Monday, December 8, 2008

What You Don't Know

50. What You Don’t Know

Here’s a little secret. The correct answer, nine times out of ten, is “I don’t know.” (Though my numbers may be a little off.) I’m not suggesting this to be insulting or depressing. Ignorance and uncertainty are simply powerful forces in the universe and blind assertions to the contrary really don’t help. What do you really know about what you know?
Those of us choosing to study ceramics share a common focus to our ignorance. Fortunately, we do not all labor under an identical ignorance. So, maybe I’ve picked up some partial truths about pulling handles or using casting slip to decorate bisqueware. You, for your own unique reasons, may have picked up a few insights into celadon glazes, or teapot spouts, or salt firing. Perhaps we’ll be able to share these things and each grow a little stronger, a little more capable, as a result.
Humility is still the order of the day. Only people who have learned quite a lot about a subject can really get a picture of where the gaps in that understanding really are. And only by viewing the hard and fast ‘truths’ with skepticism will we ever be truly innovative.
And how do we define, “Knowledge?” So much of what ceramic artists know they know with their bodies rather than their minds. The feedback you get in your arms and shoulders when you wedge clay, the resistance between your fingertips as you pull up a cylinder wall, the sounds of flame coursing through a kiln, the smells of reduction, none of these can be taught, only shown. Some will learn them and others will not. The only truly intelligent approach to any subject is to remain conscious that further improvements in our understanding and insight are always possible.
Each of us makes assertions and assumptions in our interactions with the public and with other artists. Truths may be among them, but none of us speak a complete or perfect truth. Be gentle with each other’s unending capacity for error and misconception. Every one of us still has a lot to learn, if only we can be cheerful and open to that reality.

“Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.” -- Will Rogers

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