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amphorae, crits, chicago

updated thu 28 sep 06


primalmommy on tue 26 sep 06

Diana apparently has been unable to get her posts through to clayart for
several months. Her voice is missing here, and mel's right, she
certainly is a closet expert on unique pots for specific foods. Actually
we talked about that this morning. I suppose she could ask mel for help
posting, but I just noticed he seems awfully crabby on that score ;0)

Her latest attempt would have told clayart that she suspects two things:
one, that the rounded/pointy end of an amphora probably made it less
fragile, in that way of not having corners to bang and break. Also, she
points out that both wine and olive oil have a certain amount of
sediment that settles out, and that the bottom end might have been a
good place for those settlings.

It's after midnight Tuesday, and I am home from my EMU marathon. I
hadn't seen my kids since monday lunch time, hadn't seen Jeff since
Sunday night -- but everybody is in bed now, and I'm still wired from
the drive. Back to EMU tomorrow afternoon, then another night drive
home. Dannon was right about my not wanting any music/sound at all for
the drive. The trip lets me transition and plan. I start out with
leaving-home worries -- will Jeff remember to rinse the alfalfa sprouts,
put the new yogurt in the fridge? Does Connor know where his cub scout
popcorn forms are? Did I remember to ask Jeff to work with Connor on
perimeter and area? ... then I start planning ahead. Need to load
bisque, make a shrinkage and absorption test, throw this form and that,
do my seminar homework, put my suppers in the studio fridge. By the time
I arrive at EMU I could care less about alfalfa sprouts.

(I do HATE semi trucks, just passing one makes me twitch. Especially
after dark. You can't look at those wheels without imagining what they
would do to a car. I fear them, especially on curves, or when you're
boxedin, or trapped between a truck and a concrete wall. Twitch.)

And those lovely wispy deer who look so elegant at woods edge around
dusk, look like the grim reaper when glimpsed after dark, hovering near
the highway as if contemplating a jog out in front of an oncoming
windsheild. Enough of them do that so that every trip I make seems to
produce a new roadkill on the shoulder, or that long smear of red on the
pavement which means Bambi met a Peterbilt going 70. At least they never
know what hit them. And at least it wasn't me, the white knuckled,
bleary eyed truck-dodger in my soccer mom van full of wet pots and clay

It's getting to be romance season for the deer around here -- which
means they start following their noses and hormones, and stop paying any
attention to common sense or expressways.

Anyway I'm home again, home again, jiggety jig, safe and sound with a
cat in my lap. I'm reading my clayart while the bathtub fills with water
so hot you could boil a lobster in it.

Art and "explanatory text": This has come up in my grad studio seminar,
the class which includes painters and graphic designers, printmakers,
metal and multimedia folks, plus Patrick, Reem and I at the potter's end
of the table. (Reem fasting for Ramadan, impatiently watching the clock
for sunset.)

Tonight our class visited the Gallery Project in Ann Arbor, where the
directors/founders spoke to us about the decisions they make. They
refuse to post any explanatory text, aside from artist and title, with
the exhibit. I applaud their choice. I think we move too quickly from
image to explanation, without taking the time to engage in our own
conversation with the work.

(It's also possible that a work of art can function on levels that the
artist hasn't realized -- striking a universal chord, or moving a viewer
in ways the little white card of text might deny or cheapen. Then
there's always the argument that artists are just a vehicle for art, and
may not even know our own the deep, unconscious significances.)

At any rate, the directors DO consider the written artist statements and
details to be important, and keep them in a three ring binder at the
rear of the gallery, for visitors to browse at their leisure. I often
like that litte extra insight that illuminates a work of art when the
words are added, but if art can't stand on its own without a white card
telling me what to think, then I move on. Life is short, and I refuse to
spend too much time puzzling over obscure clues, esp. somebody's intense
internal dialogue over secret personal issues.

I am finding that some student-level artwork overestimates the public's
level of giveashit. My college poetry students (that's where I learned
about critique) imagined the public analyzing every word and phrase, the
way they had been forced to decode Blake or Shakespeare. They assumed we
would all ferret out their meanings by the trail of clues... nope.

Ditto for some student artwork. I am not lazy, I do not expect work to
be instantly accessible, or even to understand it completely -- but if
there isn't at least some little gleam of meaning, some signal of
connection, I don't feel obligated to stand scratching my head until I
figure it out.

And like some artists, my budding creative writers often had two "works"
-- the incomprehensible, encoded word puzzle of a poem they handed out
as their magnum opus -- and their later verbal explanation, (which, in
my class, had to wait until after critique, and which sometimes had all
the beauty, poignancy and life that had been distilled out of the
original poem.)

Ideas, good ideas, are out there, in poems or in pots. Execution,
though, is the hard part. And as I used to tell my students: the fact
that nobody understood your message is important information for you to
have. It doesn't necessarily mean you are ahead of your time, or we are
all dolts. It could be that your message is not arriving in usable form,
however inspired or important it might be. Sometimes, if students can
wrestle their egoes into submission, they will start fresh, backtrack to
find out just where the baby got thrown out with the bathwater. Those
who quit in a huff will never make another step forward.

I asked my poetry students to be silent and take notes during critiques,
and now I have to take my own medicine. I think jumping in with
defense/explanation/apology in mid crit just muddies the water. No
amount of blather will change the initial impression of the pot. I used
to tell my poets -- "If this is published, you can't go from house to
house, explaining to everyone what they are supposed to be seeing here.
It has to be in the poem."

Same for pots. They have to go out into the world on their own, like
children, one day -- with nobody following along to explain junior's
little quirks and preferences.

I suppose critiquing is like parenting in a lot of ways.

First, we learn how to do it (as Snail and others point out) by having
had it done to us, well or badly, and having seen it done to others. As
parents, Jeff and I looked at our own childhoods and decided what worked
and what didn't -- what provided confidence and comfort, what created
roadblocks and scars. We took mental notes, watching families around us
thrive or flounder. Nobody needed to give us a lesson in parenting. Life
was that lesson.

So it's hardly possible to achieve enough education to find yourself in
the academic critique-moderator's chair without having lived through all
kinds of crits. That seems to me to be training enough, though
personalities may vary.

Second, like parenting, critique seems to be a constant process of
judgement calls - mostly over where to step in, and when to stand back.
Constant recalibration as the "kids" gain independence. Too much
hovering,and you squash their sense of exploration and accident. Too
little, and you can miss that golden window, the "teachable moment".

I suspect that having brand new grad students is a little like having
small children: one of the things you need to impress on them early is
that you DO know more than they do, they are NOT your peers and
colleagues, and they WILL do well to learn what you teach them.

It works well when it's true -- though it's not easy for "toddler" grad
students to admit that, no, they don't really know how to tie their
shoes yet, or cut their own pancakes, no matter how many times they
insist, "ME do it."

I have been undergoing that process myself, so I know. I had to overcome
a bit of smugness to admit to myself how much I don't know, all the ways
I have been bluffing and compensating and flying by the seat of my
pants. I really do NOT yet have an eye for design, I really CAN benefit
by making a foot, lip, proportion I have never tried before. If I hung
on to the old way because it was "mine", I'd be as silly as the angry
young poet hanging on to a page of gobbledygook even if the whole world
is "too dense" to understand it.

I suspect I may reclaim some of my old habits after I have developed a
tool box full of new ones, but it will have to be for a reason better
than "sentimental attachment" or "you can't make me".

There's apparently a home organizing strategy where you take absolutely
everything you own out of your house, and pile it on/under tarps in the
yard -- then only bring in what you really care about and chuck/donate
the rest. I plan to do that with all my notions about "my" work. I am
starting with an empty house.

I suspect a good critiquer/instructor would step back a bit as the
"toddlers" mature, let them make (and learn from) their own mistakes. I
know my own parenting is a constant process of reassessments -- I find
myself micromanaging and realize I need to step back, or watch how they
operate and see where I need to provide some guidance. It's a moment to
moment thing. Jeff and I do it together. Is this a big deal, or should
we let it slide? Encourage autonomy and back off? Step in and nip it in
the bud while we still can? We often remind each other, too, to save our
passion for major infractions. We'll look at each other and say, "is
this the hill we want to die on?"

Teaching can be like that for me, at the guild, with relative beginners.
Sometimes the urge to put my hands on somebody's pot is hard to resist
(but I do resist.) One extreme would be to stand around applauding their
pots even when they are atrocious. The other would be riding them until
they all do it just the way I say. Middle ground keeps shifting, so it
always involves a step forward, then back.

So when a student makes the same awful pots day after day, it's time to
show up with good ones and explain what makes them good -- then show
them the flaws in their own. The ones who want to learn and improve will
not thank a teacher for saying "good job!" about every dorky dog dish,
especially if they are paying for instruction.

And at the same time, when a long time regular with pretty good skills
goes off in a creative direction I consider clicheed or tacky -- I just
keep quiet. They'll move through it, like a million others did, or
they'll take it a step past the ordinary and surprise me. I see a
difference between making a considered choice -- and doing something
because you don't know how not to.

Parenting again: when my redheaded son fled from my scissors declaring
"No hair cut! I don't want my hair cut!" I made him come back and
present his head for clipping. But this year, he said, "Mom, I want to
grow my hair long like Ron Weasley in the fourth Harry Potter movie". I
paused just a second, imagining what the grandparents would say -- and
then decided it was his head, his hair, and this was not the hill. We
googled an image of Ron and are trimming accordingly. I am refusing to
carry on a certain family tradition of control-freak parenting... I'll
let you know how the experiment goes. My hope is that if I hold my
scolding about the small stuff, I won't have worn it out when it comes
to tattoos, or serious stuff like drinking and driving.

I like what Elizabeth said about the bowling ball.

Chicago: After missing dinner with my family Monday, Tuesday and
Wednesday night for school, Thursday night while I teach and they are
with their robotics team -- I'll wallow in family on Friday and then
take off for EMU at 5 am Saturday morning. The grad student tour bus
leaves campus for a day at Chicago museums and galleries, an all day
tour that brings me back to campus at 11 pm and home at midnight. I need
to know -- what great ceramics should not be missed in Chicago? if you
had the day to yourself, where would you go? What would you do? (esp.if
public transportation is available?) Where would you eat, somewhere
ethnic or interesting but friendly to a student budget? All suggestions
will be gathered and shared with my fellow MFAs... off list or on, as
you prefer.

Night, all... my bath has grown cold by now...

Kelly in Ohio... shoulders tired from throwing 8am to 5pm... I have a
new respect for you potters who consider that a normal work day.

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