what you see is what you're looking for." Not many people question their own skew when it comes to preferrence.

  5. Rick,

    Great example of a blind spot. When I'm arranging, I'm always hearing the harmonization -- perversely, even when I'm not playing it. I'm always surprised to hear one of my arrangements a few years later and realize that I'm not actually playing what I thought I was -- so strong was that sense of harmony in my head at the time of arranging.

    Make sense? ....yeah, I didn't think so.

    Heck, I just re-read this blog post this morning and concluded that, of my nearly 200 blog posts, THIS was the one most in need of editing. I rambled a bit. Heh.


    Interesting observation. Is the implication that perhaps knowing this predisposition for "seeing what we're looking for" is a hurdle we can overcome? ...we can train ourselves to look at our own work more objectively?

    I mean, I'm guessing that one role of an educator is to teach ways in which a more objective evaluation of any work -- even one's own -- may be done?

    I'm suddenly reminded that I was horrible at being coached. I set up a wall of defenses that coaches finally gave up trying to climb over. I didn't see it that way at the time -- I thought I was merely questioning the "why" of a coach's correction. But the easily-coached didn't necessarily ask why -- they simply followed the coach's direction and, presumably, found out the "why" in the doing.

    I want a do over.

  6. Don,

    I'm currently making my way through "Looking At Looking".

    Here's a link to the article so the readers of this blog may enjoy it as well...

  7. Hey, John - I know what you mean. I arrange something, and it can be months before I really feel comfortable about it, or really feel I can 'hear' it. I'll play it in the morning, and it'll sound fine. Then I play it in the afternoon and I think it's junk.

    I used to do the same with writing fiction. I'd put a book away when I finished it, and let it sit long enough to partially forget it. Then I'd pick it up, and have almost a fresh eye. Which, is sometimes not a good thing, as can then starting ripping it apart and starting over. I think writing is more susceptible to this than most art forms, though, because the overall structure and feel are not as apparent to the eye as a visual or aural art form, and it's easy to see a minor unfortunate tangent as a major flaw.