Thursday, January 8, 2009


7. Hoops

One of the most common complaints of college students everywhere (and art students in particular) is of all the seemingly arbitrary ‘hoops’ they have to jump through to earn their degrees. Part of the gripe, I’m sure, is that those hoops often seem to test for mere obedience rather than any skill or creativity. In some cases, that may be.
There are three broad categories of requirements that irritate college students. The first are the requirements set forth by the institution for admission and degree completion. The second are those requirements created by the particular academic department for course distribution, undergraduate prerequisites, portfolio review, and normal progress towards a degree. And the third are the individual assignments and expectations of particular instructors in specific courses.
Now I could tell stories and give examples but that might give the impression that I share the students’ complaints. Certainly I’ve moaned my way through a variety of hoops, but like the weather, hoops don’t go away once you’ve earned your degree. Everyone has to work within limitations of some sort. The most obvious limitations for the postgraduate ceramic artist are the practical constraints of time and equipment. Richard Notkin, speaking at an NCECA conference, spoke of his first studio following graduate school. The interior volume of his kiln was an eleven inch cube, and it took him three months to make enough work to fill it. The audience laughed when they heard this, as if they thought him lazy or incompetent, and he rightly took offense. His works are quite small, elaborately detailed, time-consuming to create, and quite worthy of the international praise they’ve earned over the years. He took a limitation (size) and made it a strength, a triumph of imagery.
Beyond the constraints of your personal studio you will discover countless other barriers to absolute freedom. Do you propose to sell your work? In what venues and to what audiences? The originality of your creations may demand elaborate efforts on your part to get that work shown and sold. More conventional work might be simpler to market. Regardless of marketing efforts, you will also have records to keep and taxes (income, sales, self-employment) to consider. (All hoops.)
Even without the external constraints of business there are your internal boundaries as an artist. You will always have the limits of your own imagination and physical skills. What you dream of can not always be accomplished and what you can not dream of will never be attempted.
The news is not all bad, though. First, the requirements of colleges and universities (and their individual departments) can be predicted. All those administrative hoops are written down in the Graduate Catalog and the “Departmental Requirements for Degree Completion”. Do your research. Maybe the program that looks good from a distance looks goofier up close. Try not to evaluate these requirements with too lazy a spirit, but take the time to know what they are. I have been required, on separate occasions, to take a Historiography class and what I thought was an unnecessary Drawing class. Both proved to be very helpful. They were “good hoops” and I’m glad that I was forced through them.
Note: Ask other students about the particular professors teaching required courses. Certain types will abuse their power when teaching a captive audience in a required course and you should plan that semester accordingly.
Second, many working artists find the challenge of “coloring inside the lines” stimulating. By having set limits to the scope of a particular project they can throw out all the distractions which do not fit the problem. They also have deadlines and know that, love it or hate it, the whole thing will be done and over by such-and-such a time. Further, when they succeed, with style and originality, on this narrowly encompassed challenge, they know that they have accomplished something truly wonderful.
Yes, hoops can be annoying and some schools should probably be avoided if their requirements are too numerous and too odd, but no education (no life) is completely free of limits and constraints. Examine those constraints carefully, understand them, and do what you can to blossom within them. Understand too the problems you create for yourself through the patterns of your own thinking. Expect to be a problem-solver not a challenge-avoider.


French Fancy said...

Sorry this isn't about hoops - although it is always better to be a problem solver - I just wondered what you thought of the new Al Stewart CD.

Hope you've managed to avoid bad colds so far this winter

Larry M. Brow said...

Haven't heard the album, or of it, until your mention. I'll look it up. No colds yet, and only a couple for the wife and kid. We all had the flu shot and I try to be especially good about washing my hands. Some of that happens anyway, being a potter.