Monday, June 4, 2012

Failing and Unfailing Clay

Lately I have worked on some glaze tests and thought about failed pots.  I have a lot of failed pots.  I keep making them.  Every summer I keep making them.   Without fail.  Long ago I quit asking myself where I was heading in working with clay.  That question kept getting in the way.  I decided to just work through that feeling of frustration and disappointment.  To enjoy the process entirely.  Which includes, for me, lots of failed pots.

yarn bowl I kept because its imperfections were perfect to me







I think sometimes I forget about my kiln's feelings.  It is an electric kiln.  Not a soda kiln.  Not a wood kiln.  Not a raku kiln.  No reduction.  No ash.  Only oxygen gets it going and P.G. & E (Pacific Gas and Electric.)  So asking this kiln to kiss my pots with atmospheric magic isn't in its power.  Nor PG&E's.


pinched bowl cone 6-pinched pear cone 06
             

So I made a pact with my kiln.  I will respect what it can do for me by seeking out forms and glazes that best benefit from lots of oxygen and electricity. In return, it will do as it is programmed or as it pleases.  Be what it is.  And I will fill it with work with all this in mind. Plus an understanding that we both will do our best.

Finally, I will with each failed pot remember the next possibilities.  Even if it is ugly.  By seeing success in the light of its making.  
                                                   **********************************  
Go into yourself and test the deeps in which your life takes rise; at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create. Accept it, just as it sounds, without inquiring into it. Perhaps it will turn out that you are called to be an artist. Then take that destiny upon yourself and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what reward might come from outside.

Rainer Maria Rilke
from Letters to a Young Poet 

7 comments:

  1. Charlene - you have described my frustrations with my electric kiln so 'perfectly.' It's hard when you love the soda aesthetic and fire with electricity. Lana Wilson used to say with a gas kiln - the kiln does the work, but with an electric kiln, you have to do all the work.
    And Rilke's quote on accepting the burden - along with it's greatness - really says a lot.

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    1. Once I changed my approach to electric firing, I find I am happier with the results. I still long to soda fire, but understand that I have to work with what I have or not work at all. Lana Wilson is right about doing all the work. Could thing it is the work process that engages me!

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  2. When I first got my electric kiln I was elated, ahtne disappointed at all the dismal results. When I got a few good ones I was hopeful. Then I started glazing quickly, overly eager, anticipating even a few good results. Recently I've mellowed. With yesterday's glazing I took hours to complete the task. I even put two sculptures in with no glaze at all planning to paint them when they (hopefully) make it out of the firing. Every time I fire my shelves and boxes are emptied of work I smash. Each firing illicits another smashing party to make room for more work which I will ponder the results.

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    1. A smashing party sounds good! The glazing is usually fine on most of the pots---just didn't meet my own visual expectations. My artist daughter-in-law comes by and rescues those! The ones leftover with uneven glazing, runs, etc, do get thrown out. I think I will go out now and smash a few!

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  3. I really enjoyed this post, Charlene, thank you. It's comforting to know that others grapple with similar disappointments and frustrations! I do find it quite hard to take the failures to the tip, and sometimes try to rescue them by re-glazing etc..mostly, it's a waste of time, but just occasionally, I end up with a pot I can live with. These days, I try to view every piece, good or bad, as part of a continuous learning process..

    Love the Rilke quote too..very inspiring.

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    1. Oh, Mark, you are not alone! I think we see our work as expectations, whereas viewers will see the work as intentions (or as intended.) Does that make sense? In any case, it is a continuous learning process as you say. And really, in the end, that is what keeps us going.

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    2. Indeed, it does make perfect sense..sometimes we ask too much of reality compared to what we hold in our imaginations. In an article I read the other day, the author wrote, "failure is the doorstep to success" and I thought that is an excellent mantra for the ceramic artist.

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