Embracing Failure | John Bauer | Episode 810

John Bauer | Episode 810

John Bauer is a South African ceramicist with work in two national museums, who shows internationally. John’s an inventor and material engineer, who currently tiles buildings in kaleidoscopic matchbox tiles, each one unique. John is inept at many things, however, his catastrophes are fertile ground for artworks forging new frontiers.


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Do you see failure as inevitable and something that you can’t avoid?

I mean, you can. You can stay in bed.


If you put your mind to something you certainly can achieve it but is it worth achieving, because the side effects of staying in bed one’s entire life are bed sores and drop foot. And I don’t know, drop foot isn’t what I am after. I have been blessed with a nice strong body and I am going to wake up in the morning and honor life and live a life of compassion. And I have been given these talents and I am using them and developing them to the best of my ability. I might not be the most able person when it comes to many other tasks but by golly, leave me alone with a lump of clay and I can make that thing sing.

Where do you feel the best lessons are, success or failure?

I personally believe I’ve yet to succeed. So for me I have a voracious appetite for learning. The nuances, I will re-watch these YouTube videos of master potters and even though I might have watched it three, four, five times already, you have to absolutely saturate yourself and make it part of your default neurology. One of the things in karate, my brother has his black belt in karate, so I have been exposed to a lot of that kind of thinking, and one of his peers was in London with a big bag of money. He was walking down the street with a duffle bag of cash and he doesn’t remember being mugged all that he remembers a whole lot of nice people running around money and handing it back to him and two men lying unconscious on the ground. And that’s what it is, it’s the training of your mind and I approach pottery the same way.

Do you feel that as you go through the testing process and things aren’t working, do you feel that you dig a deeper well to draw from when you are getting rid of the things you know don’t work? 

You are speaking to a man who kept every shard and fragment for twenty-five years. (Laughter) I never get rid of the stuff that doesn’t work because the thing is that it’s like looking through the wrong end of a telescope. That the d that you gain from the failure, you can’t necessarily extract all of that d because of your limited understanding.

is it important to give yourself the idea that it’s okay to make mistakes, it’s okay to fail? Is that an important factor?

So I would say that my thinking is unique because what I would say is that people are taught to judge mistakes and that teaching happens in the education process. And a side effect of my mother and grandmother being killed by a drunk driver when I was five years old is that the trauma of that kind of froze my brain in this five year old world and I never onboarded this negative philosophy. When you are a child, and I watch my children, they do everything perfectly. If you can unlearn in a critical voice and work with degrees of beauty rather than degrees of negativity, the education process, the way people justify taking your money, is they humiliate you, they judge you, the mock you, they criticize you, they break you down, and they say we are breaking you down to build you up. No, you are a bunch of sick bastards, you couldn’t make it in the non-teaching world and stop breaking down these kids. It’s that simple.

How does your failure create empathy for others?

I think the thing is that the certain amount of failure,,,how can I explain? So my neuropsychologist he, basically, when I was 37 I hit this glass ceiling in my career and I needed to progress and I couldn’t see the path forward and it revolutionized my life seeing a neuropsychologist he rana whole lot of tests for a month and at the end of it he said to me, I can’t give you the results, you’ll go home and shoot yourself.  And I was relieved that he had found something. He told me I am full of nonsense. You have a skills gap. I think a skills gap is the politically correct for what used to be called an idiot savant and Paul I am arguable one of the world’s greatest idiots. And that allows me to approach people who are going through very difficult and unsolvable problems and approach them on a very equal footing.


An Emotional Dictionary: I’m Feeling Very Kylie Minogue Today… and Other Emotions by [John Bauer]

An Emotional Dictionary by John Bauer



Instagram: @john_bauer_ceramics

Angelia S. Rico

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