Friday, April 23, 2010

Ideas coming on strong - instead of sleep

By now, everyone reading this is aware of my pathetic 3am alarm that goes off inside my head every night. Usually I can find a way to wake up briefly, hit the bathroom and be back asleep before ten minutes have passed. Not last night.

Sitting there in bed as the clock worked its way towards 5am, I realized that most of what was keeping me awake wasn't worry or dread, but a whole fleet of new ideas for a ceramics curriculum which could theoretically be made into a book as well. I started with the idea that when teaching throwing on the wheel, we immediately look to history to solve our formal problems... shoulders of a vase, feet of a bowl, lip of a mug etc... all have historic precedence. The issue arises when a student wants to understand the "why". So as I sat there last night, I thought through all the discussions I had sat through in college and grad school... and there was always just assumed to be an understanding of the "why" particular forms worked. That led me to question how far to the extremes could you take things as a way of exaggeration and was there a metaphorical comparison I could use while teaching to explain how far was too far.

Setting: Twenty students in a classroom with muddy hands. Most have already thrown for more than a semester but these are still beginning potters for the most part. They understand the names of the parts of the pots. By and large, they can make the pots they set out to make each day. The pots function more or less as they should. Then comes experimentation. I have seen most schools shy away from this aspect of pedagogy. I assume because it often amounts to excessive failure. I guess I assume that reaching failure is a perfect goal in art. To know that you have crossed a line of acceptability and have made something hideous, awful, insert your euphemism of your choice here.

So how do we demonstrate how far to take this idea of exaggeration? I was seeing images in my head last night of mugs and pitchers and how the forming of the lips gives so much of the character of the pot. That triggered images of human lips and what they told us of their human character. The hard part came when I was thinking of which pots do I use to compare to this person and so on.

As the early morning hours wore on, I found myself thinking about all the things that are taught and once learned are seldom questioned again. I feel that by and large, most potters seriously overlook the feet on their pots. Even those that profess to enjoy making a good foot seem to do so grudgingly. Feet are not simply a stump or a resting place for the pot. They can be anything. They can be everything from a pedestal to a high heeled shoe. I am seldom surprised in a good way when I flip a pot over to examine the foot.

When I decided finally that being awake was more productive that laying in bed reflecting on all the ideas I wanted to bring into my curriculum, I realized that I need to be teaching again. I need to do more writing. Maybe if I can get this ball rolling it will start to gain some momentum and carry itself someday!


Mr. Young's Art said...

When you do start writing it down, I would love to read it!

justin said...

I couldn't agree with you more. You have such a tremendous command of the why--enough to satisfy no matter how many dozens of times a day we asked it--and learning ceramics from you was such a pleasure, I think it would be a tremendous shame if you didn't share your mind and your skills with other students of the form. You would make a fantastic teacher, Alex. If that's the direction you head I know you'll do well.

-Rob, Simple Circle Studios said...

Very interesting musings. I would hate to tell you what I think about when I wake up at 3 in the morning.
It would be cool if you could put all those great thoughts into a book so folks like me, not being able to study under your tutelage, would still be able to reap the benefits of your vast knowledge. I would love to be able to hear more of your thoughts on the things about pots we usually take for granted.