Therapy best describes my ceramics survey class. Not only do I get to play with mud for three hours straight, but moulding something useful or beautiful out of something as humble as clay is a process that's good for the soul.
It always begins the same way, with taking it out of an old rusty freezer and kneading it like dough. This is the part where I can realize all of my anger and emotions on the clay, pushing pulling a folding until it's a solid consistent chunk, free of air bubbles. The clay usually doesn't fight back, instead it rolls with the punches.
The number of infinite possibilities can be overwhelming, but I usually already have in mind what I want to create. So far, I've made traditional pinch-pots, mugs, coil bowls, and the sculpture of a stuffed animal. Whatever I make, I must be prepared to let it go. Ceramics is an intuitive art form involving experimentation and stretching myself (and my clay) to the limits, sometimes the pottery will fall apart, crumble, crack, or tear. When this happens, when something that you've put time, thought, energy, and strength into something that literally falls apart at the seams it can be heartbreaking. Sometimes the tear can be mended, but sometimes I have to clean up and start all over again.
I remember the first class, I had to try three or four times to make a simple pinch pots before making an acceptable one. It was aggravating until I realized that I wasn't being sensitive enough. I wasn't listening with my hands, as ceramics Professor Robert Long would say. You really have to feel the clay and pay attention to it, you can't half-mindedly throw something together and expect good results. Once I started listening, I still failed. I had to remember to pay attention and do my best while taking the results light-heartedly. If I'm afraid to push a piece too far, I'll end up with mediocre pieces. However, if I acknowledge that it's ok to fail, I either end up with something really cool or learn by taking the risk. This concept immediately transferred to other parts of my life when I realized that cleaning myself up and starting over isn't as bad as I initially thought. Holding things and successes lightly doesn't negatively affect my effectiveness because it relieves a lot of the pressure. Instead of worrying because I MUST do well, I am free to work my hardest and put the emotional effort into more important things such as friendships.
Once the clay has been shaped, it goes into the shop to dry and be fired in the kiln. The battle isn't over yet, because if the piece isn't well crafted - if there are air bubbles - it will explode. No pressure.... The firing pulls oxygen out of the clay, so if there's a bubble the piece it'll crack or pop open. After this comes glazing and another firing, but I haven't gotten there yet.
It's wonderful to participate in an art form that's been around for thousands of years. Knowing that there have been millions of cups or bowls made before me does something to my creative process. Even though millions of ceramic cups and bowls have already been made, I get to feel like I'm a part of history by putting my fingerprints onto my own ceramic pieces.
Thank you Robert, for being such a great teacher. I can't wait to see what I can learn in your class throughout the rest of the semester.