My first pottery teacher, David Hunt, used to come into his ceramics classes in college and give an inspirational talk that relates to an assignment. We didn’t really know when it was coming, so we were always surprised and excited when he sat us down for his talks. After he finished, he would then simply go back to his office giving his students the space to work on their own. We were fired up, though we didn’t get much technical information. We learned to figure it out and think about how to execute our vision on our own. In workshops in this country are often taught in the opposite way. They are a chain of demonstrations of how to do things. Both are inspiring, but in different ways. Both are good and needed, but what David did was something rare and true to the spirit of an artist. David Hunt wasn’t a “how to” teacher, but he inspired his students deeply through stories and who he was. Those who sort to get techniques, went out their own to get what they needed, just like how they figured out how to do their assignments. Out of his classes, nationally known potters emerged, and numerous professional potters and teachers. He taught human beings and the heart and soul of pottery making. That lit in many, a fire that’s inextinguishable for the rest of their lives.
Yesterday, someone asked in class, “How can I bring up the wall (of a pot) without collapsing it?” I’d already explained. So how will we learn? We have to jump in and make an attempt. We have to be willing to make mistakes. Magically, we learn in time the mechanism of “how to bring up the wall”. She made an attempt. She jumped in. The pot collapsed. Now she has an experience to build on.
Sometimes I think being an artist is about having the time to dink around in a focused way without needing things to be in a certain way. Perfectionism kills this process. Goals, time limits, and high expectations do, too. One needs to be able to wander following the hunch that comes from deep within. Have you ever felt like time disappeared and you didn’t think about anything else but what you were doing? That is a sign of being in a creative space.
It might seem to others that potters are just making plates and bowls over and over, but that is not so. Every pot is different to us. It takes repetition to sort out a form. In wheel throwing, our bodies have to learn how to work with the force of the spinning wheel. For the same reason athletes practice the same movements over and over, and musicians the same notes, there is mastery that can only be acquired by repetition. It’s a beautiful practice.