I wrote this for a religion based blog but it's certainly apropos here as well.
One of the things that makes me feel very centered, grounded, and spiritual is creating pottery on the potters wheel. Whenever I sit down with a lump of clay and allow it to spin between my fingers, the world goes away. It’s very rhythmic, tactile, and there’s a different kind of thinking that occurs when I’m doing it. It’s kind of like my brain separates into two processes. My constant inner monologue slows down and just kind of randomly pops up and flows freely while another process, one purely made up of feel takes over and guides the clay around in my hands. I don’t think about squeezing a little tighter or grabbing that tool to cut off the top, it just kind of happens.
As with any interest in life, I started seeking the knowledge of other people. I’ve read some books and have joined some pottery mailing lists online. I’ve found all sorts of little tidbits that have made my experience on the wheel more successful and more enjoyable.
Imagine my surprise when I learned that I haven’t actually been doing pottery for the last 20 years. You see, on these mailing lists, there are a lot of professional potters who have made clay their life’s work. According to some of them, you’re not a real potter unless you dig up the clay from your own backyard, study years worth of chemistry to be able to mix your own glazes, sit up for 2 days at a time to stoke the wood burning kiln that you built yourself and have a degree in welding so you can make your own tools.
Dude, that’s hardcore. I’m not hardcore.
According to the professionals on the mailing list, since I don’t make vases that are 6 feet tall, I’m not worthy. And since my pots are generally pretty simple and not deliberately out of whack in some way, I have no artistry.
Many of the professional potters encourage you to make 100 mugs all the same size and shape as a means of improving your skills. I’m sure after making 100 mugs that are all the same size and shape, I would be very good at making that particular size and shape of mug. However, I have no desire to sit at my wheel for hours to make those 100 mugs. And because I don’t have this level of dedication to my craft, I have no right to make pottery.
For a while, these guys really got to me. I would go out to my little studio, look at my clay, and my store bought bottles of glaze, and feel unworthy to make myself a bowl. It was as if all of these people were watching over my shoulder and shaking their heads in disgust because I didn’t place my fingers on the clay exactly how they think I should. I was cheating because I used a Giffin Grip to center my pots on the wheel rather than spending countless hours and countless ruined pots learning how to tap them to center. They were so insistent that things be done the way they wanted them done that they acted as though if I did not use their exact methods, I was causing them physical injury!
Suddenly my once joyous hobby was now soured by countless disapproving faces and opinions, all of whom I would never, ever see. When I sat down at the wheel, my inner monologue started quoting all of the rules and regulations of what makes a good pot at a million miles an hour. I didn’t step into my pottery studio for several months because of they disapproved and I couldn’t enjoy the process anymore.
Then I started really looking at the pots created by these experts that everyone called stunning and truly art. I wanted to see the beauty that they all saw. However, by and large, I saw a bunch of lumpy, brown piles of poo. At first, this really reinforced that I was an idiot. Why could I not see the artistry that everyone else was seeing? The thought of owning one of these pots that others so coveted was unappealing. And the sculptures, ewwwwwww! Does the world really need another pointless asymmetrical thing that looks like a sea urchin puked up its innards? Dusting that thing must require hazard pay! How would that piece of artwork enrich my life?
Then it occurred to me – None of these disapproving people are ever going to see my pottery. They’re never going to watch me create that pottery. And even if they did, if they think that lump of bumpy barf is beautiful, do I really care what they would think of what I create?
I had allowed the opinions of a bunch of faceless names on a mailing list to take my joy away from me. Just because I can’t make 50 mugs in an hour doesn’t mean I can’t make a pretty mug. I like my mugs. I make them about double the average size of what you can find in Walmart because when I drink coffee, I want a big cup. And do I really want to be able to make 50 mugs an hour? I would be spending all of my time driving around to buy more raw materials, hauling tons of clay into my studio, then loading and unloading kilnload after kilnload of matching mugs instead of enjoying that feeling of clay sliding around in my hands.
I’m back in the pottery studio now, and I enjoy it again. I don’t allow these people to look over my shoulder and tell me what I should and should not be doing and instead I simply enjoy the process again. I’ll spend about three hours at a time and I’ll make 3 mugs (of different shapes and sizes), 2 bowls, a couple of little dishes to put cat treats on, and maybe a goblet or two that don’t match. So far, drinking out of my mugs of various sizes and eating out of my bowls of different shapes hasn’t killed me. And no one has sued me for medical expenses because I used a tool to hold my pots rather than tapping to center. Once again, pottery is enriching my life in the way that I want it to.