Ah yes, that old stand by phrase, practice, practice, practice. To a musician this mantra never dies. It was always something I'd remind myself even since my childhood days as a young music student. I can remember spending many countless and noisy hours practicing away trying hard to please my teacher in our next scheduled lesson. 'If i practice this measure over and over ...' Perhaps my students hear me saying it to them all too often now, often to their behest with rolling eyes and vacant expressions. But I tell them, 'trust me, it works!'
I teach music during the day and turn mad potter at night. Nowhere during the countless hours spent in my clay studio do I find repetition and practice to be any less important. I am constantly reclaiming, mixing and recycling clay. Then drying it to a desert like state, soaking it, then mixing, remixing, wedging, and finally rewedging. This tedious process helps to give a smooth consistency to the clay. Like in music, repetition and hard work are as important as the traditions themselves.
Forming clay on the wheel was my nemisis for years until I finally got the knack for it. Centering, shaping, pulling up, etc. were all things that were just out of my reach at the time. In college too I often just seemed to give up all too easily. It must be talent I thought. Maybe I don't have any. Hogwash! I soon after discovered that by embracing my failures and examining them rationally I would move past them. I had quite a few more episodes of this same frustration, but I kept at it and finally suceeded. It must have been the practice!
Recently I got an email from a very talented potter asking my help with contructing his slab built pieces. He stated that he was beginning to get rather frustrated with a point in his construction. I read carefully to what he was describing and gave him some advice. Here's the caveat: he was already basically doing what I was prescribing. I told him that it just takes more time to work out the details in the process. I felt like I was not really helping him with this advice, but then I realized that he probabaly needed to hear about the importance of keeping at something, even in the midst of failure. I like to think of failure as one of the greatest learning tools, if used correctly. The problem is, most of us expect positive results too quickly, so we move on to something else.
So if I could give a bit of my trusted advice to all potential musicians, potters and artist friends it would be:
Keep working at something and you can evetually make it work, be able to identify a failure and learn from it, and remember that the best solutions are the ones that you can come up with on your own.
Now, if I can just get the Hall's address on mapquest...
photo credit (top): San Jose Taiko Group