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"Liking Mistakes" - Chris Staley, Penn State Laureate and Ceramist

Chris Staley, a Penn State Laureate and a ceramist, discusses mistakes, and how it is a integral part of the human experience. The video was striking for me, because it recast failure as something deeply human worth celebrating.

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From the "Penn State News" website:

"Ceramicist Chris Staley, the 2012-13 Penn State Laureate and distinguished professor of art at the University, is discussing topics related to creativity and the intersection between art and life in a series of videos to be shared during the 2012-13 academic year, aiming to expand people's ideas on art and serve as a catalyst for further conversation."


This video struck me because of Chris Staley's approach to mistakes, and in a bigger sense, failure. He discusses a hand-made ceramic cup he bought from an artist, and how he was drawn to a little blue speck on the cup, a small mistake.

I think many of us can relate to being drawn to these small imperfections, because it humanizes the object. This made me think about how there are so many things that affect our lives in a meaningful way, which only exist within our subjective experiences.

Yet, Chris Staley talks about his experience while teaching at the University, and how they have their annual reviews "and there's a sea of measuring and quantifying. And trying to, in many ways, validate ourselves."

"But life is so much more than that. Life is about feelings, and emotions, and how we connect with one another."

I think that so much of creativity is about externalizing the subjective experiences that live internally, often in an attempt to make connections with others. Much of our culture centers around productivity, which lends itself to quantitative measurements of someone's value or worth. But how can we even begin to attach the words "failure" or "success" to something so deeply human like creativity and artistic expression?

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Loved this one. The japanese have a view of aesthetics that's called wabi-sabi, which I'll try to explain it -poorly- as "the beauty of imperfection", which is so different than our western view of things (more on
We tend to pair beauty and perfection, at least when we try to articulate it.

However... Didn't you notice that a lot of older things tend to feel better, although there wouldn't be perfect for today standars? A great example are old records.
There is no new record that beats an old record. The Beatles, Dylan, Miles Davis they are at their best in the old records. And if you listen closey you can hear the small errors, the imperfections, but you don't care. They are better imperfect.

So there is a beauty and uniqueness to imperfect things, Chris Stanley said it, it's like life itself.
That's one reason to embrace errors.
But errors also are also learning opportunities, so if we dare to err we may learn new things.

Can we teach people to lose fear to mistakes? To try more things?

Photo of Jeff Nagata

I like how older things become personalized over time through use. It's so cool how over time, artifacts can have their own stories, memories, and emotions that elevates it above it's original materials. And it's such a human, subjective thing too.

I think a deep exploration of different type of aesthetics, like wabi-sabi, and the beauty of imperfections of built artifacts can go a long way to give people a bigger picture of mistakes and appreciation for mistakes as a deeply human experience.

Thanks for such a thoughtful response!