I've been thinking about this a lot lately as I work on some new pieces. I spend a good amount of time looking at what I am making and thinking about where the ideas come from and what they lead to, which is why I titled this post invention versus innovation. Seems while they are both related, still very different nonetheless.
Not sure where my thoughts on this began, but wouldn't be surprised if it came from long ago, like grad school days (a very long time ago) when studying with Harris Deller at SIU-C. Harris was very good at asking the hard questions, and as I have moved through my career as a ceramic artist, I continually realize how much he helped me formulate the questions I needed as I probe deeper into what it is I make and who I am as a ceramic artist. I think everyone needs a person in their career path that helps them sort it out, and Harris was certainly that for me. A very good teacher!
But back to invention and innovation...
I recall years ago a comment from David Hamilton, professor of ceramics at the Royal College of Art in London, who I met after he had just returned home to London from the U.S. (while we were living in London briefly ourselves). When I asked what he remembered the most about clay in our country, he commented that he thought everyone seemed to be trying too hard to be unique. That comment stuck with me, and over the years, when I think about it while working in my own studio, or looking at the work of so many others, realize he is right. But I think he said it in a bit more pejorative manner (thinking we ignored, or didn't care about the past, only wanting to be recognized in the world of ceramic art). Whereas for me (and I am sure others as well), I am just scratching around at the sand (or is it clay dust?) looking for a new way to see things that were already familiar to us. Is that really bad? I don't think so. And with regard to invention versus innovation, I think it is the innovation that I care about the most. I love the history of pots and clay, yet my voice is probably realized more by adding to that vocabulary rather than re-inventing a new one. Maybe?
I tend to think of artists like Picasso, who 'invented' a whole new way of seeing (Cubism) as what invention really is. Or closer to home, maybe Volkous, who invented a whole new way to look at pots. For me to cut a piece in half and rearrange it has been made possible through what Volkous did, but that does not mean copying at all, but rather digging deeper into the meaning behind this new way of seeing pottery forms. Innovation? Maybe?
And then there are those great writers and painters in history. Gertrude Stein, for example, did not invent language, but what she did with words was true innovation ('a rose is a rose is a rose'...not really about a rose, but more the sound of the word in repetition). And painters who painted views of the landscape (Van Gogh, Bonnard, etc.). Why do it if it has been done before, and especially now since we have cameras? Well, for me, I think these painters saw the landscape different than anyone else, and wanted to make that a reality for themselves and the viewer. Not inventing the landscape, just innovating a vision of it. Same as someone wanting to share their vision of what a pot (vessel) is, not trying to invent anything new, just innovate on what is already there. Maybe? Yes! Invention versus innovation, and it's place within the context of my own work. Something for me to keep thinking about as I make new work.
Anyway, here are a couple of images of new work in-progress, using the present to influence my understanding of the past. One is a cup and saucer with handle, and the other a pre-columbian inspired vessel. Enjoy (or not)!