Monday, December 22, 2008


14. Minimalism

Minimalism in Art History refers to the simplification of images and forms in an attempt to seek ‘essences’ and to eliminate distracting details and embellishment. Under the banner “Less is More” some interesting work has been made and many long discussions instigated. Unfortunately, for many art students (and indeed professionals in every academic field) the banner has been changed to, “Less Work Is More Fun.” Everywhere you go there are people just wanting to ‘get by’ on the least amount of effort possible.
I once started a semester with a fellow student who wanted to know what he had to do to get a ‘C’ in the class. I was shocked, and asked, “Don’t you want to at least try for a ‘B’?” No, apparently he was a struggling Chemistry major whose upcoming semester was going to be particularly tough. Just to survive in his required work he was going to have to shortchange his Ceramics class. I had to feel sorry for him and just wish him the best.
It may be that something similar is happening with a lot of academics. Their time and talents are being over-stretched and just to survive they’re having to cut corners and leave things undone. I know how it happens but it’s hard to approve of it.
We can not do everything in this life that other people might want us to do but we ought to work honestly and in a way that permits us to accept challenges. Pay attention to the commitments you establish for yourself. How many classes have you enrolled in and how many of them are studio classes? Your teachers won’t be cutting you any special deals because you’re over-booked and sleep-deprived. They can only judge you by your results with the the work assignedassignments. Everyone else evaluates you in the same way. If you have a family, your spouse and children will judge you by the time you spend with them. If you have a job, or an assistantship, you are just another employeeno one really cares whether or not you have a great personality. As an employee you just need to get the work done. Someone whoseYour work and work habits are either good or bad.(fragment) If you schedule yourself to do more than you can handle, too much more, your results will be unsatisfactory, perhaps even unacceptable.
Hard-working virtuous people often set themselves up with too much to do. It happens. But we also have plain ol’ slackers among us. These self-serving lazy-bones go to school, and stay in school, simply to avoid “real work.” Their childhoods may not have prepared them for dedicated effort. Their personal pleasures may be too compelling and too time-consuming. They may be members of a sub-species that simply does not mature as quickly as regular humans. Whatever the cause of their apparent sloth they are generally poor company.
The inactivity and inattentiveness of the true slacker makes them an irritant in a shared studio. Their complacent attitude makes them seem irreverent and somehow disrespectful of the enterpriseartistic process, but as college students they a’re in the class voluntarily. There are Ccertain levels of effort and respect are basic.
If a person wants (or needs) to take a Mminimalist approach to their study of ceramics, fine. They will make poor objects and receive a poor grade, but I can’t claim that doing poorly in an art class will ruin their life. It may, however, interfere with the quality of the class for the rest of the group. Pieces that blow up in the kiln often destroy the work of nearby innocent bystanders. Glazes that get mixed incorrectly get turned into mysterious new formulations completely unlike the test tiles other students were relying on. Bad attitudes and verbal trash can ruin the calm and focus of people trying diligently to master difficult skills. A student who never bothers to learn the difference between low fire and high fire clays and glazes…well, disastrous.
Every person who chooses to make a second rate effort still has certain basic responsibilities to the rest of the class. They may not be passionate about clay, or three-dimensional design, or art at all. Not everyone can be. But they need to know enough and care enough to share the studio space safely with the people who are making an honest effort. A condition of mutual respect really is the least that we can demand of one another and ourselves.
It’s not up to me or any other teacher to require ask that every student fall in love with the subject matter. But we’d like for every student to be mature enough to be polite and to be a safe member of the shared studio. It also helps to know that the reluctant ceramicist is short on time because they are dedicated to the study of something else. Teachers want to believe that every student is improving themselves in some direction and is in college in part to find and prepare for their life’s work.
You may not believe in art or in clay but, please, believe in your own value to the group. Do more than the minimum. None of us exist to merely serve as bit characters in other people’s stories. Be a protagonist. Be heroic.

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