Monday, January 12, 2009

Watching Workshops

[Thank you to the people who attended my demo workshop at Brackers Good Earth Clays last Saturday. The day went by very quickly and that's usually a very good sign.]

49. Watching Workshops

In graduate school, in particular, I noticed a tendency for my fellow graduate students to get pretty complacent about actually watching visiting artists at work. Sometimes the visitor was boring, or they were doing something we’d seen countless times before, or their work just didn’t seem to bear much significance for our own work. I sometimes felt quite badly for the presenter, but what can you do?
For myself, I long ago came up with a “two pearl” standard. I try to always have a notebook handy, to make sketches or jot down quotations, and I watch. I watch with the patience of a hunter waiting to spear a seal through a blow hole. And usually my patience and attentiveness are rewarded. The artist will say or do something, something original, or significant, or inspired, and like a precious pearl falling out of their mouth it will fall to the floor. Sometimes it will remain there awhile so that the self-absorbed types chatting by the donuts have time to wander over and notice it. But just as often the pearl just keeps on rolling until it slips under a table or chair, out of sight, gone except for the trail it left in my notebook.
If I get two such pearls per workshop I count myself even. All the waiting has been paid for. Less than two is a problem, but every now and again I’ll get page after page of fabulous treasures. Seth Cardew gave a workshop in 1991 that had me filling pages in the notebook and writing other things down for days afterward.
It’s important to write them all down. Certainly some moments will just stick in your mind forever, such as when Don Reitz (then in his late sixties) showed us the design he was creating on a fifty pound platter by tipping up the entire wheel onto one leg! But reading back through those old journals I find many things that might otherwise have been lost. I also find the sources for things that I have lived by for years. It can be a fun read.
It’s not easy for either the impatient or the self-centered, but watching workshops can be a marvelous treasure hunt. Learn to enjoy both the suspense and the discovery.

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