Every week, my son spends a few hours at the home/studio of an amazing professional potter. It's an experience I wouldn't give up or trade for the world. There, with expert instruction, gentle guidance, and intense freedom, they (my son and the few others kids in the group) create with clay. They sit around a table, handbuild, sometimes throw on a wheel, laugh, have momentary bouts of feistiness, and learn together. They sculpt and form and build what only children who still listen effortlessly to their creativity can. They bring imagination, care, problem solving skills, and creative abandon to their projects. They make vessels, masks, tiles, clocks, puzzles, games, abstract sculptures, and of late some of the most ingenious marble mazes ever created.
It's a funny thing. Because after all this time of so enjoying the experience of it, I've just realized (when asked by a friend to see some of the things he has made) that "what he has to show for it" is limited to the cute little spotted rhino (above) that fits so nicely in the palm of his hand and a few small other things still waiting to be fired and glazed. He has spent hours, weeks, months creating. He has brought thought, ingenuity, and passion to what he has made. And at the end of nearly every session, he takes his work and returns it to its original state, a hearty lump of clay. Or, he works a piece of clay until it has been pounded, sculpted, layered, or molded into oblivion, and he decides in the end that he's moved on from wanting it. On occasion, he asks to have it "saved" and the piece is wrapped to keep it moist, and he returns to it again and again, each week maybe adding another small detail. A few times, things he has made that he did want to fire fell apart before getting to the next step, or broke in the kiln during the bisque firing.
Just the other day we were invited into another potter's studio for his scouting group. The potter was set to do a lesson for the kids. She started to ask the kids questions. Where does clay come from? What is slip and why do we need it? How would you start to make a pot or cup? Why might a ball explode in the kiln? He had all the answers and brought a humble confidence to the class. He was praised for his knowledge. Yet, he left the experience saying that he didn't like this class, because (unlike his regular class) he didn't get to choose what he was going to make, and he had to glaze it even though it wasn't done yet. Kids need to be able to be freer than what adults let them be, he said. Why don't most grown-ups know that, Mommy?
So glazing day in his regular pottery class is coming up, and he has just a few pieces. And he couldn't be happier about it. He doesn't compare himself to others or take a tally of number of pieces. He stays in the moment and he is personally proud and introspective about his work. Just yesterday, he said to me out of the blue, "I'm pretty good at making pottery." And went away with a thoughtful look in his eyes.
So it seems, sometimes what you have to show for it, what you can physically hold in your hand, doesn't necessarily represent what all you really do have.
Ginger Carlson, author Labels: art, clay, parents, praise, process