Friday, July 22, 2016

A Modern Craftsman Needs A Cosmopolitan Mind

Culture is not genetic. Actually, one definition of culture is: the non-biological transmission of knowledge. While I apprenticed in pottery with Tatsuzo Shimaoka, my wife Jean studied Moku Hanga (woodblock prints) with Master Tetsuo Itoe. Jean is inspired by folk toys, especially Japanese folk toys. We were a couple of the youngest people in the Hanga club, where we studied with Itoe Sensei. One of our fellow students (the wife of the Master Kiln Builder in Mashiko) once said to Jean, "Our children will not carry on and preserve our Japanese culture, but Jean will!"
At the UofMN, I once had a Grad Student say to me:
"Why are you making this Japanese Shit? You should made American stuff." It was during the first invasion of Iraq. Another student was studying slip casting and was making slip cast toys. He threw an imperfect toy gun in the recycle and I asked if I could have it. I cut it in two and put it on a tea bowl, the grip the handle and the barrel sticking out the other side. I put an American flag in the barrel and VoilĂ ! and American Tea Bowl! I still have it today, to remind me not to be provincial and to encourage me to have a "cosmopolitan" mind (as my late zen teacher, Dainin Katagiri Roshi used to call it.)
Postscript: That Grad student dropped out the same quarter.
Today, with communications and access being so available, we have no excuse for not being aware of the greatest examples of work in our field, done in various historic times and in different places. We look to Japan because the highest form of ceramics aesthetics were developed there, driven by the unique tea culture, which really doesn't exist anywhere else on the planet. Doesn't mean you need to copy it. But, it is important to know the best examples of your form, be they Mino, Buncheong Sung, English Slipware or German Salt Glaze, Hopefully they will help us make our own work better.
Last week, I discovered that I am the 15th Great Grandson of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Does that mean I should stop making stoneware and start making Majolica? ;) No, but it sure is an incentive to lose my focus.

Lee Love is the 15th Great Grandson Of Ferdinand and Isabella

Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Originality vs. Authentic

Originality vs. Authentic
Here is a perspective I have always ascribed to. I sometimes call it novelty vs. genuine. Coleridge called it Fancy vs. Imagination and Hamada called it style vs. feeling. Feeling in the manner of being substantial and deep.


I once heard a historian say, “The mark of the fall of a great empire is when its love of novelty become the love of the Grotesque.” Because many university studio trained artists, critics, professors and gallery people don’t understand this, functional ceramics is at a disadvantage when they compare it to clay sculpture. For the most part, clay sculpture, unless it’s strongly referencing its medium, should be compared to and compete against other sculpture and fine art and not pots. Unless we do something to revive the special place functional ceramics has in the history of civilization, I am afraid it will again fall into obscurity.
Originality vs. Authenticity
Maybe you fear that you are not original enough. Maybe that's the problem you're worried that your ideas are commonplace and pedestrian, and therefore unworthy of creation.
Aspiring writers will often tell me '"I have an idea, but I'm afraid it's already been done.'' Well, yes, it probably has already been done. Most things have already been done but they have not yet been done by you. By the time Shakespeare was finished with his run on life, he'd pretty n1uch covered every story line there is, but that hasn't stopped nearly five centuries of writers from ex­ploring the same story lines all over again. (And remember, many of those stories were already cliches long before even Shakespeare got his hands on them.) When Picasso saw the ancient cave paintings at Lascaux, he reportedly said, "We have learned nothing in twelve thousand years" which is probably true, but so what? So what if we repeat the same themes? So what if we circle around the same ideas, again and again, generation after generation? So what if every new generation feels the same urges and asks the same questions that humans have been feeling and asking for years? We're all related, after all, so there's going to be some repetition of creative in­stinct. Everything reminds us of something. But once you put your own expression and passion behind an idea, that idea becomes yours. Anyhow, the older I get, the less impressed I become with originality. These days, I'm far more moved by au­thenticity. Attempts at originality can often feel forced and precious, but authenticity has quiet resonance that never fails to stir me. Just say what you want to say, then, and say it with all your heart. Share whatever you are driven to share. If it's authentic enough, believe n1e it will feel original.
From the book: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Sunday, July 03, 2016

A Good Friend

The Buddha also taught that if you come across a true friend–one who is noble, fearless, thoughtful, and wise–then walk with that friend in peace. If you find such a friend, you can walk together for life. But don’t be too eager to find such a friend. If you become greedy for such a friend, you will be disappointed, and you will not be able to live in peace and harmony with others.
Learning to live alone also means that, whatever the situation, you have to live quietly. All you have to do is just walk, step-by-step. It’s not so easy, but it’s very important for us. And if we are not too greedy, the good friend will appear.
In ancient times in India, people would look to find such a good friend meditating in the forest. If they found such a person, they would sit with him. This is how it was with Buddha. As people began to gather around him, he called them shravakas, which means “listeners.” The relationship between the Buddha and those who came to listen to his teaching was not like that of a boss and an employee or a parent and child. It was more like that of a master and an apprentice. If you go to see and listen to such a wise friend, you are not a student, exactly; you are just a listener. The idea of being called a student came about in a later age.
At the time of the Buddha, there were four castes of people, and depending on caste, there were many formal rules for how people should address one another. But the Buddha was beyond classifying or discriminating among people. He used the same kind, gentle, and polite form of expression to address everyone, no matter what the station. He only said, “Welcome.” That’s it. People didn’t go through any particular ceremony that certified them as followers of the Buddha. They just received this simple greeting. This is the origin of the sangha.
In Sanskrit the term sangha literally means “group.” It was used to refer to religious groups as well as political groups. When the Buddha visited different regions, the people would gather together to listen to his teaching and to practice together. Then, after he left, they would settle into small groups or take up traveling.
Today, how do we find a wise friend? I don’t know. There is no particular pattern. But even though you might not find a good friend in the world, still you can find a good friend in the example of the Buddha. And if you do come across such a friend, walk with him. Just remember, if this person is a good friend for you, he is also a good friend for others, so don’t attach too strongly to him.
You can feel something from such persons as you walk with them. And remember, though they are human beings living now, through them you can meet the Buddha. And through the Buddha, you can see such a good, pure friend.
–Dainin Katagiri, You Have to Say Something: Manifesting Zen Insight, pp. 54-55.