I am reading Where Light Takes its Color From the Sea, A California Notebook, by James D. Houston. It is a series of essays, so is perfect reading for a doctor's waiting room, in which I was today. If one is going to be in a waiting room, it should be in California, reading about the beauty outdoors.
One essay, called Clay, is about Pond Farm, near Guerneville, where Marguerite Wildenhain, is a master potter.
As she spins clay on a wheel, she says, "Imagine that you are breathing into the bottle or pitcher or bowl, and when you can breathe no more air into it, when it is full, then, it is finished."
She begins with her students at the beginning, with a study of and work with simple forms.
"It's a matter of starting at the beginning. Too many teachers put a student on a wheel and turn him loose, saying, "Express yourself." Well, self-expression is fine, but first you must master fundamentals. It is purely a matter of knowing what you are doing. You ask a carpenter what he is making. He can tell you. It will be a door or a window or a wall. You ask some potters what they are making. Today too many say, 'I don't know. We'll see how it turns out.' I don't believe you can make a good pot that way. You have to know what you are making."
"Observe how nature solves its many problems and you will learn more about pottery, more about form than I can ever teach you."
She has her pottery students draw outside.
"Look closely at that oak. Every thrust, every line has its reason. Exactly how does it grow out of the earth? Where do the large branches start? How again do the small ones fork, at what angle, and in what proportion? What does the bark look like? And the leaves, how are they arranged? What is the movement of the total tree, definitely upward as in the pine, or drooping as in the willow? If you look closely, you will discover the oak's particular tension. It comes from inside pushing out. And in a few lines you should be able to capture it."
"It is finally a matter, you see, of working from within, from within the subject and from within yourself. Rodin said it in his Testament. "All life surges from the center, then grows and blossoms from the inside toward the outside."
In her book, Pottery: Form and Expression, she writes:
"Technique alone, without any moral and ethical point of departure or aim, has brought us to the very edge of a universal catastrophe that we have in no way overcome. To achieve this necessary future victory over ourselves and the terrifying world that we have created, we will need to find again a synthesis between technical knowledge and spiritual content. It is not a question of the crafts only, the problem is as wide as the whole of human civilization."