Getting it Right

Ceramist Charles Bound offers his thoughts on fair criticism

Two years ago at Earth and Fire, Rufford I had a stall. Minding my business in the vaguely disinterested way one does in order to give space for people to nose about feeling unpreyed upon, I registered a woman and a man, a couple, aggressively disagreeing sotto voce about my pots. "...I do think they're lovely", she said. "They're awful", he hissed back, small bowl in hand, "look..."

It went on. Thinking to intercede gently, I laughed and said I didn't think any pot of mine was worth a domestic row. It seemed it wasn't. The man turned on me, told me I had no idea what I was doing and no right to do it. It being a fine day, I left the bait, probably said something like "Oh" trusting, in the way of inconclusive party conversation, he would move on. I could have, but then there were all the pots to lug with me. What did move on was sotto voce. And we were developing an audience. He said he had spent years in Japan studying the tea ceremony, i.e. who was I? I thought to myself: western icon messer-about, thank you; there has always been a whole aspect of play and change in 'tea' that you're missing, mack; I'm not interested in this. I also knew he was attacking something I worry about and that I wasn't ready or really able to justify. I incline to let be tedious debate often exercised like an adolescent dog.

He persisted, which was OK, except some people were stopping as at an accident while everyone else was swirling past on the other side. This was no way to sell pots. I tried to mollify him. Bad idea. Finally I just said I function in a post-modern, rich, world of infinite choice and that's good enough for me (maybe), and when he persisted, said, "Go away". Muttering about not having intended to stop in the first place, he did.

It turned out the woman was another exhibiting potter who had made the kind of casual comment like 'isn't it a nice day' which had set things going. We had a good laugh and bluster like one does after seeing off hyenas. And I continue to think about these issues.

Then there is the article 'Scorched Earth' in Ceramic Review (issue 172) that rumbles along nicely assuring its own certainty with footnotes - those quintessentially literary devices that authenticate, perhaps like an array of making gestures in Japanese pots. The trouble is this exposition became, I venture, justification for scolding those of us westerners in the 'anagama' ghetto for not 'getting a life'.

Again I was stung and in my head wrote replies correcting detail, defending the basic insecurity and uncertainty of what I do. I was not alone in this, ghettos no doubt being places of forced solidarity. But as at Rufford I metaphorically jogged foot-to-foot, a small boy anxious to be off while lectured, and then went on making what I hope in retrospect might be considered 'complex and culturally specific artefacts', trusting the mongrel sorts brought to what I do (Africa, North America, the theatre, teaching Japanese children English, working on a farm, etc.) might coalesce with the cooperation between myself, the materials used, the kiln and those who work with me, in an occasional gift beyond the limits of current imagination or skill.

You never know, things do happen. And the random insult from someone else struggling with their own enterprise is as valuable as the assumed chance happenings of the way I work.

And I keep thinking about these things: an ongoing midrash of footnotes, or is it koan?

This article first appeared in
Ceramic Review, Issue 192
November/December 2001