March 2, 2012
We expect a lot out of art. Sometimes we get more.
We call the time we get together during after-school hours an extended learning opportunity. However, we seldom if ever ask youth to do their homework, get a math book out, or read a book. Rather, we insist on engaging art. Now, anyone working with youth knows insisting only goes so far, but we do it just the same and eventually most youth engage for a moment. By engaging, we hope minds and imagination begin to wander the edges of structure, framework, and boxes and begin to experience the fluidity of what they think solid. The hope is that art will allow them to find math more pliable than absolute, science more provisional than solid, and the stability of a sentence’s structure only as steadfast as its ability to transport the reader while maintaining place.
There is nothing like sitting in front of a potter’s wheel, with a clump of clay, that will move ones reality of rigidity and structure to uncertainty and fluidity. Centering clay on a spinning wheel is no easy task. You can intellectually know how to center clay on a wheel, but when it comes to placing hand against clay on a spinning wheel, it becomes more about feeling than knowledge. One has to let go and allow absolutes to flow before clay spins in harmony with the wheel.
This week Mr. Kent, the high school Art Instructor, helped youth try their hands at the wheel for the first time. Soon it became apparent that when a student sat at the wheel and placed their hands to clay they became focused and engaged. In one sense there were no successes, no one came away from their first sitting at the wheel with a cup or bowl, but then, when absolutes begin to flow failures sometimes turn to successes. One youth had centered her clay, began shaping it, and soon she had something that was looking very cupish. Then in a split second, something went wrong and the clay twisted. She stopped the wheel, looked at her hollowed twisted clay, and said “Now that’s cool.” Stability and absolutes are not always what they are cracked up to be.
An hour later, while others were working clay, some on the wheel others by hand, I glanced over and watched as the “Now that’s cool” student took a book out of her bag, leaned back, and began reading. Sometimes when edges flow and absolutes become imagined, the stability of a turning page and a written word become essential, and we get more.
© David B. Bell 2012