Friday, May 3, 2013

Sacred vessels...

...what are they really?  And does this apply to only those with a religious reference?  I doubt it.

I have been thinking about this lately and can't really say why, other than my studio work is influencing these thoughts that seem to be with me often, both in and outside the studio.  And I doubt I am alone as I look around and see the work by so many other potters who are obviously influenced and inspired by vessel making, and how these forms might serve us well beyond the physical.

For me, and thinking of how they are connected to things religious, goes way back.  I remember as a young boy, being raised catholic, looking wide-eyed at the large chalice's (called a monstrance) being carried through the church during procession, with golden rays radiating from the core, holding something sacred encased in glass.  Or more common, the chalice used during mass and holding the wine.  But then again, on a more intimate, family level, remembering dinners at home with my family where large pasta bowls (functional vessels) were passed around the table for the sharing of food.  While not the same as the chalice at church, these bowls still contained our nourishment, and while maybe not the nourishment of our souls, nourishment of our bodies nonetheless.  Sacred bowls?  Not sure, but as I recall the warmth of the meal with family I can certainly claim it was a type of 'sacred' event.  

And then, of course, the vessels used in ritual and everyday living in cultures outside of our own, and as examples I am thinking of the pre-Columbian pots in all their glory, or the pottery of the Amazon that holds chicha (the masticated beverage common to the rainforest), each of which helps us better understand the values and norms of people from another time and another land.  Forms that radiate energy from within, and help us appreciate a cultural ethos of a people, even when these are the most utilitarian of forms.  Powerful work, and for me, sacred vessels as they transcend the physicality of form and suggest something much greater beyond the serving of food.

So, where am I going with all of this?  Not sure exactly, except to say that the very idea of a sacred vessel takes on many meanings, at least for me, and is grist for the mill when contemplating the many vessels I see or make. As a potter, and one who makes both functional and sculptural vessels, it is no surprise that the very idea of a sacred vessel and its various meanings might resonate for me on so many levels, and extend far beyond the religious, and moreso into our everyday lives.  I only hope the forms I make provide the respect I feel for the vessel form and how they touch our lives and serve as personal reference and metaphor for all we believe.  If these forms are made with honesty and vision, whether utilitarian or not, they indeed become a type of sacred vessel on a most intimate and personal level.

sculptural vessel form in-process

Amazonian mucawa used for the drinking of chicha

footed pre-Columbian vessel

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Taking risks...

...always sounds good in theory, but in reality, well that's another thing altogether.

I recently heard someone say that the person who risks nothing...does nothing...and has nothing.  Seems true enough to me.  But what are the risks we are taking, and for what purpose?  I mean really, doesn't it mean something different for the artist within the context of their artwork, versus, say someone climbing Mt. Everest, where the consequences of that risk could mean your life? Isn't there a difference here, and if so, what are the consequences for an artist when taking risks?  We sure talk a lot about risk taking in art, but maybe it is more 'chance' taking, since the outcome is not life threatening, only changing the direction of one's work.  Just a thought.  So maybe 'taking a chance' fits better?  Don't know for sure, but something I have wondered about lately as I work in the studio and contemplate new ideas and new directions with my work in clay.

Courage...I return to that word as it seems to be the fuel for any risk taking, or chance taking, in anything we do.  It takes courage to climb Mt, Everest (even though I've heard some call it foolishness?), and in art, courage to step outside of your comfort zone to try something new in order to discover another dimension to your work.  I'm not sure if there are different types of courage, but maybe so since there are different types of risks, aren't there?  The courage one needs for their art making seems different than the courage one might need to rise in the morning knowing they have something serious to deal with, be it personal, mental, health, job, or whatever.  We've all been there, and it can be daunting, scary, emotional...yet I am rarely scared to make 'courageous' decisions within the context of my creative work. The only fear there comes more from not creating a successful piece, either technically or aesthetically, or one that does not fully articulate my thoughts of what I hope to say. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that taking risks within the creative process and finding the courage to do so is easy, just different.  And when weighed against the backdrop of other types of risk taking in our lives, it seems artists should be able to muster up the 'courage' easier than we think in order to find the unknown within ourselves waiting to be discovered.  After all, if we really want our work to serve as a visual language to communicate things we feel that are difficult to find in words, it seems natural that finding the courage to take a risk, or chance, is a small price to pay.  It is not the type of failure that is life threatening, just maybe a little thump to the ego when it becomes an unsuccessful piece?

So back to the person who risks nothing...does nothing...and has nothing.  Seems risk taking, or even chance taking, are vital components to both art and life.  Without them, we remain stagnant, only secure in knowing the results of our inaction.  So maybe indeed it is action, courage, risk taking, or whatever we assign to our motives and subsequent results of feeling alive that makes our art vibrant, meaningful, and in the end worth making, or in the larger picture of our lives, worth living. Not easy, for sure, but maybe worth the risk?