Tag: discourse

CoH (draft 1)

Outsiders psych themselves out. Becoming an artist, more specifically a ceramist, is not about natural talent. It is about time and effort. A diligence to become better. No one is born ready to play soccer, just as no one is born to draw. Or sculpt clay. It’s a practice that leads to perfection with time and failures, the most basic thing individuals need to master this art is a willingness to continue even when he or she does not want to anymore.

In a room, there are several students. All of them have had prior experience taking an art course, but not all of them have ever experienced building via clay. Some of the students fool around and joke. There are those who do not value the chance that they have been given. In fact, the majority seems not to care. Only one or two of the students take to this art. Of building things, out of clay with their own two hands. There is a value to creating, the life of an artist is something most are too afraid to endure. They see their lack of skill and claim, “I could never do that,” but that is not true. An artist is not just born. They are made. Through time and practice; a skilled artist takes years to create. Like a wine, the longer they have, the better they are.

Technical skills of an artist are just one part of the process. Another side is that of the morals, of the creativity. How far they are willing to put themselves out there. An artist bares their souls to the public and endure the critics. The best pieces are the ones that have a story, something that goes beyond the surface. And the artist is the one that knows that story best, yet rarely do they share the full extent. After all, no matter what they say, it’s the people who decide what they hear.

If someone were to look at a handcrafted bowl, they could think that making that bowl was easy or they could assume that some skill went into this. They would probably not think deeper than that. They wouldn’t think of the journey that the clay had had itself or the process by which it was made. The clay that I’m most familiar with is clay that is local to me. Where I am from, there is a business that digs the clay right out of the earth. After being processed, it is driven the few miles to the studio. From there on, it is either made into something or tossed in a bucket to be reclaimed. The clay that makes it into a final product is shaped, sculpted, and then dried out. It’s size shrinks back, first when the water is evaporated from it then again when it is fired. The color or the texture that it’s given is another step of the process, but why were those colors chosen? The texture?

An artist bares his or her soul for the art. And then society overlooks it. The complex realms that they put hours, days, weeks into are thought of for a moment and then forgotten. The life of any artist is hard. They suffer in silence. And only after they are gone does society look back at their art to remember the individual. Being an artist is hard. There is little gain from it. During an artist’s infancy, they are worse off. The few connections that they do have, it does not bring them status or fame. So why is it that someone would want to be an artist? The only thing that they could possibly get is self-satisfaction. An inner peace with themselves. Being an artist is one of the hardest things to master. It required an infinite pool of creativity.

Mastery does not come just from watching another perform the task, though it does provide a platform for imitation. The language of a ceramist is “mastered by overt instruction (even less so than languages, and hardly anyone ever masters a language sitting in a classroom setting.) We master by apprenticeship, through social practices and supported interactions and time by people who have already mastered the discourse” (Gee 7). Experience is an essential part of mastery. Certain hand placements, recognizing how pliable clay will be just from the look of it, even mixing glazes. Talking about such things are completely different from experiencing it. That is why the best mentors will let their apprentice try out all his or her ideas, so that they will see what exactly that will do or why that would be a bad idea. Instead of simply being told yes or no, real experience is gained.

While masters and sponsors are important for an apprentice to gain the full membership to being a ceramist, they don’t take pupils under their wings just for the sake of it. They are getting something out of this arrangement as well, “they lend their resources or credibility to the sponsored but also stand to gain benefits from their success, whether by direct repayment or, indirectly, by credit of association” (Brandt 557). Sponsors gain a peer, someone else who appreciates and understands them. An ally of the same field of which they are a part of.

Decades ago, a Japanese potter created a style of pottery, called Kintsugi, where broken pieces would be put together again with a mixture of gold and an epoxy. Originally it was thought that broken pieces could never truly be fixed, at least to a level that would be pleasing to the eye. Once clay has been fired initially, it cannot revert to its green-ware form. This made the idea of saving broken pieces improbable, but with this technique, broken pottery can be given a new image. This style holds a strong belief that the pottery is more beautiful for having been broken. The cracks and mends show a history to the piece. 

This is not meant to assume that each pot does not have its own story. On the contrary, clay has many secrets hidden in it by the time someone comes along to purchase a piece. Like where the clay originally came from. Or how many times the vase had been started only to be wedged back down or tossed in the reclaim bucket. If it had turned out the way the artist had intended, or if it was as much a surprise to them as it would be to the buyer. The glazes that are homemade tend to be more unstable in their form and decay after time, one firing might be different from the next. There are some steps to a potter’s process that must be taken on faith. A piece shrinks as it dries out and then again when it is fired and becomes bisque ware. There is of course an estimation for how much a piece will shrink and one could take the time to figure it out but a seasoned potter can draw on their previous experience to guesstimate. Glazes can be tested before applying it to a piece but there will then be a delay; the final piece may not reflect what the test piece showed. The initial look of glazes cannot be trusted, reds become vivid greens while greys become blue. There are no certainties for clay, it is too fragile. Whether it will survive a firing is a chance; a chance that improves with a potter’s skill, but there are no guarantees. Some parts of the process must be taken on faith.  

The basics of pottery are easy to master. Individuals can pick up on the superficial features of mastery with practice but there are subtler aspects that one cannot learn without interaction with masters (Delpit 557). A prominent difference between master and apprentice is their willingness when it comes to store made glazes. A master might claim that it is not true pottery when a pre-made glaze is used, that the maker slacked off. While an apprentice would find the pre-made glazes a blessing and appreciate the diversity that it offered them. The glazes are more stable and still create a unique look for each piece. They apply the glaze themselves, so it should count as a full piece. The difference between master and apprentice here are the values and beliefs. The apprentice who chooses a premade glaze has not yet acquired the full identity of a ceramist.

Gaining a foothold in the world of art is possible to anyone that has the connections or the status. Becoming a potter is an expensive endeavor that those without funds or relationships to the art would struggle to find an opening into the world, but those that have a foundation only need to be willing to dedicate themselves to the act completely. This begs the question of whether it is worth the effort to enter such a world. The answer is yes, but only those who are a member will truly understand the meaning, the value behind such a world.


White Chicks in Discourse


White Chicks in Discourse

In the study of Discourse, the all of communication, it becomes apparent how unavoidable Discourse is. Even in movies such as White Chicks, viewers can make connections to Discourse and the many layers of it. James Paul Gee, one of the foremost thinkers on the concepts of Discourse, offers a complex standing on what a Discourse is truly capable of. His paper on “Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics: Introduction,” explains and introduces his ideas of Discourse. One of his claims is that people are limited in their primary Discourse; this is where many people begin to reject his ideas (Gee 10).

One of the people who reject his ideas on the limitations of Discourse is Lisa Delpit. Her ideas are not as grim as Gee’s; she believes that so long as an individual believes that it is possible, then mastery of a Second Discourse will be feasible. Her stance on Discourse’s limits are that they may be limited only by what the mind limits itself to. Delpit paints a pretty picture that leaves an individual with hope of achievement whereas Gee’s grim nature does not encourage accomplishment.

Other points of Gee, like the complexity of Discourse were more readily accepted. His idea that Discourses have two sides is something in hindsight that seems obvious. The idea that Discourse has many faces. The first and foremost, is Primary Discourse. This Discourse is learned in the home and influenced by peers. This one is easy to see how it might be difficult to overcome but could still be achieved. The other side of Discourse is Secondary Discourse, this can then be further broken down into dominant and non-dominant Discourses. These are the Discourses that are learned after the Primary, and are separated only by the majority of the room. In the movie, two FBI agents must enter a society that does not recognize their Discourse as dominant, they are forced to become the outsiders.

Being the outcast or the non-dominant Discourse can sometimes be beneficial, for it “often brings solidarity with a particular social network…” which would allow individuals to have the oddball connections that members of the dominant Discourse would be unable to obtain (Gee). The individual or outcast can offer views and opinions that the dominant members might not be able to express. In an office, many companies look for a diverse cast of people to work there. Especially with jobs that require creative thinking, those ‘oddball’ people, the ones that failed to meet society’s norm may be the ones who create the best solutions.

The benefits of having a non-dominant Discourse are brought to life in the film, White Chicks. This movie brings two male FBI agents who are black, and dresses them into two their complete opposite form of two females that are both rich and white. The girls who Kevin and Marcus Copeland have to imitate are the true stereotypes of rich white girls. Those girls had fulfilled their gender roles completely and now so must the FBI agents. With only a brief preview of how the girls actually behaved, Kevin and Marcus must substitute their knowledge and mushfake their way through the weekend in the Hamptons and catch the bad guys. Mushfaking is a term coined by Gee; it is the idea of imitation.

The first of their struggles comes from their meeting Brittany and Tiffany’s friends. Right after they enter the hotel, the two must use their abilities to overcome the barrier of this Discourse. Luckily for them, the friends accept them and become a mentor for them. Under their guidance, the men are more easily made aware of acceptable behaviors and actions. Without the aid of the friends, their mission to uncover the bad guys and save the true Brittany and Tiffany would have failed.

The next of their obstacles to overcome were Heather and Megan Vandergeld. These two girls were the ‘enemies’ of the film. They embodied the Discourse of rich girls and tried to square off with Marcus and Kevin at several different points of the movie. The first of their encounters was at the opening party where they had a verbal fight. At this point, Kevin and Marcus’s now non-dominant discourses came to life and allowed them to win the fight which had the effect of drawing the attention of society. Usually the idea of drawing attention would not be the idea for anyone undercover but in this scenario it was actually beneficial. The ‘winning’ of the verbal fight allowed the two to be better accepted and allowed their status to be raised. Their non-dominant Discourse was again proven to be beneficial when they were challenged to a dance off with the Vandergeld girls. When their friends who were the ones initially dancing failed, even though they were in their dominant discourse, Marcus and Kevin stepped in with some moves of their own. Their street style dancing brought an uproar that the Vandergeld girls could not compete with. This moment furthered their status and acceptance into society.

In the film, when they are leaving the mall, a thief attempts to steal their purse. Due to Kevin and Marcus’s non-dominant Discourse they were able to catch the purse snatcher. An actual standard white rich girl would be unlikely to be able to accomplish more than a call to the police, but because of their Discourses they are able to pursue and apprehend the culprit. This moment exemplifies their abilities and brings further solidarity between them and their friends.

This is where Gee’s ideas of non-dominant Discourse begin to fall apart. He had claimed that non-dominant discourses would bring “solidarity with a particular social network, but not a wider status and social goods in the society at large,” but in the film their non-dominant discourses were improving their status (Gee 8). It is true the non-dominant Discourses can have a unifying effect but the idea of it not affecting status is farfetched. Connections are a fundamental part of status; therefore, they must have an effect on the growth or shrinkage of one’s status.

All throughout the film, the men are also accomplishing something. They have begun to acquire the Discourse of a woman. Delpit would agree that “individuals can learn the “superficial features” of dominant discourses, as well as their more subtle aspects,” (Delpit 554). This is a major conflict between Delpit and Gee, the ability to acquire the dominant Discourse of the room. Gee has the idea that individuals are unable to overcome any of their primary Discourses that hold any conflict with new Discourses and as a result they will be unable to obtain new discourses whether they are dominant or not (8-9). The film choice tends to favor with Delpit’s views that “acquiring the ability to function in a dominant discourse need not mean that one must reject one’s home identity and values, for discourses are not static, but shaped” (Delpit 552). Her ideas are more realistic than Gee’s because all Discourses are learned. It is not an inherited gift that people understand when they are born. Discourses are learned through imitation and mentorship. They take a long time to perfect, in part because they are constantly shifting. The influence of society is overwhelming and unable to be ignored.

Under society’s influence, a Discourse is subjected to change; when the friends of Marcus and Kevin give their “proper support, can ‘make it’ in culturally alien environments” (Delpit 550). Which is why the idea of Marcus and Kevin putting their careers on the line for this case, is not completely unfeasible. If they fail, they will not only be expelled but also be terminated and could face serious repercussions. They are also at risk of losing their relationships with their romantic partners. Gee’s article would have them fail. It does not allow for their success; the odds are too stacked against them. Yet the two men have the support of their friends that their non-dominant Discourse allowed them to obtain and unify with.

The idea of achievement is possible because they have the support and the belief that they will achieve (549). Their mindset of success, allows for the opportunity of success. When the option of failure is revoked and persistence is continuous, failure becomes an uncertainty. But success also requires support. That is the other factor that goes into the film. Without their friends, who provided mentorship, and the environment of the discourse, success would have been impossible. Success has two factors that coincide with Delpit’s views, belief and support. Without both of these, Marcus and Kevin would have failed.


Works Cited

Delpit, Lisa. “The Politics of Teaching Literate Discourse.” Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom. New York: New Press, 1995. 545-554.

Gee, James Paul. “LITERACY, DISCOURSE, AND LINGUISTICS: INTRODUCTION.” The Journal of Education, vol. 171, no. 1, 1989, pp. 5–10. www.jstor.org/stable/42743865.

White Chicks. Dir. Keenan Ivory Wayans. Perf. Marlon and Shawn Wayans. 2004. DVD.