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Needing a fast lunch yesterday, I cued up and started a conversation with a student in Nursing and Health Sciences. He asked me what I taught. I told him fine art ceramics . Then he asked if I liked abstract or realistic art. I told him that this was not a reasonable question to ask a pottery maker. Pots are really neither abstract nor realistic.

At home in little snippets I am (yet again) rereading a book that I started before I took my first college ceramics class, Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintanence by Robert Pirsig. The book is a discussion of dualism and reason. Its big target is the dicing of the world into subject vs. object. And its thesis is that Quality may be the unifying principle that births these two concepts, or the umbliical that joins them.

Gail Busch uses the phrase "presentations or representations" to talk about her work with pottery making and depicting pots as subject matter. Functional pots are not representations, but neither are they presentation to my sense the concept. A pot does not need a pedestal as does a sculpture. Consequently there is some measure of an escape in clay from some of duality of presentation and representation. It is one of the fundamental differences between clay and paint and bronze and it may be a reason clay seems so fundamentally tied to Taoist Philosophy. It does at times seem a contradiction. Intuitively I believe that one particular medium can be no more tied to Taoism than another, but it is clear that clay can feel that way.

A pot is normally not presented, it is just a pot. On a pedestal maybe this is presentation, but in your hand it is used. A pot is a pot is a pot. In ceramics we do have the modes of presentation and representation and we do use them but when the pot is filled with coffee the pot "is".

"The Tao that can be defined is not the real Tao. The course that can be discoursed is not the Eternal Course".(Watts 39)

The book, Zen and the Art (Pirsig), is truly one of the books of the seventies that stands out for me. It is an astounding book for many people who like me are comfortable in the sciences and engineering but who are artists. As a field ceramics has lots of these people. Clay is a good place for students who come to the arts from biology, geology, chemistry or other sciences. Comfortablility with chemistry, physics, geology, and math is helpful to clayers. We attract lots of these people. I am one of them.

Dualism, perhaps better named discreteism, or feverous digitalous , is the conceptual disease gotten from belief that the world is divided into domains bounded by the edges created by the meaning of words; That is that red is deliniated somehow from blue, That there is a line, a separation between yellow and green. Dualism, and we all suffer from it, leads to an inability to come up with third solutions, to think outside the box. Art school is (often/ sometimes) designed to teach people to look for third roads, new ways too look at old problems outside the constraints of expectedness. Well you are either dualistic or your not.

The book ZATAOMCM (Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintanence) contains some ideas that are hard for some to accept or grasp. It talks of (Q)quality in at least two ways. It talks of quality as in good versus bad quality, but it also talks of Quality as an absolute monism. Quality as the experience prior to categorization of the world in subjects and objects, Quality as the condition before we have divided the world in our minds into discrete units bounded by the edges of words. This is a hard concept to grasp. As I type it has slipped from my fingers yet again.

Pirsig's character Phaedrus talks of how quality, that is the ordinary good/bad quality, can be seen and that relative quality can be agreed on by groups of homogenous students. He also talks about how these measures of relative quality in this sense are not universal, they are culturally determined. He describes how this sort of quality is framed by how our reality is framed by words and experience and that for each of us this is different.

What he fails to do a good job at is differentiating or unifying the ideas of good/vs bad quality, and what he calls Quality the universal concept that connects, or births subject and object. I capitalize this higher order Quality. It helps me keep these two manifestations of the same entity differentiated. I need the dualism to think. So does everyone except perhaps the Buddha.

I made a twenty minute film STYRENE, that discusses my definition of art as it relates to sytrofoam cups. It is my contention that any artifact of intelligence is art. That all such artifacts are imbibed with expression intended or not, that they are interpretable and valuable. That the problem in the world is not that we need more art, but more ability to recognized the art, the humanity, in every object we contact and every intelligent action we view or hear. My contention is that as a society if we allow, or teach, ourselves to recognize the Quality absolute Quality in what we buy, contact, make, watch, hear, smell, eat and even think about, then we will naturally produce, consume, appreciate and live with objects of more beauty and meaning. This will result in less waste, less (ab)use, less obesity, less pollution, better health, and better lives. I also believe that this is the true road to peace, but don't ask me to explain, I am not there yet. This conclusion exists as just a hunch, or feeling. It seems to be the goal of awareness without grasping, a goal of Buddhists.

I am tired of artists thinking of themselves as better beings because of their making art. I am more in awe of those that surround themselves with objects of meaning, recognize the humanity in the simplist things, actions and expressions. I plan to write soon on "The Book of Tea", and in the ideas of that book. Following ideas from that book I am in awe of people who have an abundance of "Tea" in them. People who find aesthetics in even the simplest movement, the most humble object or the most mundane human interaction.

Watts, A. Tao: The watercourse way. New York: Pantheon Books, 1977. 39. Print. Pirsig, Robert. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. 1. New York: Morrow Quill Paperbacks, 1974. This page has been visited 1518 times.

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Page last modified on June 20, 2013, at 06:05 PM