“Trying is the First Step Towards Failure”

Group of Cracked Ceramics with Tags of the Reason Why


Thank you Homer Simpson for the wisdom.

Certainly with clay one is trying at every stage in the learning and the making. Try as one might, however, the clay remembers it all, especially in the kiln. Cracking happens. Warpage appears. Or worse.

With failure, one learns to try differently. (Or moves on to something less fraught with it than ceramics?)

With application and repetition, one’s work becomes longer-considered, better designed, meticulously executed, lovingly cleaned-up, patiently dried, respectfully handled, thoughtfully decorated, slowly fired. And carefully assessed. Or not.

The pitfalls of the haphazard are hopefully mostly skirted. Yet, with new work, new hazards await, along with new unknown but certain failures.

Plus, with any keen observation and learning connected to one’s passion,  standards rise, tolerations lower. Old successes are now designated failures.

It’s highly personal, but Perfection is not the goal either. There will always be pieces on a spectrum of better or worse.

If trying is (somewhat humorously) the first step towards failures amid the successes, so be it.

–Liz Crain, who was once told she was “being too hard on herself”  (by a relatively sloppy potter in her opinion) when she did not allow cracked and obviously repaired work into her First Tier. She considers the “failures” in the photo up top evidence of her personal standards of excellence. She’s a QA Team of One. Some of those pieces may be corrected and/or re-fired, but then again knowing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em is part of this art as well and they may not be worth the time. After patching, grinding, staining, refiring, she may still have just been polishing turds and been better off starting afresh, letting the Failures be just that: a natural part of the trying.


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What Do (Ceramic) Artists Want? A Blog Blast

Today's Kiln Yield (the good ones, anyway)

Before delving into the main question, here’s what I mean by a Blog Blast. For the past few years I’ve written longish posts. I compose and edit as I go (a not so good idea), making nifty essays which even I did not have time to read, even though they were worth it, IMHO. No more. Here’s to the short, pithy, candid and extemporaneous post. Longer than a Tweet or a Status Update, shorter than War and Peace, or even a term paper. Still worth it. Still friends.

All Bow!
I know what I want from my ceramic endeavors: the realization of what I had in my head to begin with, only better! I want the Kiln Gods to undo my ham-handedness, my fear and laziness, my lack of knowledge and brain farts. I want nothing less than Transformational Magic, that slice of perfection that no ceramic piece in the world has heretofore attained…until now. All bow.

I’m no different. And sometimes I do get that, briefly. As in performance arts, I feel I am only as good as my last kiln opening. So, when I don’t get the fairy dust, this is how I understand it.

Did I Take the Short Way Home?
Warps, cracks and breakage is the norm for mishandled clay. Glazing faults abound: wrong material/color choice, misapplied, too shiny, streaky, runny, bubbled. These are obvious flaws (except when they’re not because you wanted this exact messed-up result. After all, it’s contemporary art we’re talkin’ about!) Flaws are mostly not too fixable. Better to love and honor the quirky properties of clay and glazes on the front end. But when it does not go well in these departments, have your disappointment, even your everlasting shame and tantrum, then get out the hammer and start over. Oh, and learn to gently amend and refire a little too. Smash seven times, make anew eight. Get back on the cylinder that threw you. Learn to fly with your craft, bird by bird. No way out but the long way.

Got Appreciation for What Is?
What’s harder to understand is when a piece is gorgeous, but just not the specific gorgeous its creator intended. It happens to all of us: the heatwork of the kiln changes things and we hold treasure and call it trash only because it wasn’t what we ordered. The piece is too dark, off the expected color, bled or shrank weirdly. Whatever it is, it failed to meet our prior specs and we’re ready to smash once again. But wait! Tuck this one away somewhere, maybe for months, and then look at it without the pangs of former expectations. You might return to the “amend and refire” mode, you might decide it’s a true goner, or you might see it for what it is.

What to Want
And here’s the Tricky Bit: Don’t settle for “good enough.” Good: the enemy of Best, right? While it might sound like I suggest seeking only objective perfection, it’s really personal excellence which excites me. I may joke about wanting it all from the Kiln Gods, but I know what I alone put out there steeped in my heartfelt best comes back. Often better than I know to want, challenging me to keep stretching. I seek repeated opportunities to do exactly that.

That’s what (ceramic) artists really want.

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