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Preparing the Base

Preparing the Base

Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the most famous artists of all time, perhaps the most famous. He was also a great inventor, engineer and scientist, a genius who loved research. In his time, artists made their own paints. They ground up the pigment, mixed it with a binder medium and crucially the surface they painted on was carefully prepared. But Leonardo liked to experiment . . . sometimes successfully, sometimes not. One of his most famous masterpieces, the Last Supper, was a disaster. Instead of following the tried and tested procedure for the huge wall fresco, he did it his own way. As a result, the painting was deteriorating even in his own lifetime and has been restored and repaired to such an extent that today it’s hardly his original work anymore!

Many of us like to try and improve on tradition. When training to be a ceramics teacher I was fascinated by glazes. In the pottery workshop there were a number of standard glazes we could use. But I preferred to create my own from scratch. It’s a tricky calculation balancing proportions of mineral compounds and pigments to match a given kiln temperature for a specific result. In my final year I produced a key piece of work: a large bowl with matching set of smaller dishes, thrown on the wheel. Technically it was very good. Then came the time to glaze the pots. There is a particular type of glaze called tenmoku which I love but had never used before. So I compiled my own tenmoku glaze and applied it to my bowl and dishes. Tenmoku is prized for random effects; it’s not intended for a precise, factory-like finish, so I was hoping for a result something like this (by a potter called Phil Rogers, not my work):


What I actually got was this:

A blobby disaster! It’s one of those frustrating “almost there” results. Look carefully and you’ll see on the rims the colour was beginning to bleed away leaving a beautiful rich reddy-brown, just as I planned. If there are any potters out there, you’ll have spotted that the fault is in the application (as for Leonardo’s Last Supper) than the materials themselves — I think my glaze recipe was sound. In fact, the result is typical of a glaze applied to a dusty or greasy surface, even though I took precautions to avoid this.

On another occasion I got it right, but the bottom line for this crucial piece of graded work: FAILURE! If I’d been willing to use standard methods and materials established by experts, it would have been my best piece, but I wanted to do my own thing my own way, try something different, chance my arm . . . and, like Leonardo, deserved the outcome.

Pioneers and innovations are needed: pushing boundaries, trying new ideas, new ways of doing things, is how we progress. But timing is crucial and it pays to master basics first, especially for high consequence projects: a lesson I later taught as an art teacher over and over and over again. And for a few basic things, tradition is is hard, maybe impossible, to improve.

We live in an age when “doing your own thing” is rampant. A “me, now” culture saturates society. Learning basics is too much work. A quick fix is the thing. We see a disintegration of values all around. Religion isn’t exempt: if the Ten Commandments cramp your style, write a new list to suit. A recent editorial in the Guardian (12 Jan 2022) joined demands that the Church of England endorse same-sex marriage. The piece concludes: “But as the Church of England seeks to renew itself in the context of declining congregations, it should be bold in reading the signs of the times rather than rely on narrow readings of scripture. The gospels convey a message of loving inclusivity; England’s established church should reflect that.”

A sadly mistaken view by, I’m sure, a well-intentioned writer. The “signs of the times” send a different message to me and millions more. The gospels do not convey a message of “loving inclusivity” and never have done. Many Christians misunderstand this. Loving inclusively is not the same thing as loving inclusivity; love of others does not require us to accept their values or lifestyle. Elder Christofferson’s address at the October 2021 General Conference was titled “The Love of God”. Two key quotes teach this truth:

Because God’s love is all-embracing, some speak of it as “unconditional,” and in their minds they may project that thought to mean that God’s blessings are “unconditional” and that salvation is “unconditional.” They are not. Some are wont to say, “The Savior loves me just as I am,” and that is certainly true. But He cannot take any of us into His kingdom just as we are, “for no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence.” Our sins must first be resolved.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland observed, “Jesus clearly understood what many in our modern culture seem to forget: that there is a crucial difference between the commandment to forgive sin (which He had an infinite capacity to do) and the warning against condoning it (which He never ever did even once).”

Sin has never been defined by social convenience or popular acceptance. As for signs of the times: in these latter days we live in a perilous period. A time for applying foundational principles in our lives: the teachings of Jesus through his prophet. We seem to be approaching the door of a kiln; we don’t want the result to be a spoiled pot.

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