You Cannot Fly Into Flying: Beginning Anything in Real Spacetime


You cannot tightrope walk by watching this YouTube clip. (But the person who created it is learning!)

You cannot watch and watch and watch,  read and read and read, talk and talk and talk, think and think and think about tightrope walking and say you are actually doing it.

The doing of the thing is the thing and that happens in Spacetime. And as that link you just read past will tell you, “Spacetimes are the arenas where all physical events take place.” Where you and your physical body are located right here, right now.  HERE = the 3 to 24 (it’s debatable) spatial dimensions.  NOW = the 1 temporal dimension (apparent agreement.)

OK, the watching, reading, talking and thinking will help line yourself up right for the doing, especially if you try to be fully present as you watch closely, read the right sources, talk to the right crowds, think about it in an associative and retentive  manner, and maybe – or even especially – run through the related physical motions. They will most certainly lead you to better observations, reading material,  conversations and cognitions galore.

Rehearsals, all!

And if they lead you to the doing part,  you might be so well-rehearsed in mind, body and spirit, you surprise yourself with how simple and honest it feels. Honey, that’s good rehearsing! As Olympic Gold Medal figure skater Scott Hamilton has reportedly said, it’s also “skating stupid.”  The doing falls out of you because you have successfully absorbed the Preparatory. The watching, reading, talking, thinking, even the pantomiming, have transitioned you to the Repertory.

Preparatory. That’s  still where I’m at with designing my Beginning Ceramic Handbuilding class.  The actions I’m involved with right now are definitely not the real teaching. All this gathering, editing, organizing and questioning are totally necessary to manage a good run when the time comes. If you want more of what’s going into that, my recent two posts here and here do some pretty elegant expository hand-wringing about “my process,” such as it is.

There is, however, a larger motivation for aligning myself with the vital differences between preparatory/repertory – or theory/practice – and that’s because the students who will come to study with me will experience their own version of it. How can I guide them as they transit the continuum from hearing, reading, watching, etc. to doing?

We both know that all the talking and reading and showing and sharing we do are but the foundational intro or interlude to touching the clay and moving it around with intention. Hell, we all can practice the valuable Coeleen Kiebert exercise of physically assuming the positions of our pots and sculptures, but it’s ONLY when we mold, pound, coil, pinch, carve, smooth, sponge, brush that we deeply know what this clay stuff is for ourselves.

Some of these beginners will undoubtedly run gladly off in many directions, full of joyful assumptions.  Wanting to do it all at once perfectly,  attempting to swallow the clay universe in one gulp.  Acting as if Spacetime didn’t include the sequential time part. That’s where I think the heart of my guide role is: pacing the doing. Intertwining the cognitive with the active in our tiny corner of the Wide World of Clay. Supplying a studied but ultimately idiosyncratic version of a sequential scaffold for them to climb around on, lift by lift.

Friedrich Nietzsche (that’s him painted by Edvard Munch in 1906 in the top illustration) said it brilliantly, “He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; you cannot fly into flying.”

Clay work taught me patience and presence. Well, not so much taught as forced them upon me, as I was definitely of the Fly Into Flying bent as a newbie. My endless groundings and crashes lasted years more than perhaps needed. Could  I have spent more time on effective Preparation? Could I have had better scaffolding? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Because of my experiences, I don’t expect to save any artist from their personal process. But I do believe the least I can do as their flight instructor is to shed a bright and true spotlight onto the highwire act and the ladder up to it in our spacetime arena and encourage them to give it a real try.

Class Nuts and Bolts: 6 Thursdays, 2-5pm, Session I: Feb 23 to March 29, Session II (with different techniques and projects): April 12 – May 17. Held at the Santa Cruz Mountains Art Center, 9341 Mill Street, Ben Lomond, CA,  831-3364ART.

If you’re so inclined, you can call or register online at Class is $180 for Members/$200 Non-Members.

Next time: Those visual aids! (Yes, I know I promised them last post and the post before. Clay takes an uncertain amount of time and they’re just not done yet! Think I would know by now, do ya?)



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Crouching Teacher, Hidden Student: Crafting an Excellent Clay Handbuilding Class

Step right up and lookee here: I said YES when the enthusiastic folks at the Santa Cruz Mountains Art Center asked me if I would  be so kind –  and organized! –  as to offer a structured series of Beginning Handbuilding classes. That was a few months ago and now, here they come in just a few weeks. I better get this figured out.

I got thrown into the briarpatch at the outset, because in order to write not one course description but three of them  – Short, Long and For the Press – I needed to have my raw concepts of what these classes would be about aligned with my personal take on the ginormous field of ceramics. Nothing like starting right in.

Just what do Adult Beginners or Re-Newers want? Or need? What do I have to offer them? Could I parse this out and still keep it meaningful, soulful and artistic, for us both?

How much does my editing, formatting and delivery of this wide-ranging subject affect outcomes? I concluded it was puh-lenty and I would do well to start back at my own beginning, boil it down to the bare-boned basics and embellish prettily from there.

So what you see to the left is my long-time method of distilling knowledge: get a side table, dedicate it to the topic at hand, and proceed over the ensuing unfocused weeks to pile it high with everything which might be valuable to that cause. (It’s also how I wrote my college term papers, so I guess there’s a workable precedent in force.)

Supposedly Right-Brained Creatives respond better to horizontal, visual, tactile piled-up available information – as opposed to vertical files behind cabinet drawer-fronts –  and I agree: when I have a thought, a pertinent quote, a book, an article, a snippet of anything I suspect might be useful, I just throw it here, feeling rich and capable.

In good time, I will comb through the cornucopia and discover the inherent order there. Yes, I have a goal in mind, but the only way I realize it is to plow through and let it grab me. Inevitably the outcome is so much richer and denser than what I thought I was creating.

These stacks are certain to contain my decade-plus collection of notes and handouts from my stable of teachers too. Some of them have had genius ways of simplifying and Explaining It All….or genius techniques, genius timetables, and genius projects which I can freely channel, if not outright copy. I bow to those who gave this kind of effort before me, and I reap the harvest of their cultivation. Nobody comes out of nowhere.

And that’s really all there is to it. I’m no expert. I’m just someone who’s studied how to share and how to be a guide and to deliver substance. I’ve got some ideas on what sorts of things are good to know in the beginning and what sorts of things might logically follow.  I have theories on how to engage learners and how to aid them in discovering their own realizations and about how to foster the creative process as it relates to clay. Beyond that, what happens is what happens and I mean to stay awake to it. I’m a Hidden Student inside a Crouching Teacher.

Class Nuts and Bolts: It meets 6 Thursdays, 2-5pm, Session I: Feb 23 to March 29, Session II: April 12 – May 17 held at the Santa Cruz Mountains Art Center, 9341 Mill Street, Ben Lomond, CA,  831-3364ART.

If you’re so inclined, you can call or register online at Class is $180 for Members/$200 Non-Members.

Next Time: A discussion of the super slo mo similarities between an illustrated ceramic process and cooking shows.

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