What is a second?

Why does a pot get put in the seconds box? Would you take a chance on it?

In simple terms, a second is a pot that has a minor flaw but still works and looks ok. It's not as good as the first quality stock but not so bad it just needs to be destroyed. Maybe it shows up more of the making process than is usual. It probably has a bit more wabisabi character than average.

Some might have a technical issue such as small crack in the base or blistering in the glaze. Other times it's more of aesthetic judgement that the glaze finish is not what I want it to be. There's a basis in objectivity: the crack, the blister, but also a relative judgement by me about what is acceptable and what is not.

The complexity arises in determining what is a flaw and what is not, and where the line between them is. As my skills have improved my flaw threshold has changed so even my seconds have got better.  A technical flaw, however small, does weaken the integrity of the pot. It may give years of perfectly satisfactory service, but it could also go at any time. You could argue that life contains this type of uncertainty anyway - but perhaps seconds are just a little bit more uncertain?

I know that many people see what I consider to be a flaw as inconsequential and comment that there is nothing wrong with it. I've also been on the other side of the equation and seen pots characterised as seconds by other potters which have no flaw that I can discern.

Seconds are a kind of by-product of the potters' expectations. I have found that ceramics is a constant lesson in not being too fixed in your expectations because the character of the materials and processes means that total control is never possible. Whatever I expect and however hard I work to achieve it, there will always be times when something unexpected comes out of the kiln. There is a lesson in seeing each pot for what it actually is, rather than simply in relation to prior expectations, noting that an unintended outcome is not necessarily an error.

But as a working maker I also feel the need for some sort of editorial policy, to be able to say 'this pot is ok but does not represent what I most want to put into the world'.

For pragmatic reasons, the categories of firsts and seconds get treated as hard and fast completely distinct polarities, but really it is more of a spectrum from intentionality to uncertainty. There are differences, but where each person draws the line, and whether the viewer cares about which side of the line a particular pot falls remains open to question.

In short - it's a gamble!


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