The Heart of Artistic Excellence

I’ve often dreamed of being a master potter. There’s something romantic about shaping beautiful vessels out of formless clay. One of my favorite potters, Josiah Wedgewood, shaped some of the most beautiful pottery in the world. He valued excellence, beauty, and sacrifice. In the words of Wedgewood, “Beautiful forms and compositions are not made by chance, nor can they ever, in any material, be made at small expense. A composition for cheapness and not excellence of workmanship is the most frequent and certain cause of the rapid decay and entire destruction of arts and manufacturers.”

Wedgewood understood the heart of business and how it is intricately related to values and integrity. His work and life are a testimony that beauty, excellence, and meaningful pleasures rise from the deep wells of an intimate knowledge of God.

Creativity can lose its sense of pleasure if it is motivated by the pursuit of gain. Creative pleasure must be grounded in sacrifice. The master artist Makoto Fujimura mixes genuine gold in his paints. When asked why, he said that God held nothing back in His creation, therefore he would hold nothing back when he painted!

Walter Lippmann once said, “You don’t have to preach honesty to men with a creative purpose. Let a human being throw the energies of his soul into the making of something, and the instinct of workmanship will take care of his honesty. A genuine craftsman will not adulterate his product. The reason isn’t because duty says he shouldn’t, but because passion says he couldn’t.”

Lippmann’s insights remind me of the preacher’s words in Ecclesiastes 9:10: “Whatever thy hand find to do, do with all thy might.” In the Hebrew language the word “might” is repeated, adding strength and forcefulness to its meaning. In other words, “Whatever your hand finds to do, give it everything you’ve got—hold nothing back.” Then and only then can we take our rightful place as culture changers, and like Wedgewood, produce beauty at no small expense. Creativity flows from the depths of one’s character.

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