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state of the art / ceramics degrees

updated wed 7 jun 00


Andie on mon 5 jun 00

I tend to agree with much of John's post - especially that there is at least
much, if not all, of the burden of learning on the student in this case. The
main professor I had in undergrad, I have no qualms about saying was a
crappy teacher, crappy potter to the 'nth degree, and a pretty
just-slap-it-together kind of artist in general (before every critique, I
kid you not, she helped everyone glue their pieces back together because she
thought it was just a waste of time to re-do pieces just for a class. I
always thought this was pretty nuts, and was always in there alone the
entire week before firing the second/third/fourth tries of my pieces. A year
after graduation I went to an exhibit of her work - two of the sculptural
pieces had appendages broken off that had been literally taped with clear
tape back on...) However, another potter in the studio, (a BFA candidate)
told me that if I wanted to learn to throw I should throw a minimum of four
hours a day for six months, and then step back and see if I was any good. So
I did. EVERY day, four hours, six months. In my spare time I was in the
library reading every book I could find, and was back in the glaze room
until midnight every night mixing up concoctions (hey it's not MY kiln - I
wonder what happens when you...). And at the end of the six months I was
still pretty rough, but was better than my teacher was ever going to be
(well, maybe if she sat down for four hours a day, but I don't see it). In
any event, no degree guarantees a job in ANY field, and in the realm of
ceramics, the use of the studio, the supplies, the references, the studio least in my university, the learning's there for the taking,
regardless of the performance of the professor. Even as crappy and annoying
as my teacher was, if my school had an MFA that would get me back in there
with that giant gas kiln and free reign over the glaze room with it's
endless supply of brand new shelves and 50 pound bags of cobalt oxide, I'd
go in a heartbeat, even if I had to take my classes with her.



-----Original Message-----
From: John Baymore
Date: Monday, June 05, 2000 9:09 PM
Subject: State of the Art / Ceramics Degrees

John Baymore on mon 5 jun 00

This whole "is a ceramic degree worth it" subject is interesting. I am
enjoying reading it. Since the mid 70's I have straddled the fence betwe=
academic / production potter a bit........ being more of a full time pott=
and part time faculty member at numerous institutions over the years. =

Generalizations are bad.... cause there are always things that dont fit t=
generalization. That being said.... I'll go ahead and make some
generalizations . =

First of all, there seems to be a tendency to place the burden of learnin=
on the SCHOOL........ not on the student. I think the student controls
his/her destiny to a large degree. The school provides a general program=

that is in keeping with such things as a general educational philosophy a=
bugetary limitations. The student needs to find a program that matches
his/her desires, life goals, learning style, and personality. This
requires significant effort. Sometimes it all works out OK by chance. B=
sometimes, by chance, it doesn't.

A teacher can only provide situations in which a student can learn...... =
is the STUDENT that has to rise to the challenges provided to do the
learning. Two way street there. The art of being a good teacher is in
reading the student and providing the correct situations at the correct
times . Great teachers can often make up for a lack of facilities,
program support, and the like, but great facilities and lots of
departmental money do not often really make up for poor teachers. The
faculty at a school is the KEY in any program......... find ones that you=

can relate to..... that you seem to have a good raport with. Nothing bea=
doing your homework in this regard.

And it is important to note that a faculty member that really "works" for=

one person may NOT work for another person....... due to differences in
such things as learning style and personality. Some people can have a ve=
positive learning experience out of a relationship with a teacher that
seems to external observers to be confrontational, competitive, and tense=
. =

This is because of differences in how different people respond to stimulu=
and in how they learn. Put another person in that same situation and you=

have a recipe for total disaster. Some people would not respond well as
students to a teacher that is all empathy and sensitivity and known to on=
as all as "Mr./Ms. Nice Guy". Others would flourish. A highly skillful
teacher can play these varying possible learnig style/teaching style role=
based on observations of a student. Some faculty are sort of "one trick=

pony's" and have their one basic teaching style and that is the only one
that they use. It either fits a student's needs or it doesn't. Spend so=
time finding out about the faculty. It is worth the investment.

Schools are about teachers. From that point of view it IS the
responsibility of the school to select a faculty that is a good possible
mix for the largest possible blend of students. Find a school that has
teachers from whom you can really learn. If you aren't satisfied with th=
program you are in........ vote with your feet. If you are planning on
going to school....... caveat emptor. Do your homework BEFORE enrolling
and see if the school offers what you want/need. Look at the
facilities.......... but what you really wnat is to get to know the facul=
a bit...... they are the key to the whole deal. What makes the various
faculty members tick?

If you want a heavy technical focus...... you probably aren't going to ge=
much depth out of a program that does not have that as an obvious strengt=
among the faculty. You might get SUPPORT in your endeavor if the faculty=

really are good teachers....... but they may not have the in-house
resources to help you much. If that depth is important to you........ y=
won't be happy there. If you want to work large scale on archetectural
installations, and the faculty are all small scale vessel makers.........=

they may be supportive ...... but there are probably better venues out
there for you to learn in. Ditto for any other aspect of the ceramics
program. Identify your interests, then look around.

Don't assume that your interests will remain constant. It is possible th=
in the course of your undergraduate years that your direction or interest=
will change substantially. It MAY change so substantially that you come =
realize that another school/faculty member is more appropriate to your
developing wants and needs. This is not a failure.... it is a normal and=

natural possibility of learning about yourself. It might signal time for=
change of venue.

I realize that some people do not have choices as to mobility in selectin=
a school for varying reasons. In this case, you have to realize that the=
are some external restraints YOU have on your school choices and ACCEPT
them as inherent limitations. If you can't go to the school that is the
best match for you because of external factors.... then make the best of
what you have, and accept that while there may have been problems with wh=
you experienced........ it was the best that could have been done within
the constraints placed on the situation. Create opportunities for yourse=
within what IS available, and do the best you can with what you have. =

Learn to "play" the system to your learning advantage. This is a good
lesson to be learned for life in general . Probably one of the BEST.

Now........ this plight of not being made ready for the commercial aspect=
of a specific profession is not by any means limited to ceramics. As an
example.......... I have a brother-in-law who is a practicing cardiologis=
with an MD/PhD background. He went to some schools with VERY good
reputations. When he first got out of school he went into medical
research. Eventually he decided to set up his own practice. He made it
QUITE clear that all of his schooling focused on the art and science of
medicine......... NOTHING was done to prepare him for setting up a practi=
and running a business. That he had to learn AFTER he got out of school.=

His wife is an MD also.... from different schools....... and she concurrs=

completely that she too received no business training at all. So he then=

spent a lot of time learning about running a practice, set his up, and is=

learning still.

I bet that there are others here on CLAYART who practice pottery in
addition to another field that can relate similar aspects of their
schooling for a different profession.

So....we are not alone in this plight, I think.

I also think it is important to remember that getting a BFA degree is jus=
the START of learning.....not the "be all and end all". You've got a who=
life ahead of you . An undergraduate degree is intended as a broad,
general program....... not an in depth, intense focus. While SOME realit=
on making a living as an artist would probably be expected to be covered =

(it IS in most BFA programs I am familiar with) ........ you shouldn't
expect to have an in depth understanding of everything ceramic...........=
any more than you would expect to become a "Ron Roy of glaze calc" by onl=
taking the typical undergraduate glaze chemistry course for one semester.=

There is simply too much that needs to be covered LIGHTLY in the typical =
year program to go into depth in many areas. Most schools choose to take=

that limited semester contact hour allotment and allow a student to focus=
little on more of the aesthetic and historical context issues of the art.=

Remember, you COULD get a degree that chooses to focus those precious
undergraduate contact hours more on the technical aspects of ceramics....=
go get a BS in ceramic engineering . THEN go get the aesthetics and a=
background (sort of ala the path of Hamada Shoji ).

If you get out of school with a BFA in ceramics and then decide that
running a producing pottery is your "cup of tea" .......... then it is ti=
to do some MORE education in the business of running a producing pottery.=

You have the general clay background needed to understand what you now ne=
to learn, and to put it in context...... now it is time to specialize a
bit. Just like someone who wanted to teach at the university level would=

probably go get an MFA to do that. Or a pre-med student then goes on to
med school. To learn a lot about running a pottery business...... you
might want to seek an apprenticeship at a functioning pottery that is
similar to what you envision. Or become employed at one and learn by
doing. And maybe take some business courses on the side. Or..... maybe
enroll in a ceramic engineering program that focuses on pottery productio=

When you get done with these BASIC educational issues.... then you are
ready to start REALLY learning about "the real deal" by setting up a
business and running it. There is no "instant" learning for ANY kind of
business. Each business is different....even in the same field. To thi=
you will "arrive" at some magic level of understanding about running any
general type of business is an error, I think. Think about all those jok=
about the XXXXXXXXXX (insert name of favorite business school) MBA gradua=
arriving at the new corporate job and having not a clue about how the rea=
world works . Running a business is a constant, lifelong pursuit of
understanding, growth, and the development of supreme adaptability to
everpresent change. Why does Tony C. seem to know a lot about running a
producing pottery business? It is because he has been doing it a long ti=
and LEARNING from it.

My two cents worth.



John Baymore
River Bend Pottery
22 Riverbend Way
Wilton, NH 03086 USA

603-654-2752 (s)
800-900-1110 (s)

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