006 What Makes a Pot Good or Great? – MudTalk Podcast

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006 What Makes a Pot Good or Great? - MudTalk Podcast


How do you tell if a pot is good?
the cup in this image is a detail shot of an Eric Botbyl ‘scraggler’

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This is episode 6. We’re going to talk about good pots. We want to know what makes a pot good, or even great? What characteristics do you look for? Are there certain things that a pot HAS to have to be good? What does “good” mean to you?

I’m sure you have your own opinions about what makes a pot acceptable, good, or even great. But it’s always a good idea to hear other people’s opinions so we can discover different perspectives, fine tune our own opinions and understand the topic on a deeper level. As I was reading the comments for this topic I tried to organize the responses into a few categories including: Physical Characteristics, Proper Function, the Feelings a Pot Evokes, and at the end I’ll share some of my favorite responses.

Let’s start with a response from Facebook which I think lays a foundation for this discussion. In response to the question “what makes a pot good?”

Laura S Attractive design, even weight, useful, attention to detail, smooth bottom, evidence of the maker. These answers may all be subjective, though — isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder?

Laura hits a number of things that I think are important and notes the subjectivity of this topic. There isn’t one “correct” answer. So let’s take a look at what other people think goes into a good pot.

Physical Characteristics

Some comments focused on the physical characteristics of a pot.

Nurture_massage07 If it has no cracks in it. Or if it comes out of the kiln the way you wanted or better.

Dowidat.ceramics When the foot and lip look cohesive and it makes it through the firing without cracks and come out to the point where I’m ok to make 100 more!

Evesib_travel If the pot is as you imagined it to be when you were creating it and of course if it has no major technical issues like cracks

Mimiho_cat Well balanced, feel warm in touching, clarity in lines, less is more in decorations????

Michelle C How it feels in my hands when I close my eyes.

Proper Function

Related to the physical characteristics, some people specifically mentioned proper function.

Dmpottery Everything @pettypottery_nc said + structurally sound as required by the pots intended function

Cal_pot A good pot is one that does what it was created to do. It if is supposed to hold water, then a good pot is one that holds water.

It’s hard to argue with these two responses. A pot, by definition is a functional object. But do pots have to be functional? Can you make a pot strictly as a work of art? Or is an object no longer a pot if it doesn’t function as a pot?

What You Feel or Take From the Pot

Some comments were about how the pot makes you feel.

Jclaypotterystudio When you want to hold it. When you imagine it in your home. When it’s function is spot on or even many.

Eclectstudio If it’s loved!! (By someone other than family ?)

Stevepl13 If you like it, it’s good

Bytheseastudio When you first see a pot and you get this overwhelming feeling of excitement through your body. You are basically moved by its presence.

Martha H It calls to you!


These last few responses were my favorite.

Pettypottery_nc For me I know a pot is good when things start popping into my head, ideas, phrases, questions, smells, memories, names, people, places, feelings. A pot is good if it sparks something within me.

I love this response. I feel that a lot of my favorite pots have stories to go with them. Whenever I use certain pots I remember a special event or getting to know the maker or a certain image or feeling.

Hughespottery How about it’s got good balance in its form, no unbroken curves, the continuity of line in its visual composition. The parts are all thought out. Foot, body shoulder neck, lip, surface and attachments.The proportions and relationship of all those parts. Its practicality or impracticality of use. Or we can go with “it’s now fired and still standing so it’s awesome.”

Great answer HughesPottery! I like the deeper consideration of some of the design principles. Studying and applying some of these principles can really improve the aesthetics of a pot. I also like the idea that each part should be thought out. That seems to be a great description of a good pot. It doesn’t look odd or slapped together. And mentioned at the end of the response, sometimes you have to take a relative look at things. For someone just starting out the first pot that you get through the kiln that isn’t slumped or cracked or falling over is your best pot. So it is ‘good’ compared to your previous attempts.

Shamelessclay If it looks effortless, regardless of imperfection and what you imagined. I usually divide my pieces between those that look tortured and those that look like they just “should be” that way.

This is another great response that gives me some ideas to think about. I like the part about a pot looking ‘effortless.’ I guess this is a vague or subjective term as well but it seems like a good fit. Sometimes you hear musicians say that a great song just wrote itself. I feel like I’ve had pots like that. The clay just seemed to go where it was supposed to and looked like it was ‘supposed’ to be that way. And other times I’ll try a couple different things but there’s always something that doesn’t look right to my eye and I end up overworking the pot. It’s hard to put into words exactly how this happens but I know I’ve felt the same thing.

A.newmanpottery A good pot should be light for its size, but also strong. It should be pleasing to the eye. It should also feel good in the hands. There should be no unnecessary bumps or sharp points. Its edges should be smooth, not sharp. It should look as if it could have been made by a machine, but gives hints that it was hand made. It should be consistent and symmetrical. In my opinion.

I love all the really specific details in this response. Do you agree with every one? I’ll be honest, there are a few that I would argue against, or at least say they aren’t absolute truths. But then the last three words qualify the whole response… In. my. opinion. And that’s what I like about this whole topic. It’s subjective. We’re allowed to have different opinions. Maybe the trick is, you have to come to terms with your own opinion to make good pots.

And finally,

Zygoteblum The good pot has the craftsperson running down the list, ticking off all the boxes. Good is the minimum that needs to be done to achieve an agreed set of expectations not just its needs. A great pot has the Artist wadding up the list and making up their own to measure their work by.

That’s it. What more can be said?

Okay, since I’m the one running this podcast, I’ll say more. Maybe I’ve set my own bar too low. Maybe I asked the wrong question! I asked about good pots. Maybe we should be talking about GREAT pots. Is there a difference? Is it still just a subjective, opinion based discussion? I think Zygote hits the nail on the head when he says that good is the minimum. As potters of a certain experience or skill level I think we have to create good pots just so we don’t diminish craft. But GREAT pots… how do you define a great pot? Are the same characteristics involved? Are there a limited number of great pots? Not every pot can be great, right? Can anybody make a great pot? Is the greatness of a pot relative to the potters skill level? Is talking about GREAT pots even MORE subjective? I’ll have to do some more thinking about this but to me, a great pot catches my eye and has some kind of depth. At a Chris Gustin workshop he talked about how great objects work on multiple levels. I’m paraphrasing his ideas here, but he said good objects will work from different points of view, such as viewing the piece from across the room, viewing the piece from a few feet and then viewing the piece up close. Perhaps those three viewpoints correlate roughly to the overall shape and proportions of a pot, the surface details and the function or the way you interact with it.

Zygote makes an important point, that the artist creates their own list of requirements to make a great pot. I could be way off, but I relate this to developing your own style. When I think of a great pot I can often tell who made it just from the first glance. A great pot is unique in some way that makes it stand out and usually that unique aspect is what a potter explores as they make more work.

As you can tell from some of these thoughtful answers the topic is very subjective. But it makes me wonder, is there always a relationship between how much you like a pot to how ‘good’ the pot is? I mean, you could probably like a “regular” pot right? You could probably even like a bad pot! But then, maybe your liking of the pot would depend on  something other than the pot itself. Like who made it or where you got it.

I don’t think anyone mentioned “story” specifically but I feel like pots that have a story move up the greatness scale. I have a little cup made by Dick Lehman that I keep in my cupboard. I’m sure he wouldn’t consider it one of the best pots he has ever made. It’s only a few inches tall but it has an amazing swirl of different textures on the altered surface which adds a lot of depth to the shino glaze. In the bottom of the cup the glaze just began to crawl and make that wrinkled, brain-like texture, which I love. There is even an interesting texture under the foot. It is definitely a good pot but the reason I love this cup is because it reminds me of the circumstance in which I acquired it. A few years ago, before I started participating in the Michiana Pottery Tour myself, Dick was looking for some assistance running his booth. Of course, I jumped at the chance. Not only did I get a chance to see how Dick set up and talk about his pots, interact with customers, study his pots all day, and ask a lot of questions, he also compensated me for my time with a certain dollar amount of his work. Which I got to choose myself. This little cup was one of my first choices. So, in my opinion, this little cup is a great pot. It has most, or all of the things I look for in a pot and it also has a special story to go along with it. And as a bonus, I got to go back and read my blog post about the entire weekend. I’ll put a link in the show notes so you can find it.

So, for almost every characteristic of a pot, you could find someone that feels one way about it and another person that feels just the opposite. Some say a pot has to function flawlessly, others say that great pots are works of art and function isn’t as important. I prefer texture or some kind of depth to the surface of a pot, some people like completely smooth pots or minimal decoration. Some prefer heavy, or more sturdy pots, others argue that a pot should be as light as possible. For this one, I fall into the Matt Schiemann line of thinking when he says that the physical weight should match the visual weight.

So what do you think? Surely you have your own opinion about what makes a pot mediocre or good or great. Can you elaborate on some of the answers that were already shared? Maybe you have a completely unique perspective. Would you share it with us? Go to expertclay.com/mtp to leave an audio or written message which could make it onto a future episode of the MudTalk Podcast!

Also, feel free to share this podcast with as many clay lovers as possible. I know it may not be for everyone, but I want to make it available to as many people as possible.

As always, thanks for listening, continue making great pots, and stay muddy!

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