moving on from rejection
thanks to the good earth
There’s a story from the very good book Art & Fear, which I think about all the time:
A pottery teacher divides his class into two groups. The first group will be graded on quality. In order to get an A, they have to make a perfect pot—technically ideal, aesthetically perfect, demonstrating their individual sensibility and vision. A single perfect pot will do.
The second group will be graded on quantity. If they finish 50 pounds of pots, they get an A. For a B, 40 pounds. A C, 30 pounds. And so on. There will be absolutely no criterion related to the quality or aesthetic merits of their pots. Once their efforts are weighed, the grading is over.
The great irony, of course, is that the best work of the semester comes from the second group, not the first.
The students being graded on perfection spent their time waffling and debating, trying to figure out what would make a perfect pot before they even began to approach the doing of it. They research. They mull. They don’t make a lot of work in the end, and what they did make has an overworked, anxious quality.
Meanwhile, the students being graded on sheer quantity had no choice but to experiment. If your goal is to produce so much work, you won’t discard an imperfect bowl or wire off the clay and dry it out to try again, hoping to make a perfect vessel out of it. You’ll move it along—even if it breaks in the bisque kiln, you can use it to test a glaze combination. Maybe you experiment with cutting divots into it while it’s still wet. Maybe you get really good at trimming because you’re rescuing so many wonky things. You learn a lot working on imperfect pieces because it’s so much harder, and it demands a greater degree of attention and precision to pull them into shape.
Also: If your goal is to produce as much work as possible, your hopes don’t hang on any individual piece. You’ll be glad if they turn out well, and unbothered if they don’t. If a few things break, so what? You’re being graded on weight, and a broken bowl weighs the same as a perfect one.
So the students in the second group end up developing much keener skills, experimenting fearlessly. And everything they make has a sense of ease and stability. Nothing grasping about it. Nothing too special. (Just special in the ordinary way a nice, colorful, lustrous object is special, which is plenty.)
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