Friday, January 30, 2015


Perfection is a tricky thing unless you are speaking about scientific or mathematical perfection. What I have come to think is that perfection is an amalgam of a myriad of mistakes or imperfections that one way or another tricks the senses into perceiving the perfect. If you have ever used an instrument to measure a thrown pot which appears perfectly round, you will be amazed that it is anything but. Years ago, my wife and I knew a guy who cast specific parts for the US Air Force emergency response equipment. These cast pieces had to be perfect; they were weighed to within 1/1000 of a gram, tested with a durometer for exact hardness, measured with varying calipers to measure within 1/10,000 of an inch and finally x-rayed to be sure there were no voids, casting flaws, etc. For such items and certainly other scientific objects and calculations, perfect has to be absolutely perfect.
My latest conundrum is at what point does a perfect pot have to be perfect, specifically porcelains celadon pieces? There is a purity and simplicity, even a brutal honesty to these pots; to some sterile and boring, to others breath taking, inviting and serene, that is the foundation of these works. Despite your viewpoint, there is a resolute perspective that these pots should be as perfect as is possible.
In my blog I have covered wood fired pieces as being perfect if they are in the same condition the potter unloaded them from the kiln or placed them in a signed box, scars and all, but for porcelain, especially celadons, a whole different set of rules applies*. Beyond the obvious of good form, symmetry and visual balance there is perfection without being cold, boring or lifeless. If you think of potters like Kawase Shinobu, Meada Akihiro and Fukami Sueharu, can you imagine a piece with pinholes, a blemish or two, glazed voids, glaze drips or overlaps, areas of crawled glaze? While these "faults" work well with the way a potter like Kato Tsubusa works, the truth is, these pieces are held to a higher standard of perfection because of their simple surfaces, any imperfection is glaringly obvious and seems magnified tenfold. With opaque celadons, I personally find no room for any imperfections but with transparent and translucent glazes ever so minor blemishes don't necessarily doom a piece; think of the small pinholes and iron spots in the various seiji surfaces of Shimizu U'ichi and even Okabe Mineo. Over time, the one thing that I have discovered is that "perfection" is ultimately defined by and relative to what the pot is, varying wildly from style to style and what is acceptable with Iga-yaki is no where palatable with painted Imari porcelains.
Illustrated is an Ouji mizusashi by Hokkaido potter, Ono Kotaro. His pots are hand thrown and hand carved to utter perfection and his fit and finish of his pottery is exceptional. As a potter (and collector) the mind reels as I imagine how he is able to maintain such exacting curves and create such a perfect surface. Years of patient training, experience and muscle memory all combine to present hand made perfection.
"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."  Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900-1944)
(*Restrictions, exceptions and exclusion may apply.)