search  current discussion  categories  teaching 

some thoughts on education...longish

updated sat 30 nov 96


Jonathan Kaplan on fri 15 nov 96

Having come up through academic clay at The Cleveland Institute of Art,
Alfred, RISD, and SIU-Edwardsville, even though it seems now like light
years in the past (BFA RISD 73 MFA SIU 75) I do know and acknowledge the

Even though I was not forturnate to secure a teaching position after grad
school and went into studio work immediately, I know that all my education
involved choices. Ultimately, I and everyone else, make choices. I made
choices in my education that directly influence what I do today and where I
am at with my work and my career. At the NCECA panel that I participated in
last spring in Rochester I was asked by an attendee if I felt I was
academically encumbered. After thinking for just a brief minute, I replied
no, in that I am glad I made the choices I did and that while my path in
clay may have been easier had I secured a position, the struggles and the
benefits in studio work for me (and please not, my opinions only) have been
richly rewarding.

I think I was fortunate in that I was exposed to many fine teachers in my
academic clay education, all of which never stifled or dismissed me. In
fact, my first instructor in high school had a wonderful reaction to some
of my first work..."You know Jonathan, thats not quite convincing!!" They
all encouraged me to think and pursue my own path in clay. And this is
precisely what I feel an academic clay experience should be. We could
debate whether the MFA experience provides the worldly knowledge and
experience to get out there and be a producing artist/ potter until we are
all blue in the face...but suffice it to say, academic clay was a valuable
experience for me. It provided me with a good background, a reference
source, and was only the beginning tread on a long set of winding stairs
(pardon the metaphor). While I did think that I may have been better guided
by my grad school instructors and have been helped to be better prepared to
search for a teaching position, none the less it was a valuable experience
for me, at that time, 23 years ago.

I'm not sure where this fits in relationship to the current thread on
teaching, tenure, and education. I was exposed to a situation as an artist
in residence many years ago wherein the major professor was quite burned
out, IMHO, and was in a situation that just perpetuated itself year after
year as the professor did have tenure. The students were not getting what
they really needed. So sure, there may be some rotton apples in this system
but I think that it would be grossly unfair to indict the entire system.
Now, those of you who know me and have followed my many posts to this list
know that I am one of the more vocal ones to cite the scism between
academic clay and studio clay. But this is not really the point here. There
are many fine art educators who are potters. Yet all potters who teach are
not great educators or teachers. I think it is up to anyone wanting to
pursue a professional degree in clay at the grad or undergrad level to do
the research and find the places or the teachers who really have tuned
their programs with a high degree of involvement and committment. Don't
settle for the second best in academia. Provoke your instructors by asking
questions and if their answers arn't sufficient, push 'em further. You are
making a choice for your career. If you don't get what you want or need, go
somewhere else where you will.

I don't honestly know what choices I would make today if I wanted to be a
potter or artist or craftsperson. I would be quite hardpressed to answer as
while I am deeply committed that a society without artists is doomed, I
wonder of the future of ceramics in our culture and our economy. I know
that many of my colleagues who are producing artists/potters outside of
academia are having a rough time now and things are changing at a rate that
may be too fast for some. Some potters I know are very resistant to change
and are seeing their market share diminish every month or so. The economics
of this pursuit are sketchy, to say the least. I don't know many trust fund
potters. Most of my colleagues are just getting by, if that.

Perhaps a good springboard for discussion is the future of ceramics in our
culture, and how we as artists, potters, and craftspeople fit in. What have
we to look forward to as we approach the changing of the millenium. How are
we fairing within the marketplace? How is our art work "working." What is
our future as potters( and please, lets not turn this into a discussion of
"come the revolution"...jiggering, casting, etc.,) as we all know full well
that our culture, our society, our government and our politic all just give
lip service to the arts. As my esteemed friends in the Firesign Theater
would say...."what are you gonna do now, Porgie?" (after the disappearance
of Morse Science High)

From high in the hills of Steamboat Springs where it is just dumping that
white gold tonight, ready for the opening of the ski hill this weekend...


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