At heart, I’m a sucker for paradox. Truth hides in the space between contradictory ideas. A common example (variously attributed) holds that “talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” With this in mind, I offer a few of my favorite paradoxes.     

“Clay is fashioned into vessels; but it is on their empty hollowness that their use depends.” 

Lao TzuTao Te Ching

To paraphrase, my job is to shape emptiness. This is rather obvious in a “form follows function” sense. Primitive humans cupped their hands to contain water, not to make a fanciful, arty shape. “A pitcher cries for water to carry / and a person for work that is real.” (Marge Piercy, ‘To Be of Use’) The challenge of function is to create more than a pretty thing. Function is my chance to serve the people around me, to invite them to touch, and to be with them day-to-day.

 

Going a bit further, the space in our chests, skulls, and guts anticipate the space within a pot. When children mime “I’m a Little Teapot,” they divine the unseen space inside themselves.  I try to catch pots with a chest full of breath.   

"The hills are shadows, and they flow / from form to form, and nothing stands / they melt like mist, the solid lands / Like clouds, they shape themselves and go.”

- Alfred Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam

Nature's spontaneity and individuality form human aesthetic sensibilities. Since childhood, I’ve been a rock and fossil hound. The beauty of a translucent chunk of quartz or a spiraled ammonite isn’t skin deep. It hints at deeper meaning by doing something impossible. “How do you keep a wave upon the sand?” (Oscar Hammerstein II, “Maria”) Beauty captures a moment in time.

The aesthetic of disposable cups is uniformity. The moments they capture are rushed and redundant. By contrast, handmade pots capture fleeting gestures made by human hands, and atmospheric firings mark new stone with evanescent flames.

​“Order is merely the repetition of patterns; chaos is the process that establishes those patterns.”

- L. K. Samuels, In Defense of Chaos

Every kiln load surprises me. I choose clay bodies and slips that change appearance from one side of the piece to the other. I use local (and thus variable) materials in my clay and glazes. I create simple patterns and shapes that gain complexity through their interaction with wheel and fire.

 

Obviously, there are plenty of risks inherent in working this way, but “there is more in workmanship than not spoiling the job, just as there is more in music than playing the right notes.” (David Pye, The Nature and Art of Workmanship) Creativity demands a healthy dose of chaos.

Daniel Gardner Ceramics

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