At some point in my distant seeming past I realized that if I never ‘made it’ as a selling artist but could continue to teach clay to others I would still be artistically satisfied. I care about sharing my passion for creativity in clay enough that watching other people’s imagination blossom helps sustain my own practice. Thankfully I have been blessed with some wonderful students.
So you might say that I enjoy teaching.
But not all the time equally. Sometimes its a mixed bag. Sometimes I have an off night, or a student presents an awkward challenge to my methods. Sometimes my own stubbornness gets in the way of meeting the special needs of special students. Sometimes I have an agenda that is out of place.
Last night was a bit of that mixed bag. One of my all time favorite students was there to help me indulge my Philosophical bent, and we explored many of the whys and the wherefores of this pottery thingey. We talked a lot about various issues. This student’s own commitment to understanding clay is one of the joys that reaffirms my commitment to teaching.
Sometimes the hard work it takes to improve requires that exercises lead to no finished results, or that pots are ‘ruined’ as a way of finding out what the limits are. Sometimes its necessary to sacrifice this one lump of clay so that all future lumps stand that much greater a chance of success. Unless you push the boundaries, or if you are overly tentative, you may never stray from a remedial comfort zone. And if you are focused on the long term, on laying a strong foundation for growth, you also have to sometimes accept delayed gratification. You sometimes have to see the forest for the trees. You sometimes have to remember that the seed you plant now will be ready to harvest only in some season far off in the future….
But not every student in a community arts center is there to learn, and I have to remind myself that sometimes an easy or superficial answer is all that is needed. And sometimes its more appropriate. There are things a student can do just to have fun, and there are things that a student can do just to learn. These are not always the same things. A foundation for future growth is not the same thing as how to have had the most fun possible this one time with this one piece of clay. A student can be focused exclusively on the short term results or sometimes on the long term evolution. Learning about clay can be as brief and temporary as a day in the life, or as committed and enduring as the continual rotation of the seasons…..
So I’ve thought a bit about this difference, and the evolution of my own understanding of clay. And after much contemplation I’ve made a stab at identifying the different types of things that committed students can focus on. As best I can figure, there seem to be four distinct areas of interest. These four different ‘seasons’ of pottery education can be summed up as follows:
(1) Training our hands. Getting our hands to act intelligently and with the sophistication and dexterity of practiced assurance. Learning to be sensitive and adaptive. Finding the comfort zone. Confidence. Intuition. Physical intelligence. Letting our hands do the thinking. Body knowledge.
(2) Refining our practice. Promoting good habits and eliminating wasted motions. Fine tuning procedures. Strategizing. Problem solving. Understanding the role of techniques in addressing specific issues. Setting the table for results. Having a plan.
(3) Training our eyes. Learning to identify what details count in what ways. Assessing subtlety and nuance. Figuring out how to make statements with the clay and with decoration. Understanding the visual impact of details, and how parts of the pot matter. Learning how to judge. Understanding what you like and don’t like. Discriminating good pots from bad. Developing an aesthetic sensibility. Visual sensitivity.
(4) Training our imagination. Learning how to explore. Encouraging the habits of thought that are curious and open minded. Testing ideas and experimenting. Learning how to predict new results. Using serendipity to its best advantage. Never settling with the easy way out or the status quo. Keeping an eye on fresh possibilities. Valuing potential over the actual. Breaking old rules and making new ones. Spontaneity.
These are four broad tools that we can focus on, and each one can be developed somewhat independently with different exercises. We train our hands one way. We train our strategies another way. We train our eyes yet a different way. And we train our imagination still yet a whole other way.
Comments? Does any of that make sense? Did I leave important things out? Did I separate things that belong together? Too simple? Too complex? Wrong framework? Why do I bother? Why don’t I care more?
How do YOU understand the learning process?