Wisdom from Jon Stewart: Set Limits - Cycles of 10

I was catching up on my backlog of Fresh Air this week. Terry Gross did a great interview with Jon Stewart about his creative process for the Daily Show.(Click Here for the full Interview) One particular quote hit me so I had to hit pause and write it down.

"Creativity comes from limits, not freedom. Freedom I think you don't know what to do with yourself. When you have a structure, then you can improvise off it and feel confident enough to kinda come back to that."

This makes sense in many creative areas. From a musical standpoint Jazz is based on improvising over base rhythm and melody. From a sports standpoint basketball is a free flowing mixture of improvising over set plays. The more limits I impose on my self the more I grow. One of my professors used to tell me that school was about learning how to set up your own studio challenges.

A common challenge I use is a simple numbers game. I work in cycles of ten making different versions of a form to let my hands and mind get used to the idea. In the first cycle I keep the overall scale of the body the same as I change the proportions of height to width. I take the ones I like and make ten more copying the body but changing the foot or handle. If I work with the idea of keeping two out of ten I can make a lot of progress in a few rounds of pots. This challenge is good for me because I tend to make decisions on intuition without knowing why I am going in a certain direction.This systematic approach keeps me focused on the details with out loosing the excitement and momentum of a new form or decoration.

Here are a few tumblers that I've been working on using cycles of ten. I was changing the scale of the deco and thinking about density/focal point with pattern.


  1. great post! something to think about and follow for me. I am so unorganized, it drives me crazy :) i listened to that interview as well and what a great quote that is! thanks for sharing! - M.

  2. I just found your blog. Another Carter potter in the world, I'm so excited!

    I really loved what you had to say in this post. I think it is an excellent way of working, and the dialog between our limits and how we challenge them can be endlessly entertaining and rewarding. The Stewart quote was definitely thought provoking, and I think you took it in a great direction. What I like is that you use your limits as a starting point, kind of like a springboard, and that the changes you make are how you essentially break the rules. Me personally, I would call that part of the process the "freedom", because without it you would just make the same old stuff endlessly. Without it there would be no such thing as a challenge because you would only be working within the same parameters all the time. So I think you got it right that there is a balance.

    The scenario Stewart points to where "you don't know what to do" doesn't mean that freedom is a bad thing. Freedom is permission. Freedom says that you CAN do that differently. Freedom tells you that there are more ways of doing things than the ways we've been taught. Some artists may fail with too much freedom, but nothing interesting will get done without it. The only reason things have evolved to where they are today is that people have broken rules at every turn. If we only lived within the limits it would be a sad spectacle. Without humans having exercised freedom we would still be living in caves.

    And this is why I think art is so important. By using our imagination and making the stuff of our dreams we are changing the world. By refusing to be caged we give birth to some of the best of human potential. Even on the small scale of pottery we are making the world a better place. And by placing our humble offering in others' hands we are daring the future to include our visions of beauty and style. Thank the heavens for an artist's freedom!

  3. Glad you guys liked it. I hope the 10 cycle helps you make some great work Mel. Carter its great to meet you. I'm reading your last blog post as we speak. I look forward to more great conversation in the future. Happy Potting!