Sunday, January 19, 2014

Charisma vs. Personality in Art

Carter Gillies posted the other day with a blog entry entitled, "Personality and character reflected in art" in which he looks at the extroverted personalities of people and pots, as well as the culture of character that is often overshadowed by the larger personalities, be they the people who make the pots, or the pots themselves. I found the correlation between concepts usually applied to physical people and their personality vs. character and that of art and the work produced by potters quite fascinating. This folds into the conversations about branding that have opened the new year, such as Michael Kline, Tracey Broome, and Carter Gillies as well.

This is not to say that personality is a bad thing, but that perhaps we take personality over character too often. We emphasize personality over the good quality and character of our pottery and even our skills to catch attention or create more stir.

My initial response to Carter's entry was as follows:

"I agree that our pots have to have a certain balance of character and personality, and I think it’s hard to not rush toward the personality end when it seems like that’s the popular mark and you might get trampled if you stay in the character side. I think personality and character also relate to our world as artists in the way we market ourselves too. Particularly at shows, I think you have to have a certain balance of extrovert to be able to talk to customers, and yet a certain amount of character to be honest and engaged- a person with a lot of character always seems to be more engaging (when not like a door knob)."

Carter responded by saying, "It really is a balance we should strive for. And I’m glad you described this in extrovert/introvert terms as well. I do think the introvert aspect of making pots has a lot to do with the internal workings of our systems of value. Not exclusively, but it seems more readily found there. And I agree that the extrovert nature of doing public business definitely calls on aspects of personality in how we engage an audience, though as you point out a healthy dose of character can also be valuable. I hope that looking at our artistic practice in these terms helps shed light on the choices we make, and potentially gives us new options, or opens doors where we otherwise might not have recognized them."

This post of Carter's and our conversation stayed with me for several days, tumbling around. Then, the thought of personality vs. character became very real for me on Saturday when several people at the Market made recommendations for a new, flashy form I could make, or a way that I could add some quirky design or decoration to make my pottery stand out more, "speak" louder, and yes, one person said, "have more personality." I am given recommendations all of the time, and don't get me wrong, I enjoy knowing what people want to see or are interested in, but don't be offended if I don't take every recommendation into action (and this certainly does not mean that I am asking people to stop giving recommendations)!

I was listening to the TED radio hour this morning (which I highly recommend if you have never heard of this) and was captivated by the end of the program when Seth Godin was talking about the topic of whether ordinary people can be leaders. Similar to Carter's approach of moving something applied to a physical person to thinking about it in terms of objects or things people create, I listened to this part of the radio show with a split mind- listening to the speaker talk about the topic, and thinking about the topic as applied to pottery or art. Godin talked about a  nonsense belief that leaders have to have charisma, which leads to leadership and he argued that "charisma doesn't cause you to become a leader, being a leader makes you charismatic."

So, taking this to the pottery side, ordinary, or seemingly ordinary pots without explosive personality, can be leaders on their own because of the strong character that they exhibit. Or perhaps the potters who may not be very forward with their work, but can make very strong forms, are able to become leaders by the example they put forward. I would safely say we have seen this often with some of the "big names" in the pottery world such as Burlon Craig here in the States and Michael Cardew in Britain, who were humble individuals, quiet to a certain degree, but hard-working, and persistent in their craft. Their work became emblematic to a following of people because of the skills they had and the strong pieces they made, not because of the forward personality they had. 

Finally, Godin said, "If you want to be a leader, part of what you need to do is leverage the tools you've got, the people you have, and the momentum you have to do something...[that] takes you to a new place that is productive and useful." It is an investment of time, persistence, and visibility (to a certain degree) that makes a leader out of a person to a group of people, whether it is other potters, or those who admire our work.

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