Ceramic clay is a natural soil that can hardly be considered fine and smooth in texture. While its refinement requires skill and technique, can we produce pieces and work that are closest to its original form? Lately, I am reading Wabi-Sabi: Further Thoughts by Leonard Koren, and once again, I am mesmerized by the aesthetics and views of wabi-sabi. As I’ve recently rekindled my interest in ceramics, it gives me the perfect opportunity to understand the true meaning of wabi-sabi.
“This plate is so rough. The edges feel so raw, and its white color makes it easily stained by food,” said my roommate as she carefully examined the plate.
Making ceramics is a complicated process; from the preparation and kneading of clay to glazing and firing, it takes at least three to four days to complete the whole process. Time is needed to complete each and every step. Waiting and drying, until the work is ready for the next step. It’s very similar to breathing—of which I only came to understand in recent years involves the cycle of breathing in, resting, breathing out, and resting. Resting is very important because, whether it starts or ends a breathing cycle, it keeps every breath connected.
“Connection is about both inside and out. It’s a cycle. And it’s perpetual. It’s only through connection that energy can truly be eternal.”
I am deeply drawn to the idea of “eternal now” that is mentioned in the book. It makes me wonder if living in the present means infinity. I don’t know the answer to my own question, but I think everyone should probably think about it. When making ceramics, if you are not happy with your work, as long as it is not glazed, you can always break it, add water, time, and air. It will turn into clay and you can start molding once again. The work that once existed is broken yet reborn at the same time. “Don’t feel sad to let go. Breaking the work you don’t want is another way of showing how much you cherish it.”
When I first started making ceramics, I got anxious easily by all the waiting. As I continued to practice every week for a year or two, my breathing became much slower and relaxed even as I was waiting. I also managed to build a connection with my tools, and no longer stress about perfection and technique when I look at the final products. Aesthetics are way more than just feeling and perception.
“Sure I can put on some transparent glaze to smooth the edges, but this white glaze is plain itself and adding a transparent glaze would make the plate shiny. I want a more natural and non-reflective white.” I am not good at talking about my work. There are so many things to consider when making ceramics—design, coloring, and usage. Being able to precisely describe the ideas and thoughts behind the creative process allows the artists to express their world views through their work. Quoted from Wabi-Sabi: Further Thoughts, “There is no purpose lying within an object itself; it’s the humans who give it meaning.” I’m learning how to strike a balance between business and creativity. The two are by no means against each other; stress on either one will bring about very different results.
So, here I am. I started selling ceramics again on the first floor of my house. I live on the second floor. Taiwanese people have the habit of calling the ground floor the “first floor”. For them, “ground floor” literally means the real ground. Anyway, the first floor, which was not often used before, has now become a shop that opens every weekend; thanks to picking up pottery once again in Tainan, I finally got the experience of being a shop manager together with my classmate.
In the studio, we make ceramics together. We also learn and research together and guide and exchange ideas with each other. It’s an environment that makes us forget about the aesthetics defined by society. Though now that I’ve brought my work into the commercial world, I feel more at ease. I like that the people who visit my shop don’t look at my work as art; though they know each item is handmade and unique. And the storefront is not set up as an exhibition venue; it’s a new form of leisure space where people, and even cats, can visit freely and sit and leave at their own pace. Bringing our work to the commercial world of course attracts comments and judgment from people, but at the same time it opens up more room for us to learn, experiment, and experience. With every pause in the perpetual cycle of life, I feel that life is getting more and more fun.