Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Lessons We Learn

70. The Lessons We Learn

By now it’s clear that the study of ceramics does not always lead to a career in the field. Certainly there are many would-be college professors working now at other jobs. What’s harder to know is to what extent their time in ceramics has been wasted.
What are the lessons we learn in wrestling with the demon clay and the devil fire? How do the struggles of school make us stronger for the struggles of life? How does a free and open society benefit from the individual’s right to fail? If it is fair to judge trade schools, business schools, and law schools by their placement rates, is it unfair to judge graduate schools by a similar standard?
The fact is, we don’t know much about why people study ceramics. Perhaps for many it’s a frivolous gesture of a decadent elite. Maybe the time and money spent mean nothing. I doubt it.
For most people the time and money are very important, and all the more so when student loans need to be re-paid. But there is no single road, no imperial highway to lead graduates to financial success and lifelong happiness.
When people asked me why I didn’t study writing in graduate school, given the close proximity of the renowned Iowa Writers Workshop, I sometimes countered that I was studying to be a writer. In the Ceramics building I was learning the discipline to work steadily and without delay, the discernment to critique my own work, the sensitivity to judge my ideas through other people’s eyes, the patience to see to all the details, and the confidence to trust my creative impulses. I learned the nobility of labor and the value of small things. I learned about the need to care in a careless world, the need to do more than the minimum, and that respect counts most of all.
I found friends, and skills, and a lifetime of subject matter. How do you keep score on things like that?
No one’s life can be predicted, no matter what advantages they start with, no matter what help they receive along the way. If you could be guaranteed a job after school there still would be no guarantee that you would enjoy it or be good at it. Perhaps then what school teaches best is adaptability for an uncertain future.
What can I say? Individual results will vary. Do the best you can. Find ways to be valuable.

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