Inspiration Monday – Finding My Artistic Voice


For the last several months, I have used this space on Mondays to talk about my inspiration.  These postings have allowed me to reflect on my own journey from beginning pottery student to emerging ceramic artist.  In December, I organized those thoughts in an article for Pottery Production Practices.

Once reading the article, I would love for you to return to my blog and share your thoughts about your search for your own artistic voice.

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About Claytastic

Health coach. Writer. Teacher. Artist. Living an amazing life with MS. Interested in bringing peace and beauty into people's lives.
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9 Responses to Inspiration Monday – Finding My Artistic Voice

  1. StoneTosser says:

    Laurie

    I loved this article. Extremely well written and blending of your experience personally and artistically in a solid, strong, confident and beautiful voice. It’s been a privilege for me to be your friend through this journey and I look forward to many years more of watching you blossom and throwing off beauty at every turn.

    Love,
    Dana

  2. carter says:

    I have enjoyed reading your comments on various other blogs, but this is the first time I have encountered your own blog. I like what you have to say! Since you are asking for feedback on that article you wrote I thought I might chime in.

    It sounds like you have had an amazing period of artistic growth these last several years, and it sounds like you have been surrounded by thoughtful and encouraging colleagues and instructors. All in all it sounds like an enviable experience, and I hope my own students at the community arts center where I teach are as fortunate to come away from their experiences with the understanding and motivation that you have.

    The process of finding oneself with clay is never easy, especially when the artist is driven to improve the results and the practice. Continuing to grow as an artist is an enormous challenge. It is only when the artist stops growing that it becomes easy, but at the same time our vital creative spirit stagnates and often dies.

    This is one of the reasons I am always a little worried when I hear students and other artists talk about the importance of having a ‘voice’, as if that was the highest virtue of what they are doing. ‘Voice’ ends up being that set of parameters within which an artist works and hence a set of limits. Really good artists will find incredible ways of keeping their investigations vital, and so their work is always fresh, new, and interesting. But why put yourself in that box in the first place?

    Well, there are financial reasons, psychological reasons, practical reasons, commercial reasons, and even artistic reasons. But, does all that make it necessary? Does all that make it somehow inevitable? It seems that potters have a culture unto themselves and one of the articles of faith is the importance of acquiring a ‘voice’. The mythology attached to this concept must be quite funny when viewed from the outside. And yet we persist in dogmatically raising all our new potters with this same set of beliefs.

    Instead of extolling the virtues of my limitations as a potter (“I only have this one voice, so I can’t be expected to do it any other way”), we should be advertising our freedom as artists. Forget even referring to that little box we may or may not inhabit, proclaim instead how vital our investigation is (“Look at all these new things I am trying! See what happens when I do things this way, and then when I do things this other way!”). If we accept the importance of ‘voice’ it becomes something we have to live up to. Sure, a doorway to certain things, but a door that closes off all else.

    There is nothing wrong with working along a narrow focus, and there are certainly commercial advantages to doing it this way. My worry is that we keep trotting out this excuse for why we do things a certain way and then attempt to prop it up with nebulous justifications like “authenticity” and “the soul of the artist”. With dialog like that it is no wonder much of the rest of the art world doesn’t take potters seriously. Isn’t it enough to explore what we want to explore, make what we want to make without consciously straining for this set of limits?

    Who was it that told you you had to have a ‘voice’? Who told them that this was important? Well, what if they were wrong? What would be different if no one ever mentioned that word again to emerging potters? Would they be less happy with what they were doing? Finding yourself as an artist means finding what you like to do, but what you like to do can be ANYTHING, one day this, another day something else. You may even only like expressing this one thing all the time, but putting a limit out there as some sort of natural constraint seems wrong, and at odds with the absolute creative freedom that each of us is entitled to. Why do we laud ‘voice’ when it seems such a diminishment of our creative capacity?

  3. claytastic says:

    Carter, I am so glad you found my blog. You raise some really interesting points. For me, finding my voice was about organizing my thoughts into something cohesive. No one told me I had to find my voice. The investigation was how I was able to focus myself so I could create a body of work that invited a smile. That was important to me. And not just from a financial standpoint, but from a satisfaction standpoint. In reality, the cohesive body of work I am developing brings a smile to my face and peace to my soul. That is the most important thing, although I certainly love it when others have the same reaction and pull out their wallet in agreement.

    And I love to push it farther to see where it will go. I still experiment, and try this and try that. That is why I still go to workshops so I can learn new things that I may or may not incorporate into my work. Either way, it keeps me thinking and pushing myself.

    I don’t see “finding my voice” as a destination, but a journey.

    I know professional potters that say finding the time to experiment is difficult because they are always producing because that is how they make their living. I wish I had that problem, but alas I don’t. I tend to make for 3 months in preparation for shows and then I experiment and play with new forms and improving and expanding old ones. It is a nice rhythm, but one I am able to pursue because I don’t have those financial constraints.

    I would love to hear from someone who does make their living from pots.

  4. May Luk says:

    I like having a narrow focus; with limits come freedom. It is about the discipline. Well, I also don’t mind making the same form or idea over and over again and see how they evolve organically. The voice will emerge naturally as one continues to work without force, IMO.

  5. Jud Tavill says:

    I tend to agree with May…
    Once I chose a direction to go in…I sort of developed my own framework of issues and ways to stretch the concept…I guess I take subtle turns and find areas to stretch farther…but I think my “voice” is always there. It’s my own aesthetic, regardless of the technique… It’s great to try things and experiment but it feels challenging to see how far I can go within my self-imposed parameters… Of course one is welcome to just up and CHANGE those parameters, but some sort of focus seems to almost allow for MORE creative expression… It seems contradictory but it’s not. As we go through life, we are making choices… almost every move you make is a choice…It helps us to choose SOMETHING and see where it leads… Of course…we can choose something totally different at any time(free will)but focus of any kind seems to lead to clarity.
    Was that clear?
    Probably not.

    • claytastic says:

      This subject of finding your voice has many layers. I don’t think we can find our voice until we try lots of different things. How else can we make choices if we do the same thing.

      Just today a coworker (and sculptor) and I were talking about influence vs. mentoring. I told him that my work looked nothing like my mentor’s. He said that was a good mentor. How true. I have never felt like I needed to make someone else’s work. But I love listening to potter’s talk about the choices they make to get to the work they are making today. I learned so much from hearing about how other’s think through those choices.

      Just like law school taught me to think like a lawyer, I had to learn how to think like a potter and artist.

      Of course, working in a community studio, there are always those who will suggest I do this or that with my pots. So often, I think – because “I don’t want to” or “because that is not me”. I have chosen to make pots that I like to make, not because they reflect what someone thinks they should be. That is what makes it my voice.

  6. joy tanner says:

    this is a great post, good comments too. i just found your blog laurie for the first time!

    i always have believed that whatever ‘your own voice is’ is really simply who you are. potters make pots as they are themselves. you can tell a lot about a potter from just looking at their pots.

    i also feel like the more you learn and live a full life, then why wouldn’t your own personality come into your work? i get excited when i think about a lifetime in clay, who knows where i’ll be after going through all the regular ups and downs of just being human. i think all of that really affects and gets into your work. now THAT’s what creates your style, or voice, whatever you want to call it.

    it shows up and is revealed in what you choose to do, and by the choices that you choose not to do in your work either. go down one road, well that means you’re choosing to not go down another, which says something about you.

    of course for me, inspirations were an easy way to go in the beginning, and still are a very obvious and so much a part of what just keeps me going from day to day. only later when i look back at my work i can see other choices i made that maybe i didn’t realize i was making them, or maybe i didn’t realize that those choices were actually shaping what i was showing in clay.

    • claytastic says:

      Thanks Joy. Great and thoughtful comment. I am so fascinated by this topic.

      I’m with you about how great it is to be a potter. I can’t imagine retiring from this great craft. Its brings me a great deal of joy. And that’s all the inspiration I need to share my voice.

      BTW, I love your work and am proud to own one of your cups.

    • carter says:

      I like the idea that “what ever ‘your own voice is’ is simply who you are”. If we just say that and ignore it ever afterwards I would have few qualms.

      But sometimes putting a name on something creates a new reality, and sometimes how we talk about things is in utter contradiction to the actual state of affairs. When we grow up with a set of beliefs we don’t always examine just where they lead us. Potters are absolutely fascinated by the ideas of ‘voice’ and ‘style’ so it IS something worth talking about.

      I think Joy has a great point in that “the ups and downs of just being human” impact who we are as artists. But who we are as a person is an extremely variable and fluctuating entity, and often contradicts its self from one moment to the next. Some days I may be a better parent, others less so. Some days I may feel like being creative, other days it is a struggle. I may resent someone one day, but learn to love them fanatically the next. It is truly amazing just how diversely we express ourselves as human beings, isn’t it? And yet as potters we feel obliged to express something that is far more narrow, far more cohesive, far more unified , far more stable than almost anything else we can say about ourselves. If we were truly being honest in our pot making wouldn’t our work express that I am happy one day, sad another? Bored yesterday, exhilarated today?

      So our artistic ‘voice’ is maybe LESS about who we actually are at that moment, and more about what we would like ourselves to be. I have always thought that art was more an expression of the artist’s dream for what the world should become, and less a reflection of what it actually is. Isn’t the idea of creation fundamentally about bringing forth the new? Would this be a better way to talk about ‘voice’?

      Since we have inherited use of the word ‘voice’, just how similarly is it used in our daily lives? Somedays we can be the voice of reason, others we can be irrational or give voice to our biases. I can have a loud voice talking to friends at a concert, but whisper in quiet moments. My voice can be joking, full of laughter. My voice can also be angry, full of curses. So ‘voice’ obviously isn’t just some constant about our invariable selves. And if ‘voice’ is supposed reveal the personality behind all that, and “you can tell a lot about a potter from just looking at their pots” how many of us would be surprised to learn that Hitler painted watercolors of flowers and bucolic landscape scenes?

      There are so many reasons why we express ourselves as artists in a narrow vein of creativity, and we are NOT wrong to do this. As May said, discipline is a GOOD thing, and as Laurie said cohesiveness can bring a smile to our faces. And Judi is spot-on in stating that focus actually allows us freedom in creative expression. As long as we can be open about these things as valid reasons to do what we are doing there can be no complaints. When we discuss what we do in mythological terms the rest of the art world is probably right to laugh at us.

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