Critique of a Critic: Rising to Garth Clark's Bait


Post # 22: Shifting Gears

The Pensieve


One of my favorite JK Rowling contrivances in her Harry Potter series is the pensieve, which is of course a play on the word pensive, but she has changed it from an adjective to a noun, and by spelling it “sieve,” there is the implication of an active sifting of thoughts.  In the books, the pensieve is described as a stone basin which wizards use by pouring strands of thought and memory into it for closer and more conscientious scrutiny.  I imagine that the idea for this device revealed itself to JK as a metaphor for writing itself at some point in the development of her skill.  At times I have felt a startling clarity as I sit and write about any number of subjects which have baffled me in ordinary time (even if later that clarity evaporates).  


But I think my true pensieve may be the spinning wheel where my hands mold plastic rock particles into vessels which are destined to become stone in the kiln.  As I sit in the workshop listening to the music which has become my own over the course of a lifetime of listening, thoughts begin to flow and accumulate energy.  On some occasions my mind will start from a blank or distant state then slowly transform through an alert phase into a thorough animation, then I will be captivated by beautiful strands of abstract thought until I may approach something nearing rapture.  But just as surely my thoughts will gradually shift all the way back down to boredom and then up and back down the scale again.  I sometimes discover that if I jot a few thoughts down, my mind will return later when I space out and begin some unconscious editing, and I find myself almost startled as a more mature formation of my initial thoughts come surging through my head.  It doesn’t happen every day (or even every week), and frequently the thoughts don’t ever amount to much, but just the same, I feel a certain affirmation that the hypnotic rotation of the wheel is doing me some good.


So it has been some time sense I have tried to write anything in the blog, and this has corresponded with the time it has taken me to get caught up on my chores. But now the wood is stacked for the next two firings, my kilns and kiln furniture have been cleaned and the clay has been mixed, half of it pugged, the rest frozen solid under the shed roof behind the workshop.  The Christmas holiday distractions have passed and the children have gone back to school.  I have slaughtered and put up my first batch of chickens (haven’t yet decided if it will also be my last batch).  So this week I began a new throwing cycle, and I must say I am having big fun in the workshop!  I enjoyed doing the chores even without an apprentice to help or spell me so that I could make more pots, but I relish the return to the wheel after a long absence.




I am planning to begin a new blog to take up Garth Clark’s “g-spot” challenge of articulating why I make pottery in the 21st century and exploring the ups and downs of this somewhat anachronistic profession I have chosen for myself.  But before I begin that job, I’d like to thank all of you have read this one and given me feedback.


Thanks in particular to Alex Matisse, my former apprentice and good friend of many years who led me to search for Garth Clark’s “Envy” lecture and then helped me to strike a less hostile tone in my first post.


Thanks to Jordan Taylor, who has inhabited a universe parallel to my own and was very generous with his perspective on Garth as a person and his own insights on the intersection of pottery and ceramic art.


Thanks to Mark Hewitt for lots of advice and feedback during the writing of this blog and for being an exemplary model for aspiring potters in our state and to me in particular.  His passion for making pots and articulate public advocacy for NC pottery have been a great boon to us all, and his nearly superhuman work ethic continues to humble me.


Thanks to the following people for feedback and encouragement: Mark “I’m not dead yet!” Skudlarek, Todd Piker, Michael Kline, Andrew Stephenson, Ben Carter, Andrew Glascow, Eleanor Owen, Moni Hill, John and Jill Ware, Susan Myers, Terry Zug, Charlotte Brown Wainwright, Barbara Perry, Elsya Stockin, Jane Brown, Brian Gallagher, Alex Haworth, Joe Joseph, John Cram, Naomi and Todd Johnson, David Trophia, brother David, brother Michael, sister Harriet, my wife Christine and many others.  


And I would be lacking all manners if I did not include the man himself, Garth Clark.   Thank you Garth.  I have enjoyed corresponding with you throughout this blog and discovering a “gentleman on the field of combat.”  Thank you for taking my critique of your opinions in stride and for your willingness to both listen and put me in check when appropriate.  I am looking forward to meeting you.


Country Funk Reactions


Thanks also to all of you who have expressed interest in my recent work.  There was quite a range, but I appreciate the opinions.  Some asked to be taken off the mailing list, others politely ignored our different political feelings on a couple of the pots, and many were amused and delighted with the new energy and  direction in general.  I have a lot more ideas beginning to develop, but I will continue to work on purely decorative pots as well.  I think the two strands of work can coexist in balance and accomplish the task of keeping me interested in making pottery for many years.


--Matt Jones

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