There Is No Cheating in Art

Merriam-Webster defines cheating as breaking a rule or law usually to gain an advantage at something. I love this definition – free, as it is, from the negative connotation often associated with cheating. Is all rule breakage really wrong? Is gaining an advantage unfair, as the connotation implies?

Now, I’m not talking here about the rest of Merriam-Webster’s definition of cheating that involves taking something from someone by lying or preventing someone from having something they expected to get. Those definitions of cheating are where the negative connotation originates.

How often have you discovered a rule or step in a process that was unnecessary to complete it?

I remember a time when I was working in the studio, making mugs, and a field trip visiting the museum walked through. They were all students in a ceramics class and as they watched me attach a bottom to the mug I was working on, one of them spoke up.

“Don’t you have to cut the bottom bigger than the opening to ensure it stays attached?”

“Nope,” I replied.

I think I blew his mind. It can be unfathomable sometimes to even imagine questioning or changing a process once we’ve been taught it a certain way. Yet this mindset can be an enemy of art, or any creative endeavor.

So much of my work is this kind of “cheat.” Its not unusual for me to break the rules on the tried and true. No where is this more evident than in my approach to glazing.

It all started a couple of years ago when I was trying to re-create the look of stained glass on the surface of my work. It seemed only natural to use a process called cuerda seca that uses a colored wax (typically black) to separate the glaze colors. Since the drawn line is a wax, it is possible to use small squeeze bottles to apply the glaze as the wax resists the glaze from going where you don’t want it.

The wax, however, is a pain in the you-know-what to use and I hated having all of those little squeeze bottles to clean. So, I taught myself how to successfully brush on glaze that isn’t meant to be brushed and re-create the cuerda seca look without all of wax and multitudes of tiny bottles.

That learning process serves me well today. All of my trial and error allows me to apply glaze easily in the manner that best suits the work. My current highly textured work is only enhanced by the ability to brush on different glaze colors where I want them to be.

Many studio folks are amazed when they see my glazed work for the first time. They never quite believe me when I tell them I don’t mix up my own glazes and that all of the ones I use are available for general studio use.

It just goes to show that sometimes it pays to cheat.


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