One of my Clay 1 students has been a tough nut to crack.
In response to our warm up exercise on the first day of class, he made cubes. Great! The first assignment: dice. Ok. Second assignment: bigger dice. Hmmm. We had a little chat, during which he agreed to make something other than dice, to explore form and other methods of construction. His frustration was palpable, and his initial efforts failed, but his shelf continued to fill with clay cubes. His final project? a BAG of dice. The hollow form really seems taut with bulging corners of large cubes. Bingo.
Across the table today, a quiet student remarked about the mushroom forms she has been making. Looking his way, she said, “They are my dice.” As in, forms I am inexplicably compelled to make over and over again.
I have one of those. Clay pieces that I don’t consider my “real” work, but I make them over and over again, on the side, when no one else is looking. They don’t seem important, so I only allow them in downtime, warm-up stages. Today I have to ask, why?
The truth is we teach the way we were taught, not the way we were taught to teach. And I was taught to fearlessly explore form as though my very existence depended on it. It was a wonderful springboard and I want that experience for my students. But…what about the other? What about the ones obsessed for whatever reason with a single object, a singular thought, a simple solution to the problem of the assignment? The same thing, over and over again, with minor variations? Why not?
I have been waiting for my own work to come forth, and it is not forthcoming. I reject idea after idea because it doesn’t seem important. How could anything I make with clay be important right now, when the economy is going down the toilet, when more Americans are working for less and less, when my kids have fewer opportunities than ever before?
Which brings me to my real question, what is important, clay or art-wise? Does working with my hands matter? Is my obsession with one or two objects enough?
Yes, I would tell my student self.
To be continued.