I was in the ceramics studio early this week. I went there on a couple of mornings just to get things done. Ever since I decided to stop making my wood panel paintings, I have had more time for writing and for pottery and ceramic sculpture. It has been intensely liberating, to say the least.
The other day, as I was pulling a ware board full of Sake sets off of one of the studio shelves, I felt vibrationally happy. Not the kind of happy that results from an event or a circumstance, but one which resides deep within, and once found, can become a source of power and energy.
I was so happy in fact, that I wasn't paying very close attention to what I was doing, and as I pulled out the board full of small pottery, I watched as it flipped, as if in slow motion, and all of the finished work fell on the floor and broke or fell into wet clay and became somewhat mushed.
I looked down at the mess and said to myself and a friend who was standing very near me who had witnessed it all, "yeah, that tracks."
"I heard all the advice I have given to my students over the years"
Moments after I heard what I said to myself, I then heard all of the advice I have given to my students over the years when it comes to pottery gone "wrong":
Don't be so attached to your expectations that it keeps you from seeing the opportunities as they present themselves to you.
It was time to put my money squarely where my mouth resides.
This is what happens in pottery and art, generally. You start with an idea of what you want to express, how you want to make it, and what it might look like in the end. Along the way stuff happens. Sometimes, it's stuff like this. Things fall, other things break. Colors fade or flash. It is inevitable because when you are learning to throw, or really, learning how to make anything, a lot of what you are doing is learning how to solve all the problems that come up that you were 100% not planning for.
This is why art making is such a great practice, even if you are not planning on becoming a "professional." You learn how to detach yourself from some emotional victory you saw yourself achieving when you finally made the perfect bowl, mug, or plate. You have to release yourself from the if-then relationship of, "if this object is perfect, then I will be happy."
Over time, as you work with clay, or with paint, or wood, or metal, or whatever, you realize it is not the object's perfection that creates a suitable environment for happiness, it is the drive and perspective within you. Once you can plainly see that your ability to accept your own imperfections as a more fertile field for cultivating true happiness, you become free to abandon perfection completely in favor of something that is far more human.
This is why when I dumped the ware board onto the floor, after several moments of awe-filled confusion, I realized that I had been handed opportunities. I worked at those flawed, broken pieces until they sang, or I was forced to admit defeat. In either circumstance, I felt inspired by what I saw the pieces asking for in their different states of brokenness.
In the end, I was able to see that the play in this work, the releasing of my expectations of elegant and beautiful Sake sets was the goal, and the reaction to and conversation with the broken pieces was the method.
From that moment on, I decide I would include play and acceptance as a standard in my art classes. I decided that I would play more and plan less. I decided that the happiness I felt would be my new guidance system.
The next few classes that I taught flowed very differently, and the students seemed more apt to take chances with their work. It was incredibly gratifying to see, and I think, though it is still very early, that this will be a whole new type of foundation on which to build my work going forward.
Is an artist, a philosopher, a writer and a teacher. She will be writing random thoughts here. Follow along if you are interested.
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