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The functional pot

The dichotomous nature of functional pottery is one of  its most fascinating features. In fact, the successful bridging of the division between practical problem-solving and individual expression becomes a central creative challenge for the potter. How the potter sees a way to fuse these seemingly opposite concerns defines the quality of his or her perception and artistic ingenuity.

Limits are essential to the creative process because they trigger reaction and focus energy. The greater the limitations the more vigorous the challenge. Functional pottery puts many restrictions on expression. It takes a highly sensitive, inventive, and patient individual to turn these constraints in poetry. The teapot must pour. It must be well balanced at a comfortable scale. Its handle must provide security in lifting, and its lid shouldn’t fall into the cup as the tea flows from its spout. Simply stated, the teapot must “work” or be relegated to the shelf. One sure test of quality for a functional pot is whether or not it can be used. However, whether a pot is used is also inextricably connected to the pleasure it gives in the process of functioning. Paper plates work but provide little except convenience.

Human desire seems torn between a quest for pragmatic solutions to problems and a longing for pleasurable release. The art of the potter addresses this conflict by proving that it need not exist. More than a balancing act, the fine useful pot is an example of creative vision that transcends constraint by turning specific limitations into moments of artistic expression.

Uniqueness of decoration and a clever manipulation of material and process can provide a potter with a signature style. But the important statements within the realm of the useful pot are made by potters who have firm control of their egos and are willing to face squarely the problems of creating for use. The good useful pots are those that reveal artistic individuality and sensitivity, particularly at the points where the pot must function. The way the lid fits or handle responds to the hand are dynamic factors critically related to the quality of a useful pot. This clearly suggests that functional pottery is one of those rare forms of art that gives pleasure not only through visual-cerebral connections, but through physical-sensual ones as well.

Unlike architecture and the products of the artistic problem-solving activities of design, handmade pottery provides a person-to-person intimacy. The hand of the artist reaches through the object to touch the hand of the user, creating a bond of friendship, caring, and aesthetic gratification that nurtures human life and fortifies it against indifference.

Harmonising the dual forces of imagination and logic lies at the centre of all artistic labour. The utilitarian pot is one of humanity’s most enduring examples of how this duality is reconciled to achieve objects of intelligence and beauty.

This article is an arbitrary short version of the concepts and ideas so well treated  by artist and educator Wayne Higby in one of his writings.

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