I was decorating with some handmade coffee cups and was reminded of a lesson I learned while making them. I had spent the summer at an art camp in Erie Pennsylvania, and was a little bitter that instead of getting to paint all day, my concentration was ceramics.
Part of this was that I wasn’t good at it- anyone who has tried to center clay on a potter’s wheel can attest that it is a hard learned skill. I have a habit of giving up on tasks that I can’t master in the first or second try; and this class tested my patience at all levels. There are more steps to creating a simple vase than one can image- You must spend time kneading all the air bubbles out of your lump of clay. Then after arm numbing kneading, you attempt to throw the lump of clay at a spinning wheel, aiming for as close to center as possible and with enough force that you ensure there is no air pocket separating that clay from the metal, wet wheel.
Back to the grind, you then use your upper body strength to force the clay down and in on itself; one move the wrong way, and the clay may fly off the wheel, or go off center, and your clay needs to be removed, re-kneaded, and thrown again.
Back at the wheel, if you are successful, and have “pulled” the clay upwards in a semblance of a vase shape, there is the cleaning of the excess clay, and removing the spinning vase from the wheel by using a steel wire.
That’s just the throwing. That’s nothing of the hours of drying; ‘firing’ in the kiln; glazing; re-firing; praying- and maybe, just maybe, that lump of clay has become a fine piece of art. The process, start to finish, can take days- sometimes weeks depending on the drying times involved.
After all that- My Professor then had us smash the pieces.
I fail to find the words to fully express the sickening feeling of watching my own work destroyed beneath a hammer swung by my own hand. The hours, the frustration of the process, the joy at seeing the work finally finished- gone- back to the dust that it had come from originally.
What did I learn? Don’t be afraid to lose everything you work for. Don’t be afraid to start over. Don’t get too attached to material things- they can all be lost in a moment, and you will need to be able to move on. There is always more art to be made in this life.