Smashing Pots


Every now and then, people ask me if I should go to art school, and I usually say something like “Do you want to go to art school?” and if they say “Yes,” then I say “Yes,” and if they say “No,” then I say “Don’t.” This is why I am a crappy source of career advice.


There is ONE class that I think nearly every writer, artist, and creative type out there would benefit from, and as it happens, it’s ceramics. Preferably with a strong wheel-throwing component.

No, really.

Back in ceramics class, in college, at the end of the year we would gather up all our dishes and pots and sculptures that we had labored over for weeks—and you really do labor for weeks, because you’re sculpting and drying and firing and glazing and firing again—and we would look at them.

And what we generally realized was that we had created a lot of things that sucked. There is just a point where you hold this lumpy-ass thing in your hand and you realize that it has not added to the sum total of awesome in the universe—and that you don’t have to keep it.

And then you wind up and fling it into the massive dumpster behind the ceramics studio and it smashes against the bottom and a demented exhilaration surges through you and you grab the next one and smash it and it is glorious.

Now, there are people who do not smash their failed work, who cannot bear to do it, and so there was always a shelf full of sad lumpy clay things with a little “free to good home” sign on it. Some of them possibly were adopted eventually. Mostly, though, we learned to smash.

Pottery, particularly wheel-throwing, is wonderful for this, incidentally. You fail over and over and you fail fast and you are creating quantity to lead to quality. You throw and throw and throw and things die on the wheel and things die when you take them off the wheel and things explode in the kiln and after you have made a dozen or two dozen or a thousand, none of them are precious any more. There is always more clay.

It breaks you of preciousness and perfectionism. You can’t fiddle for two hours with wet clay on the wheel getting it perfect. It’ll be an over-saturated lump of mud long before then. If the walls are thrown too thin, they are too thin. It’s not worth fixing. Start over. Do it again. Finish, don’t fiddle.

I can’t do pottery any more because if I tried to hunch over a wheel these days, my back would go out so hard that I would never walk upright again. But I still think it was one of the most valuable classes I ever took, because it taught me to acknowledge failure, not to fear it, and then smash the hell out of it.

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