Looking perfect, A tale of two vases

A story about looking perfect

Two pottery students each were tasked with creating a slab vase from clay. The first one hadn’t taken a pottery class before, but the second one had.

The first potter was quite concerned with appearances, and thought that if the outward appearance of her vase was good, then her vase would be good. So she threw the clay onto the table once, cut it into slabs, pried them up, and forced the pieces together in the shape of a vase.

She then spent most of her time focusing on smoothing out the surface of the clay, making sure there were no blemishes showing on the outside of her vase. She wanted her vase looking perfect before it went into the kiln, and it did. Other students came by and “oohed and ahhed” over the appearance of her vase. Yes, it certainly did look good. She and her vase had succeeded in looking perfect.

Build a good foundation

The other pottery student wanted a beautiful vase, too, but her approach was different. She knew that

  • the clay had to be worked to the point of pliability,
  • the air bubbles inside it needed to be removed, and
  • getting the air bubbles worked out takes time.

The clay needed to be thrown again and again and again, to remove the air bubbles. It needed to be warmed by her hands to be made pliable, and worked gently into shape or it could crack and split and need to be redone.

Better than you

During that time, things didn’t look so pretty. So while the first potter instantly had something that looked good on the outside, the second potter’s work didn’t look so beautiful at the time.

The first potter pointed at and made fun of the bumpy appearance of the second potter’s slab as she worked on it, and kept throwing it repeatedly to work out those bubbles. She said, “You should do it like I do, and make that thing look good, fast. You’re a horrible potter. Everyone can see that I’m better than you.” By the way, if you do anything like that in my class, or anywhere within earshot of me, my response will be swift. Mistreating others is not tolerated.

Ignore bad advice

The second and slightly more experienced potter knew that yes, her slab still had some blemishes, and it didn’t look as good on the surface as the other’s, but it would soon be air-bubble-free and thus structurally sound, and ready to survive the fire of the kiln.

A piece of pottery that has air bubbles in it would explode in the kiln, and while the shards might look beautiful, it wouldn’t be a whole, functioning vase. It might be able to be glued back together, but the damage would always be there, and would be pretty easy for people to see.

Beautiful but shattered

The second potter also knew that any on-the-surface problems in her vase could be smoothed over before it was fired, or sanded away after it had been fired. Either way, it could be glazed or painted and its appearance improved even more after it had been tested in the kiln.

The more important thing was to build it soundly so it would withstand the heat of the kiln. Appearance was secondary to that, and it would come in time. Appearance without correct underlying structure just gives beautiful, broken shards—shattered vases.

Quit worrying about appearance and be concerned with reality

Looking perfect has nothing to do with being good. Christ called this way of doing things being “whited sepulchers, full of dead men’s bones and all manner of filth.” It doesn’t lead to life, but to death. Is appearance important? Yes. But far more important is the underlying structure, the reality. Take care of the structure underneath before worrying about the surface. Take your time and do it right.

~An art-class lesson I gave years ago (without the reference to Christ or scripture, as it was designed for public-school classes).