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. 


Anonymous said...

ok, so I struggled, practiced, tolerated failure, read lots, lots of trial and error. Now, people tell me how beautiful my work is, but NO ONE will buy it. Why have I been working so hard at this for all of these years?

Lori Watts said...

Carol - oh man do I feel ya! That is a whole 'nother blog post. The short of it is that the work is not getting in front of the right eyes...but how to get there? That's the $64,000 question.

smartcat said...

I always said that learning to throw is like babies learning to walk. Some babies walk early, some late but they all walk and when they learn no one can tell when they took those first steps.

Hope Hunter Knight said...

My first wheel class was in college, and until you threw a cylinder that was a certain height and thickness, you couldn't save any pieces. It took me all semester, and literally the last week of class I GOT IT. Something finally clicked with the position or tension of my body and I then fell in love with the wheel.
After that, there were certain days that I couldn't get it right again, something was off in my balance, so I'd just hang it up for the day and then the next day it would be on again. I just learned not to fight with it.
Wish I could get on the wheel more often these days.

Lori Watts said...

@smartcat - wish I had thought to put it that way!
@Hope - I had a "click" moment, too, and then days when I couldn't throw a single thing. When I see students have those days I remember, and remind them, that for me those often preceded a jump in skill.

Chrys Art Glass said...

As a beginner trying to learn from the internet and the very sharing art community, I really appreciate your encouraging words.
Thanks so much :)