Thursday, February 5, 2009

Vampire Potters

47. Vampire Potters

Among the many temptations facing ceramics students is the temptation to work late into the night. The phones don’t ring, the bustle of the shared studio spaces has eased, and a person simply works until exhaustion stops them. This can easily lead to the curse of a studio inhabited by “vampire potters,” potters you never see in daylight.
Some of this phenomenon may just be youthful exuberance, a leftover teenage delight in staying up late. For others, the daylight hours are simply too cluttered with class and work conflicts. And, of course, there is always the occasional all-nighter just to meet a deadline or to finish a project or to fire off a kiln. I remember fantasizing in the weary hours about never pulling another all-nighter again once I was safely out of school. Ironically, I’ve endured more all-nighters since leaving school than I ever did during school.
No, my concern is not for those students who enjoy the night and who harness its great potential for productivity. My complaint was with those students who seemed to be actively avoiding the day, particularly when those same students held assistantships.
Because my schedule was linked with my wife’s work and my children’s daycare schedules, I was an unusually ‘eight to five’ graduate student. Though mornings were quiet, especially early on, as the day progressed the building could get both busy and noisy. On the other hand, the professors were there and available for conversations, problem-solving, and up-to-the-minute rumor exchange. They could answer questions, see your work, and see you as someone who was working.
Of course, they sometimes had chores for anyone they could find to do them. This could be anything from the “coolie labor” of shifting a wood pile to the normal maintenance of kilns and a kiln room. The “vampires” were increasing cynical and self-serving in avoiding those chores. Sometimes, work assignments would be forwarded to the vampires by message or note, and they would get the work done in the wee hours. But this absenteeism was not good for their relationships with the professors. Regardless of their productivity in the dark hours, because they were absent during the day it was harder to think of them as good students; interested, active, conversational, and helpful.
I understand that during the glory days of the Otis Art Institute, Peter Voulkos and his students would often work late into the nights feeding off each other’s energy to achieve spectacular results. Great stuff, and today’s students should not deny themselves similar experiences if they can find a “vampire professor” to share them with. But you go to graduate school in part to have access to the guidance of professors and you should not lose track of them or your shared commitment to the life of the studio. You’ve worked hard to gain access to your professor’s expertise. Why avoid it now? Why hide in the dark?

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