Saturday, October 18, 2014

To That Beginning Student

You know the one. Maybe it's you. The student who struggles time after time, collapsing pots and making misshapen lumps. The student beside you seems to sail effortlessly forth, her very first efforts round and smooth. I've seen you both before, and I am here to tell you, it's okay.

Hand-eye coordination is not talent, and should not be taken as a measure of your potential as a potter. I've taught clay for twenty years, and I can say, early skill makes no difference to the kind of potter you'll become. The truth is that anyone with sufficient patience can master the skills of throwing, handbuilding, glazing, firing. If you want those skills, they are yours, if you devote the time to it. For some it will require a greater tolerance for frustration. That steep initial learning curve looks daunting, and it is steeper for some than others, but it is the least part of your life as a potter.

The differences I see between students who go on to become fine potters and students who either wander off into other interests (nothing wrong with that!) or become makers of dull ware are: a love of the material and intellectual curiosity about it; a deep interest in process; and a willingness to make the extra effort to make the work good. The detail work, the exploration, the mindfulness, the willingness to risk failure: these are the things that lead a potter to fine work. Early skill? Not so much. It's not a hindrance, I'm not saying that. It just doesn't matter.

In fact I kind of hate the word talent. It implies a kind of some-got-it, some-don't fatalism. There are the Picassos of the world, people whose minds work so differently that they change the way we all think about something, but they are so vanishingly rare they need have no part in this discussion. If you think you need to be the Picasso of clay - or if you think you are the Picasso of clay - you're wrong. Okay, technically, somebody reading this could be the Picasso of clay: see again vanishingly rare. And that's okay.

Keep throwing. Keep making. A little extra time in the studio makes a big difference. Comparisons are odorous: they stink. So don't side-eye they person beside you with their tidy little board of sleek pots. They could go on to make incredible, engaging, fascinating work. Or not. So could you. At this point nothing points to the one over the other.

Hang in there. 

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