Spotlight: Handmade Maker

Ceramics Monthly: What’s the most valuable advice you’ve received as an artist?

Matthew McGovern: I can boil it down to three quotes from three different mentors I have worked with.
Robert Eckels told me, “Do not worry about finding your voice, it is not an important goal. Everything you touch or make your voice will naturally come through. Just keep making.”
Eddie Dominguez advised, “Always be observant, aware of your surroundings, and on the lookout. You never know when the universe is trying to tell you something.”
John Balistreri said, “The best advice I have for you, son, is for you to learn how to get yourself out of your own way!”

CM: What do you think is the role of a maker within our current culture and how do you think you contribute to it?

MM: Right now, I see a culture that has divorced itself from the handmade. We have shifted our reverence for learning how to use our hands to make our own objects and food to using our hands for posts, tweets, websites, and electronic devices. What we used to do by hand we now order via an app. The process of living, of making your way through life, has become something of the past. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate technology and the conveniences it has brought to our lives, but it is having, and will continue to have, an enormous impact on how we identify as human beings and interact with each other. When we make by hand, we identify with ourselves and the outside world. Making is how we connect ourselves to the world around us; it gives our own lives meaning. As Ellen Dissanayake wrote in Art and Intimacy, “For millennia hands were the primary instruments for building and making the human way of life. Everything humanly relevant and recognizably human was made by human hands. To be human was to make.” The elation I get when I look back over my shoulder to a studio packed with fresh pots or to a neatly stacked woodpile exemplifies the particular satisfaction that only comes from making with and using your hands.

The relevance of this quote is also evident from my direct experience raising our six-year-old daughter. When I observe her reaction to an hour of screen time, she is completely shot and irritable, as if all zest for life has been sucked out of her. When I see her after an hour of studio time, she could not be more excited to show me what she’s made or thought of. She is bounding with energy, and most of the time we then need to go outside to release it.

To be honest, I’m not sure if we, as a society, have a role for the handmade maker in our current culture anymore, but I do think we have a responsibility. And it’s this: as a handmade maker, I have the responsibility to show my daughter and others what it means to make the most beautiful objects that we can possibly make by hand and how proud that can make us feel. I have the responsibility to show that we can do more than push buttons and get immediate but ephemeral gratification. That we can transform—with patience, practice, and persistence—ordinary material into the extraordinary, and that we have the ability to alter someone’s aesthetic experience in life. By doing this, we make ourselves whole, and can then help the rest of the world be whole again, too. That is my role, that is my responsibility, and I’m pouring my heart into it.

Photo: Mika Perrine.

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