This week in school, I watched an art teacher give a demo lesson in ceramics. She took a block of wet clay, threw it down in the middle of the wheel she was sitting at, and told students how difficult and important it is to center the clay.
As she spoke and the wheel turned quickly, the lump of clay sprang to life, shifting from square to round to tall and oval. “Things move fastest when centering,” the teacher explained. That made sense and we could see it unfold before our eyes. There was a quickening of elements in the beginning and then a falling off of intensity as the clay appeared to take shape and open up.
The lump of clay began to become something recognizable to all of us watching, something real – a bowl, a vase, a vessel. But the lesson was not done. “Without centering it right at the start, you get a wonky mess,” the teacher explained as she illustrated exactly what happens when the clay loses center. The previously exquisite almost-bowl was becoming a lopsided affront. With a deft flick of her wrists, she then moved the clay back to center, and it resumed its shape.
I felt a relief seeing the bowl resume and even improve upon its former state of being. Her demonstration complete, she lifted her hands from the clay as the wheel continued to spin and reflected, “This worked out, but sometimes, you have no choice but to start all over again.”