I am three weeks into my semester and I have already been pushed to my limits. On multiple occasions this past week I have felt like screaming, I have cried over my work, and I questioned whether I even have what it takes to be a professional artist.
Is this normal in the first few weeks in the second year of art school??
Well, it’s my normal anyway. Second year has upped the workload and the expectation of students. Whereas last year I was the driving force pushing myself to achieve more than the requirements, this year I feel like I’m struggling to keep my head above water.
Most of my energy has gone into my Beginning Wheel Throwing class with Grace Han (See her work here). Our first assignment, due yesterday, was to throw 40 even walled cylinders between 12-15cm in height and with their foot carved.
When I read the syllabus I was at first shocked and daunted. With only one [very brief and unsuccessful] experience with the wheel this summer I wasn’t quite sure I would be able to close the gap of knowledge to complete the assignment. But, obviously, I was going to try.
“Practice, practice, practice!” Grace said multiple times. To make 40 cylinders we would have to make more than 40. “Make bold mistakes!” she told us. In the second week she encouraged us to not be afraid of making a mess on our wheel and reminded us that the only way to get better was to spend lots of time in the studio.
So, these past three weeks I have clocked many hours on the wheel. I have worked through 150 lbs of clay. My arms, back, and shoulders have all been sore (and presumably strengthened.) I have learned how to wedge, center and reuse clay. I have learned how to throw a 16 cm even-walled cylinder. And, probably most importantly, I have learned how to troubleshoot problems on the wheel and now know what it is like to push through creative exhaustion.
I worked through the hours of agony feeling like I was attempting the impossible. I worked through the tears when, after making 36 cylinders, I was seemingly unable to center clay. And with the words “your work is indeed dismal” echoing through my brain, I just kept going regardless of how ugly I felt my work to be.
10 minutes before critique I dropped a shelf of 14 cylinders. In three seconds I went from rage to tears to acceptance. We cut one cylinder open to see if it had an even wall. Not quite. Good enough?
Is anything good enough when you are an artist? What is the line of striving for excellence, failing and being “ok” with an imperfect piece? Is that what it means to “study” art at university? You try, you learn, you grow, and given what you know about the word of your subject, you understand there is so much more to grow into.. Is that what it means to be an artist?
I don’t know what other people’s experience of art school is. But week three of year two is a wild range of emotions accompanying work that is, “meh” with a sore body and bruised ego. For now, I will bandage my wounds and keep trekking. I am committed to this artistic journey.