Saturday, January 24, 2015

I have no idea what I'm doing...


One of the most embarrassing things after giving a paper clay workshop is viewing video of my demonstrations.

Luckily the cringe factor diminishes slowly over time.

I've just re-discovered some video from a workshop over two years ago, that I gave in Khnemu Studio, Michigan, USA.

In a fit of madness I had decided to demonstrate how to make something I had made over 14 years ago,  and only once since,  for a demonstration 6 years ago at Desert Dragon Pottery, Phoenix.



Paperclay, 43 x 38 x 16 x  cm, Artist: Graham Hay (Aus/NZ), Photo: Victor France
Hug, 200012Ceramic E'ware & T'cotta Paperclay 43 x 38 x 16 x  cm, by Graham Hay,  Photo: Victor France





























I'm now unsure what induced the madness, but a throw away comment I made during the video motivated this blog.

The orthodox for demonstrations is to show what you're good at, which means showing techniques you have used thousands of time in the studio over the last decade or so.

There's one serious problem with this safe route.

It makes the technique look very easy and the result fantastic, but is very difficult for audience members to duplicate successfully, particularly beginners.

By making a "wonky work" I showed how things do go wrong, that the studio process involves hundreds of hours of failure and dead ends, and the amazing works presented in slideshows and magazines, only just through to that point by the skin of their teeth.  They oh, so nearly ended up in a dog's dinner on the floor.

This problem of giving too polished demonstrations first struck me many years ago while teaching at the Ceramic Design Studio at Pakistan's peak National College of Arts, in Lahore, were I was working with some of the brightest students ever.  Compared to myself, they had a better command of english, new technology and were more widely travelled.  Despite their obvious capacity to quickly learn whatever I demonstrated, they weren't "getting it".   

The solution I finally fingered out was to make and show them a slideshow of just my failures! 

What I think this did was, show that to make masterpieces requires taking risks, sometimes huge risks, in the studio.  That my unusual work was the result of over a decade of making, what I though at the time was, ugly art.  That their current accidents and failures would eventually pay off.  

This slideshow didn't show them what to make or how to make it, rather it showed that I was no different from them.  It motivated them to keep going.  That even though I was "an expert" I was still struggling, and enjoying the process, perhaps even more than the final work.  I believe that this slideshow motivated them more than one of slick, amazing work.  They went away and tried all sorts of things that I had never thought of, and created wonderful work.

So, getting back to the video...

What I saw in the video, which I now like, is that I was obviously struggling to make the challenging piece in Michigan, that I invited the audience in to help me try to make the work.  This removed the physical, and psychological, gap between us and hopefully made it more interesting, and stimulating.

Hopefully it has had a similar postive impact on the workshop participant's motivation in Michigan.

So, bring on the edgy workshop demonstrations!

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