**Note: If frank discussions about sexuality make you squeamish, you may want to skip this essay. There is no graphic content here, but I have found it helpful to examine our society’s attitudes about sex in order to address the subtext of Garth’s “g-spot” metaphor as it applies to traditional pottery.
In Garth Clark’s letter in the first entry of this blog, his central question and title of the letter is “Where is the workshop potter’s g-spot?” Some of you have indicated that you are not familiar with this term. There is plenty of general information available on the topic on Wikipedia, but I think Garth is simply referring to the elusive secret ingredient that generates orgasms. The “g-spot” has been presented (by some) as a Shangri-la in feminine sexuality. However it must also be noted that there is quite a lot of disagreement on the role of the g-spot and its importance within human sexuality. Others have felt that the metaphor is somehow too tawdry for a serious discussion. To me it seems a classic example of Garth’s willingness to shake people up and get them out of their comfort zones. It is a provocative and entertaining way of asking the question: what is it that you workshop potters are so excited about in your work? It also seems to be an admission that he doesn’t quite understand us, and this is good because it allows workshop potters an opportunity to explain our point of view. The metaphor invites us to reflect on the differences between a goal-orientation and a process-orientation with regard to human sexuality or work in the clay medium. It would be easy to dismiss the metaphor as an expression of the idea that lust or sexual satisfaction is more important than love, but this refuses to accept that lust and love can overlap in powerful ways that strengthen both. Sex can lead people into love and love can make sexual satisfaction more profound. Of course sexual satisfaction can occur without love, but I am old-fashioned enough to claim that it is usually a fuller and richer experience when love is present.
Sleeper: What is the function of sexuality?
In the 1973 film Sleeper, Woody Allen’s character wakes up after being cryogenically frozen (without his permission) for 200 years to discover a society that has been transformed by new technologies but remains eerily familiar. Much of the plot is absurd, but Allen takes some nice jabs at contemporary society as he imagines a future that might result from the trajectory of 1970s cultural dialogues. I think the most memorable of these futuristic projections is the idea in the film that sex is simply no longer worth the effort. All of the women are frigid and the men are impotent (and sterile) therefore sexual release is accomplished alone or with a partner in a small closet machine called the “orgasmatron.” This machine removes all the frustrations of imperfect sex and achieves the orgasms (which implicitly are understood to be the only reason to have sex in the first place) without the human communication or communication errors which were at the heart of the sexual dissatisfaction of the era. Diane Keaton plays a futuristic socialite who (of course) falls in love with Woody’s 20th century character. Here is a snippet of dialogue that is metaphorically relevant to the debate I have been having with Garth about pottery in the 21st century:
Diane Keaton: Do you want to perform sex with me?
Woody Allen: Do I want to perform sex? No, I don’t think I’m up to a performance, but I’ll rehearse with you if you like.
Diane Keaton: OK, I just thought you might want to know they have a machine here.
Woody Allen: Machine?! I’m not getting in that thing. I’m strictly a hand operator…
The “performance” and the “rehearsal” represent very different ideas about the function of sex. The first takes for granted that sex is about achieving perfect orgasms (emphasizing the goal), the second acknowledges that perfect orgasms are never guaranteed, but always possible: that sex is an unfolding dialogue between two people who care for one another (emphasizing the process). I think many of us understand that both of these functions are important components of a healthy sexual relationship. But what am I going on about? This is supposed to be a discussion about pottery!
What is the goal of Pottery?
When Garth Clark asks: “Where is the workshop potter’s g-spot?” he is essentially asking a “rehearsal” or process-oriented group of makers (workshop potters) where is the “performance,” or what is the goal? The answer may be that we have a machine (the orgasmatron) for people who don’t care about the rehearsal. Indeed, machines (industrial ceramics) are very good at spitting out predictable results. The problem with these machine-produced ceramics is that no matter how good their designers are the products themselves lack the human traces, the warmth and communicative gestures of hand-made pottery.
I have no beef with industrial ceramics: they serve the function they are designed to serve, but I also have no interest in designing industrial products. I am a “maker” not a designer. And I believe that making pots is still relevant today even as the function of handmade wares has been largely supplanted by industrially produced ceramics, and that vessels have functions that are not necessarily just physical. Why do people paint or buy paintings when photographs are available? They are different niches, and the market accommodates both. Few people need one to be more relevant than the other; their goals may overlap, but ultimately are not the same goals.
Good Pots: Striving for Perfection in an Imperfect World
But I am getting off the subject. My point in this essay is that pottery as I know and practice it is largely about the exploration of the materials in pursuit of a simple goal: good pots. The goal is just a goal. I take it for granted that perfection is not possible in the realm of my pottery, just as I will never become a perfect human being or a perfect lover. It is the millions of ways to aspire towards perfection that interests me. For me, that is where the love is: in all of the small actions and decisions that add up to the good pots or the good self or the good love. It doesn’t matter that some of my efforts will miss the mark for me personally, because those pots that miss guide me back toward the pots that satisfy me.
Unfortunately “good pots” is a pretty vague goal and means radically or subtly different things to different potters. There is no universal G-spot. Rather there are an infinite number of ways of engaging the materials to achieve a vessel that communicates some meaning or love of pottery’s essence that resonates for both the maker and the consumer. It is this pleasing resonance that corresponds to the orgasm implied in Garth’s metaphor. I can answer Garth’s question in detail, but my answer will be a personal one. I can speak about the things that interest me, and some of these will likely overlap with the interests of other “workshop potters,” but ultimately where I draw the lines with regard to materials, forming techniques, firing, questions of shape, glaze type, decorative style and content (and yes even pricing) are personal decisions. If we sum this group of decisions for any particular potter, we describe a continually evolving body of work. But I suppose that this is true of any ceramicist. I will attempt in the next couple of blog entries to investigate some of the prevailing interests of workshop potters and why they seem important to us.
Let me make it clear that I am not threatened or hurt or insulted by Garth’s G-spot metaphor. It may seem to some a tawdry or cynical phrasing of the question, but I think it can be interpreted as a sincere acknowledgement of his inability to grasp what it is that we (workshop potters) find so captivating about the work we are doing. If this is the case, we should all be very pleased that a critic of the highest order is willing to reinvestigate a portion of the Ceramic field that many of us have perceived him to have written off. I think potters have collectively felt justifiably frustrated that our work has been ignored or dismissed by critics and academics, and Garth has at times been demonized by potters for his antagonism, but I think it is time to put some of this aside and open the doors of communication. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether he approves of us or not. We will continue to do what interests us as long as we can cultivate a market for our efforts. We have long done this without the attention of critics, and we will continue to do it even if we should win any kind of critical praise. But neither is there anything wrong with trying to inform a critic about our own ceramic consciousness. This is not a sycophantic exercise but an opportunity to explain who we are and what we are made of. A chance for dialogue with a ceramic critic is a gift that should not be wasted, and this is why I am excited about Garth’s visit this October. The pottery community in North Carolina is neither perfect nor invincible, but there is passion here, and there are many stories to tell. If nothing else we are an interesting chapter in the book of American Ceramics, and that is a work in progress which has many authors.