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To School or not to School? How has your choice affected your life in clay?


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#1 Lesley B.

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Posted 16 September 2012 - 12:35 AM

I have made my living as an actor since 1994, and have been making functional pottery for my own use as a side passion since 2000. But recently I have been withdrawing from my life as an actor and have been thinking seriously about a life in clay. Or at least a supplemental life in clay (an actor's life is made up of supplements). At 40, I can no longer deny my passion for ceramics. I think about it constantly, spend hours online pouring over youtube videos and Ceramics Arts Daily. I'm giddy and obsessed and it feels like I"m having an affair with someone else's career. But I'm 40! I have a husband! a toddler! responsibilities! So here is my question:

How has having or not having a formal education in clay enriched or hindered your life as a professional potter?

This is what I think one gets from a degree:

Confidence (twelve years of throwing and I still hesitate to call myself a potter. What's that about?)
Technical proficiency
Discipline
My voice as an artist

Meanwhile, I already throw at a large, fantastic studio, rich with teachers, seasoned potters and an ever changing class schedule.

Very interested in your input and in the paths you took to making a life in clay. Thanks in advance!

#2 Benzine

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Posted 16 September 2012 - 09:34 AM

I have made my living as an actor since 1994, and have been making functional pottery for my own use as a side passion since 2000. But recently I have been withdrawing from my life as an actor and have been thinking seriously about a life in clay. Or at least a supplemental life in clay (an actor's life is made up of supplements). At 40, I can no longer deny my passion for ceramics. I think about it constantly, spend hours online pouring over youtube videos and Ceramics Arts Daily. I'm giddy and obsessed and it feels like I"m having an affair with someone else's career. But I'm 40! I have a husband! a toddler! responsibilities! So here is my question:

How has having or not having a formal education in clay enriched or hindered your life as a professional potter?

This is what I think one gets from a degree:

Confidence (twelve years of throwing and I still hesitate to call myself a potter. What's that about?)
Technical proficiency
Discipline
My voice as an artist

Meanwhile, I already throw at a large, fantastic studio, rich with teachers, seasoned potters and an ever changing class schedule.

Very interested in your input and in the paths you took to making a life in clay. Thanks in advance!


Going to Art School doesn't make one an artist.

From the looks of it, you've got plenty of experience as is, definitely more than me.
The immersion in your work makes you an artist. Beyond that it is a matter of practice and learning new things, both of which you are already doing. You also seem to have a good source of support and information at your studio, so you really can't ask for anything more.

The only caveat I see, would be if you wanted to teach. People like the reassurance that they are learning from someone, with a proper, "Formal" education. So I guess it's just a matter of what you plan to do in the field.
"Anything worth believing, is worth questioning"

#3 Stephen Robison

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Posted 16 September 2012 - 10:13 AM

Going to a university to study certainly doesn't make you an artist. If you make pots you are a potter, if you sculpt you are a sculptor. Sure, but are you any good? Does a formal education make you a better potter, well it certainly can. But the only guarantee is that dedication and hard work with insightful research will make you better. Becoming a better potter or artist can definitely be aided by a good BFA and then a good MFA program. Is it the only way to get to point b, no. But is it one of the best ways to get immersed in a discipline, yes. Lets take another field for example. How about botany, can you really become an expert botanist with out studying in a college environment? I think it would be possible, but if I were wanting to become a professional in any given area I would study and get a degree in that area, for some jobs is a necessity for art, music or theatre it is not a necessity. Yes if you want to teach at almost any level you will need a degree, but that is not the main reason to get a degree. The main reason to get a degree is to be well rounded and as informed an artist as you can be. The degree doesn't do it alone, it takes constant study during and after obtaining ones degree. As a life long learner I am always constantly dissecting images, advancing my skills on the wheel, off the wheel, in other materials and on paper and canvas and investing time in the study of philosophies rooted in art and other areas... this is a constant. That kind of learning for me started with my professors direction, guidance and mentoring. This topic has come up a few times. What is better, to get a degree or to be an apprentice or to take workshops or ???? Any direction is good but a good combination starting maybe with an undergrad in art may be the best and then some time as an assistant and working for someone and maybe a residency or two. Your 40, so what, time starts when you decide. If you have been at it for 10 years then you are well on your way and started on your path a decade ago. Keep at it and wish you the best in your endeavors.
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#4 Lesley B.

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Posted 16 September 2012 - 05:38 PM

Thank you both for your thoughtful replies. I suspect that what I really crave is the immersion and confidence a degree would offer. But at this stage in my life, going down that path is pretty impractical. I think I'm going to have to strive to create that same immersion for myself, piecemeal. And Stephen, thanks especially for reminding me that I stepped on this path over a decade ago. I've been thinking more about where I want to go than where I've come, and both are important.

#5 Amy Waller

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Posted 17 September 2012 - 10:03 AM

I was in a similar spot a few years ago. I considered going back to school but decided not to in the end. One of the first things I did was to get a good history of pottery book ("10,000 years of pottery" by Emmanuel Cooper). I picked one topic from each chapter to research further. For me, this was a good way to start figuring out what I wanted to learn more about - where I wanted to focus my immersion efforts, if you will.

You mentioned that you were having a hard time thinking of yourself as a potter. I can relate to this. One of the best pieces of advice I've heard came from a professional development workshop (for craftspeople) and it was this: don't talk about your previous profession - don't include it on your resume, don't talk about it in your artist statement, etc. As the person teaching the workshop put it (to the best of my recollection), "I don't care that you were an engineer or whatever for 20 or 40 years or however long - I only want to know about what you've done as related to the craft you're practicing now." I find myself thinking of this almost every time someone asks me what I do. Saying simply that I'm a potter gets a very different response from talking about what I used to do and how I'm trying something new in my life now.

I think there are many ways to get to where you want to go. Good luck as you go forward.


#6 Mark C.

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Posted 17 September 2012 - 10:42 AM

How has having or not having a formal education in clay enriched or hindered your life as a professional potter?
Having this formal background has helped me a professional potter-I did not use the degree to teach-I used the education to work full time making pots. It was not a thought out plan or even an idea it just happened. Many of the things I know came from years of work outside the Collage system. My life just morphed into a life around clay.

I started out as a teenager with clay. As clay came late for you and teaching is not your passion I'm not sure school is the right path. It will not hurt you in any way-knowledge is what you in need in ceramics. This can be had in many ways.et involved with real potters making a go of it-learn all you can-learn to fire and make glazes-If you go to school pick one that has peaople who have a broad based level of knowledge. Many collage programs now just open jars of glaze and you do not need to go to school for learning this.
Gather as much education from people working in clay and that will be enough of a start for you.
I'm not sure your 4 school points would come from school anyway

mark
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#7 GEP

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Posted 17 September 2012 - 11:48 AM

Thank you both for your thoughtful replies. I suspect that what I really crave is the immersion and confidence a degree would offer. But at this stage in my life, going down that path is pretty impractical. I think I'm going to have to strive to create that same immersion for myself, piecemeal. And Stephen, thanks especially for reminding me that I stepped on this path over a decade ago. I've been thinking more about where I want to go than where I've come, and both are important.


Don't worry, confidence does not come from a college degree anyways. That comes from within. Your level of obsession is a good trait, it will drive you to continue even when things are discouraging. I do have a college degree in something else, which I think is useful in terms of navigating a professional life, but I never studied ceramics in college. I started in a community studio like you, until I was ready to put together my own studio, and now make a living with my pots. My ceramics education came from reading books, taking myself to workshops, and endless hours of practice by myself. It's been 18 years since I started. Not an easy journey. And not fast. But these days on a regular basis, I think to myself "this life is even better than I was expecting."

Mea
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#8 Pres

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Posted 17 September 2012 - 12:42 PM

I have made my living as an actor since 1994, and have been making functional pottery for my own use as a side passion since 2000. But recently I have been withdrawing from my life as an actor and have been thinking seriously about a life in clay. Or at least a supplemental life in clay (an actor's life is made up of supplements). At 40, I can no longer deny my passion for ceramics. I think about it constantly, spend hours online pouring over youtube videos and Ceramics Arts Daily. I'm giddy and obsessed and it feels like I"m having an affair with someone else's career. But I'm 40! I have a husband! a toddler! responsibilities! So here is my question:

How has having or not having a formal education in clay enriched or hindered your life as a professional potter?

This is what I think one gets from a degree:

Confidence (twelve years of throwing and I still hesitate to call myself a potter. What's that about?)
Technical proficiency
Discipline
My voice as an artist

Meanwhile, I already throw at a large, fantastic studio, rich with teachers, seasoned potters and an ever changing class schedule.

Very interested in your input and in the paths you took to making a life in clay. Thanks in advance!


Everyone has given you great advice here. I will add a few other words that may or may not have impact. From all indications you are working in a nurturing environment right now that probably could not be made any better by being in a university majoring in Ceramics. You have all of the tools supposedly, and the ability to learn on your own, and a community of others to comment on your work, and to learn from. Great stuff. I went the college route, degree in Art Education-jack of all trades master of none in art. Turned out I got bitten by the clay. My years as a teacher immersed me more and more in the clay. However, many times I would find myself falling back on other skills that I learned in my younger years. I worked in an air craft factory manufacturing parts with all sorts of manufacturing tools working with metal. I worked for a printer-cleaning up negatives and doing paste ups. I worked in a bank as a trouble shooter for bad books. I worked in a mom and pop store clerking and stocking shelves, and also worked on farms doing the milking, haying, and other farm work. Many of these side shows allowed me to come up with solutions for my classroom, and my own pottery. They helped me to make tools, and repair the ones I had. They also taught me the value of hard work. Even the college courses in other media have come in handy so many times-drawing to plan out ideas, and get an idea for proportions. Maquettes made from paper or cardboard using sculptor skills. Hinges and other findings for special projects made from metal using skills for Jewelry and metal craft and the air craft manufacturing. At the same time the exposure to art works from times and cultures that I was not aware of allowed me to "steal" ideas made my own. These may be bar reliefs from ancient Celtic or Roman tribute stones, or carved wooden facades in a North Western Native American lodge. All of these things make me what I am. For me college led to a broader path, yet it does not mean it would for you, just to point that there are many facets to the story and that none of these should be left out or forgotten.

Simply retired teacher, not dead, living the dream. on and on and. . . . on. . . .                                                                                 http://picworkspottery.blogspot.com/


#9 Cass

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Posted 17 September 2012 - 01:25 PM

i have one semester to go for my BFA from UM Missoula (i know, i know)...never regretted stopping though

my wife and i have run a successful clay business for 15 years (with no biz degree either, by the way)

we lived 3 years in france with our claywork and classes to support us

NONE of my friends who DID go on to get their BFA's are working in an art related field today

i found my 'immersion' outside of school when there are fewer distractions... and needs, such as food, clothing, shelter and beer were lighting a fire under me to 'go deep', i called it on the job training, lol

as side note, my emphasis in school was in drawing and printmaking, i only had ceramics 1

true story...one day i was in the clay studio bathroom and saw, scrawled above the toilet paper dispenser.."UM art degees! Take One!" and thought, do i need this? and quit

not saying this is the path for you, or anyone, just one (my) anecdotal story

#10 Edith Marie

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Posted 17 September 2012 - 02:46 PM

i have one semester to go for my BFA from UM Missoula (i know, i know)...never regretted stopping though

my wife and i have run a successful clay business for 15 years (with no biz degree either, by the way)

we lived 3 years in france with our claywork and classes to support us

NONE of my friends who DID go on to get their BFA's are working in an art related field today

i found my 'immersion' outside of school when there are fewer distractions... and needs, such as food, clothing, shelter and beer were lighting a fire under me to 'go deep', i called it on the job training, lol

as side note, my emphasis in school was in drawing and printmaking, i only had ceramics 1

true story...one day i was in the clay studio bathroom and saw, scrawled above the toilet paper dispenser.."UM art degees! Take One!" and thought, do i need this? and quit

not saying this is the path for you, or anyone, just one (my) anecdotal story



Hello Cass, were you asleep at your desk when grammer was taught or maybe typing is not in your jeans.....just an observation. You are fortunate to live in France and now you are able to put yourself through college. Congrats. College education was not an option after high school and hasn't been a burning desire during my life adventure. Falling in love with clay, that in itself has been one of my favorite blessings and breaking or throwing away icky pots not so easy, they found new life in my flower beds.

Edie

#11 Cass

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Posted 17 September 2012 - 02:59 PM

"Falling in love with clay, that in itself has been one of my favorite blessings and breaking or throwing away icky pots not so easy, they found new life in my flower beds."

this is just one of the glaring run-on sentences in your post Duckie...you actually have three sentences there, with three different tenses, subjects, and predicates....just an observation

expediency is my forum posting method, obviously i am easy to understand, even if you can't make it to the last sentence of my post

#12 bciskepottery

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Posted 17 September 2012 - 09:43 PM

You might find the path of Akira Satake somewhat relative . . . he was a successful musician, record producer, etc. in NYC and decided he needed a change . . . took a pottery class and decided that would be his new livelihood. He moved his family down to NC (Asheville area) and set up shop. I recall him saying that his formal pottery education was two sessions at the YMCA in NYC, one wheel, one handbuilding.

#13 Amy Waller

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Posted 18 September 2012 - 12:12 PM

This recently revived thread over on the business forum discusses the education question:

Etsy or Ebay?



#14 Idaho Potter

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Posted 19 September 2012 - 06:42 PM

The time I spent in university was limited because finances were limited. I took the classes that interested me, and ceramics (at first) was a way to fill in the time between a drawing class and printmaking. I was soon hooked. I consider myself primarily a sculptor, but enjoy and treasure time spent at the wheel. I lacked confidence when starting out, and quite a few of my first attempts could be labled leathal weapons. Once I became caught up in the clay world, life took on new meaning, every day was an experiment and an experience. Even now, after almost 30 years, there is still a "newness" when I sit at the wheel.

Clay has allowed me to pursue all my past pursuits in art without changing the medium. I still sculpt and paint, just a little differently. Not having a degree has affected me in some ways--particularily seeking outlets for my work--because there are folks out there who want to see all those letters after a name instead of concentrating on the work being produced. Has it taken me longer to increase my skill? Yes. With a degree, would I be further along in my career? Probably not. Do I regret any of this? No.

After leaving school the only thing I missed was the comaraderie of my fellow students. Most were half my age, but our spirits seemed in sync. I miss the discussions, and the simple joy we all seemed to take from a shared experience. That's why you will find these forums to be of measurable help. Got a problem? Start a thread. Need advice on equipment, glazes, firing, disasters? You'll find some of your best help right here. Whether you post something or not, be sure to read all the threads that come anywhere near that which interests you. You'll learn a lot. It is all part of the process.

Welcome to the forums, and your plunge into the world of clay. Happy days are ahead.

Shirley




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