When I was in graduate school we were asked to make the most ugly pots we could imagine. I know this is a common assignment, designed to coerce students to reexamine what we value in our work. I worked counter to all my conventions; I made pots using only my left hand, slathering them in slip and covering them with narrative drawings reflecting my broken heart. The resulting pots were uncomfortable and awkward, but not ugly. Did I fail, or was the assignment a success? It is still unclear to me whether I failed by being unable to force myself to make something I considered ugly, or succeeded in broadening my perspective on what constitutes a beautiful pot.
Active engagement in making moves the work like a pendulum between the poles of failure and success, each serving to inform the other. The act of making the most unattractive pots I could imagine sowed the seeds for my subsequent ideas. I now embrace variation in the slip and continue to incorporate elements of the drawings I used on those sloppy, bumpy, wobbly, unkempt jar forms.
If, as they say, beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, then makers should make what they see as beautiful. Staying true to our individual sense brings the definition beyond the sunset, rainbow and kittens. Securing for ourselves what we understand as beauty and finding ways to communicate this comprehension creates a richness in dialogue, an opportunity to instruct and the possibility for growth.
In this way, we may satisfy our own creative needs.