Last night after class, by the time Patrick and I crossed campus to Diana’s house (and a cold beer, soba noodles and tomatoes with feta) I was so tired I could hardly wait to crawl into “my” bed. (The big brass bed in the guest room she offers for my weekly overnight, with a fat down comforter and Clary Ilian’s book on the bedstand.)
As usual, these days, I woke up at about 4:30 in the morning and laid there, counting my worries, reliving bad mommy moments I could have handled better, remembering in the still of pre-dawn the overdue thank you notes, unanswered emails, and bills we need to pay before the holidays.
Every once in a while I’d catch myself making up absurd things to worry about, and redirect my thoughts: planning cups to match my bowls to match my plates, how to glaze my big beetle platter, and what I want to make next semester.
Lee, who will teach us Winter semester, has been asking interesting questions. He is already preparing us for class, and has asked us each to give a 15 minute presentation at the start of class with 20 or 30 slides of our work. He expects the MFAs to choose a focus, and then get after it, producing prolific numbers of pots. He asks me, “If you had a lump of clay in front of you, and could make anything you want, what would you make?” He wants to know what potters I like best. He wants to know what painters I prefer, and why. He’s making me think about where “my” body of work will come from. So in the wee hours of the morning I lie awake and ponder that, as well.
When my alarm finally went off, I headed for the studio early as always, to stake out my parking space for the day. I opened the damper on the gas kiln the MFAs had filled with our own work and fired on our own (yesterday) for the first time. This is the week that our seminar class– (taught by an idealistic young photography prof with a postmodernist perspective) — was touring the various studios to see and critique student work, so Patrick, Reem and I decided we should have a “kiln opening” for our turn, and have seminar students pass our warm pots from hand to hand to the tables. None of them had ever been in the ceramic studio before, much less unloaded a kiln.
It got even more interesting when Diana proposed to our documentary guy (who usually comes on Tuesday mornings) that he could show her how to use his camera, and she could attend our seminar “showing” to document the kiln opening. She also asked Lee, who would have a class in the adjoining studio, to come by and critique our work.
It was a really weird feeling. On the one hand, we have the seminar class full of painters, photographers, printmakers and graphic artists, students in several (mostly 2D) media, where we have spent long hours this semester talking about art theory, getting to know each other quite well – including all the psychological quirks and personal details that come up in discussing our work.
On the other hand, we have Diana and Lee, our mentors/teachers/senseis/coaches in the ceramics department, the people whose ideas we have internalized and whose voices we have come to hear even in their absence. Profs who are about form, and skill, and mastery. Profs who pretty much think ethereal artist’s statements and concept-heavy contemporary art are… well, “nonsense” would be the polite word.
It was like inviting the new in laws to dinner with your parents for the first time… two very different families whose only common denominator was us, all gathered in one place and looking oddly out of context. On the one side, the prof who is grading me based on my ability to talk about the meaning of my work… on the other side, the prof who has hammered into me (her words) that function and beauty are meaning enough. Oh yeah, and she had a video camera running. And we had no idea whether the kiln was full of great pots or total disasters. No pressure.
Actually it went pretty well. Like the family dinner, there were a few moments when we held our breath because the grown ups starting debating politics (or in this case, the relative merits of non-functional pots as sculpture) — but in the end, the turkey — I mean the shinos — were toasty and nice right out of the oven, everybody had a lovely time and the groups parted vowing to keep in touch, build some bridges, get together more often.
Reem’s sculptures were lovely and textured, all in a row; they are almost a yard tall, and began with the idea of the abayah (sp?)- the black dress women wear in some Arab countries. There are two in the upper right hand side of the kiln photo above. My Anatolian jugs are on the bottom shelves, left and right, and more were in the back. I had sprinkled one with wood ash and it looks wonderful. The rest of the kiln held some big bowls — mine and Patrick’s — and a lot of Patrick’s shinos and Bellarmine jugs. Like everything we do, we talked about the firing and decided how we would improve on it next time, but overall, it was a thrill to see a whole kilnload of our own work unloaded, finished and lovely.
Tomorrow night in class when the adrenaline wears off, I will take a closer look at my seven jugs. The first ones were attempts to exactly replicate the one in the photograph from a few thousand years ago.That was lesson one — how hard it is to really see something well enough to recreate it. The later versions were attempts to make the jug more functional (the original was maybe a funerary pot, and didn’t pour liquid in any practical way) without losing whatever it was that made it so charming to begin with. That struggle between aesthetics (making it look right) and function (making it work right) was something I tried to express, though it almost started another debate among the in-laws ;0)
I need to look at the grouping of pots, now — maybe with the input of the other students — and make decisions about this handle or that, this glaze combo, that angle of shoulder, this foot and that lip.
For now, I have to get myself to sleep. Chances are I will be awake at 4 am again, trying to think of something to worry about. I’m thinking I need to get back on the treadmill every day. Sitting clenched at the wheel and driving clenched down the highway haven’t been a particularly aerobic experience thus far. Besides, I have a TV interview thursday night about homeschooling. How many pounds can I lose in two days?