Carla M. Lee (carlamlee) wrote,
Carla M. Lee

[arting] The Destructive Art of Perfectionism

Carla on Instagram  “On the one hand  I made a tornado. On the other hand  it is still a failed piece. 2 of  100ballsofclay  pottery”

A couple weeks ago, I posted this picture as a part of my 2016 pottery project, #100ballsofclay. (I handled ball four yesterday. This is going to be a long project.) During class that week, I put two balls of clay on the wheel, and took zero balls of clay off. (Ok, technically, I took them both off to take pictures, but then I smashed the projects and put them in the scrap bucket so the clay could be reused later.) This was the better of the two, because it was more interesting. It looks like a tornado. (The other fell in on itself, and just looked like clay that was too wet and overworked.) I liked my tornado, but not enough to keep it, because it wasn't right, it wasn't perfect. It wasn't a piece with balance and clean form and good structure. It, and I, was a failure.

It might have been art, too. I can see that now.

I had another class yesterday, and I put two balls of clay on the wheel. I took two projects off. They are good pieces, mostly clean and well structured. I can see their flaws, but I can also see the good lines and the okay technique that went into them. But once I was done and had wrapped them so they could start drying before I trim them next week, I noticed another of the students had made something that looked like a tornado. She kept hers, though. It is drying so it can be trimmed, or maybe, with a piece like that, it will go straight to the kiln for the bisque firing. (K, my teacher, generally uses a double firing technique. The bisque firing happens first, then we glaze and put the pieces back through the kiln for a second glaze firing. I do not yet know enough to understand why, but I have some reading to do.) Whatever the other student plans to do with it, she took it off the wheel. She let it be flawed, and let it be beautiful, and she will have a piece when I do not.

She has many pieces when I do not.

I kill more pieces than I take off the wheel, by far. It ranges anywhere between 1 in 2 and 1 in 4 for me, usually, but I have gone weeks at a time without being satisfied enough to take anything off the wheel. And while logically I know that each piece I throw teaches me something, it doesn't always feel like I'm making any progress, because I don't have anything to show for it. Because I keep making the same mistakes over and over again. (I raise my walls too fast. I don't have steady hands. I can't see when it is centered on the wheel, which is the most basic first step in throwing. I don't understand what I'm trying to do when I try a new movement.) I get frustrated, and then angry. I've cancelled class some days, because I knew I was not in a good enough mental state to deal with a failure. (K argues that it is not a failure. That doesn't change how it feels.)

I started taking pottery classes because I thought it looked fun and because K is amazing and does gorgeous work. Those things are still true. I also started pottery because I wanted to learn how to be bad at something. I am terrible at failure, and terrible at doing something I don't already know how to do. E.g., before I was willing to start piano lessons as a kid, I'd already taught myself how to play, including some very complicated pieces for a beginner. This was very bad for me, in the long run. Because I could play above where I actually was, class-wise, I got bumped up a bunch of levels, but I missed a ton of basics. Mostly music theory. I still don't really understand the theory behind chords or scales, and I can't translate from one to another. (I don't even have the right language to talk about what I can't do, obviously.) I felt that loss a lot during high school, especially, when I was a competitive musician who didn't understand the theory, the math, the logic, behind my art. So when I had the opportunity to take pottery classes, I pushed myself to do it, so I could be bad at something, and be bad at something in front of someone else.

I'm not bad, though. And that's a problem.

Because I picked up on a couple things very quickly, and had some good pieces come out of my first couple classes, I now expect way too much of myself. Even if I'd had a bad first few lessons, I'd probably be too hard on myself, because perfectionism runs down to my bones, but especially when I have a good moment early on, I then tend to expect that I will be able to do everything immediately. This is the opposite of what I wanted from this class. It is the opposite of what I want from myself.

#100ballsofclay at least forces me to take a picture of my pieces before I destroy them. I'm trying to convince myself to take more things off the wheel, though that's not going well at all. And maybe, someday, I'll find balance in my expectations for myself.

Not gonna hold my breath.

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Tags: pottery

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