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education, grad schools, apprenticeships...long

updated mon 30 sep 96


Jonathan Kaplan on sun 22 sep 96

So once again this gnarly thread has surfaced on the list and I have tried
very hard not to get involved, but its of no use. So here are some of my
thoughts for what ever value they may be worth.

I think it pointless to pontificate, debate, or otherwise espose any point
of view that insists that in one way or another, going to school is better
than an appreticeship, or visa versa, or being self taught rules, or what
ever way may be of significance to the author. Sure we all have our
opinions and I would venture that not only has every one of us both
benefited and suffered from what ever path we chose in our pottery
careers/life. And so what? Here's the point. No matter in what direction we
go, what it is about is EDUCATION and LEARNING, PERSONAL GROWTH and
DEVELOPMENT(yes, caps are mine and I guess I am shouting, because this is
the popint, the only point, the most important point of all!!). Doesn't
matter where, when, with whom (well maybe!) or what ever. What matters is
that we choose ways that enhance our learning, provide us new experiences,
and perhaps, may make us better artists, potters and better human beings.

In my experience, I could fault my undergaduate and graduate education or
praise it. Hey , I never got that tenure track teaching postion. So did
grad school fail me? Perhaps, but it did not deter me from learning and
experiencing everything I could in clay. I guess I was fortunate. I knew
clay was right for me, and I wanted to assimilate all I could from my class
mates, from my peers, mentors, etc. Did it prepare me for the real world?
Not the right question. Grad school doesn't prepare any one for anything.
What it does do is broaden the experience, and thats all. Perhaps, if one
is luckey enough to be taken under an instructors wing, it could prove
valuable in getting a job. But so what? Many graduates of the best ceramics
curricula in the country still know very little, and even worse, while they
may be just barely adequate potters, they are even poorer and even more ill
equiped to be educators in the ceramic arts.

I could argue that the best experience is of course getting down and dirty
and just make your stuff and get it out there. And I do believe that for
many, this is a great way. Difficult, hard, frustrations and detours every
way. But to hone our skills, our eye, our methods and vision, all take
time. I was a young punk of an upstart fresh out of grad school ready to
take on the world. Came back to me in box after box of returned pots from
retailers with notes saying that there are too many iron spit outs from the
clay and they couldn't sell it. Even an MFA couldn't prepare me for garbage
in the clay.

The argument of which is better only serves to pontificate a myopic point
of view. We need to decide on our own, what is best for us and follow that
path to the best of our ability. I teach part time at a local community
college. For the most part, my students this semester are un-inspiring and
show little motivation. I know that out of 20 of them, I'll provoke 1-2 to
make some stuff. That is satisfaction enough for me. I was motivated when I
was in school to learn more than I was exposed to, to ask questions and
engage in dialog with my fellow students and teachers. My mission (should I
decide to accept it Mr Phelps) is to provoke these kids into asking
relevent questions during the course of my 15 week class. It is not a
professional program, although I do run my classes as professionally as
possible. None of them will probably choose to become a potter. Only a few
will be interested to pursue this, or even remember what the theoretical
formula for clay is. And thats ok. I know I have done my job, and that is
to expose them to what I do, how I do it, and present them with an exposure
to ceramics and how ceramics is involved with their every day life.

What is important to remember, as I sort out all of the rhetoric on this
subject from all these recents posts, is that our concept of the real
world, what is reality, is an ever changing entity. None of us is that well
equiped whether from school or from making pots to handle what we do and
how we do it in a changing world , like getting into art fairs. In the
70's, there was so much business to behad that I was booked a year or so in
advance. While some potters still have this luxury, people's tastes, buying
habits, disposable income, all have changed. Pottery has changed very
little, IMHO, so how does a potter with a line of very sellable cone 10
semi matt, matt, or satin matt undecorated work respond to the shifts in
color and surface that started in the late 70' and 80's? No school prepares
you for this, but learning from customers does.

Once again, we can choose to ignore the world of commerce and money and
look at pottery making as a revolutionary activity, but the point is that
for us to continue to make our work, we have to sell our work or find some
other means of earning a living.

While I know I am rambling a bit here, but to close, let me just say that
as with most things in life, we need to make choices. The best choices in
my experience, have been educated choices. Education comes from many
sources, from school, from our families, from our spiritual encounters, and
from the experience of doing what we do. Any attempt to pollute, dilute, or
otherwise limit the educational as well as expressive possibilities in
ceramics or in art will just not cut it as valid in my book.


Jonathan Kaplan

(aka "Scooter)
Ceramic Design Group Ltd./Production Services Voice:
970-879-9139 POB 775112
FAXmodem: same
Steamboat Springs, Colorado 80477, USA CALL before faxing

"Arrive on time, tell the truth, be a good listener, and don't
be too attatched to the results. Above all, maintain a sense of

Betsy Parker on mon 23 sep 96

In a message dated 96-09-22 23:41:20 EDT, you write:

Hear! Hear, Jonathan!! The path one choses is important only in how
attentive we are to the opportunities it leads us past. Any path has value
if we take all opportunities to learn and grow. Amazing that in a field that
prides itself on individual expression there is still so much conflict about
the RIGHT way to get there!!

Learning and becoming ..... whatever the what we are all about.