Looking into the Empty Vessel

The Value of the Vessel


The value of the vessel is worth the same as the value of cupping your hands, indispensable, and infinitely variable. 

Contemporary makers will argue about the authenticity of locally made pottery, but vessels made in factories were touched by hands, too. I don't think they feel "less than" for having been produced alongside their identical siblings and shipped across the globe. I do think vessels are sensitive.

Purchasing and collecting contemporary regional pottery gives your objects better stories than their IKEA counterparts, but not more authentic stories, not more "real" ones. I do think vessels are historical records. 

Vessels relatively the same: your grandmother's hobbyist china painting next to your toddler's bite-mark-ridden sippy cup next to your dripping Takura Kuwata teabowl. I do think vessels can be elitist. 

The more vessels you use and see, the more you realize that your preferences are as specific and expansive as the wrinkles in your hands, cupped to hold. All hands are good hands, but perhaps you like your handle crooked like your pinky, your glaze as speckled as your sunspots, or the predictability of mass-produced diner-ware with a reliable french manicure. They are still your hands, you are still a vessel. Useful. Valuable.




Lao Tzu: The value of the vessel is its emptiness as the emptiness of the vessel makes it useful.

Shape clay into a vessel;

It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;

It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore benefit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.” ― Laozi 

Thirty spokes are joined together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that allows the wheel to function.

We mold clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that makes the vessel useful.

We fashion wood for a house,
but it is the emptiness inside
that makes it livable.

We work with the substantial,
but the emptiness is what we use.   

Laozi Tao Te Ching 11


The Pottery Metaphor


Ceramics In America

Numerous cultures use the pottery metaphor as the basis for their creation myths, as our own Judeo-Christian religion tells of the creation of Adam from the dust of the earth. In addition, potters have always been accorded a special role in the community. Primitive cultures often give potters the status of magicians or conjurors, able to bring life to shapeless clay. Even our contemporary culture often consider our potters as magical beings – whether consciously or unconsciously, it is no coincidence that our great wizard is named Potter!

Our relationship with pottery is part of the ancient continuum of divine creation that include symbolic meanings that for the most part remain unconscious in our psyche. We can remind ourselves of our direct anthropomorphic connections to ceramic forms as we recite the fundamental terminology used to describe vessel attributes – lips, necks, shoulders, bodies, waists, feet.  We are indeed connected deeply to the pots and the history of pottery.