Terracotta model of a house, 12th Century Egypt, in the collection of the British Museum.
I was making a thing, a box, of clay, that was meant to hold small clay shapes: the shapes were going to look a little like Japanese sweets, called wagashi, and the whole effect was meant to reference ancient Egyptian things- symbolic models as equipment for the afterlife. The instructor for my class was Bob Arneson, and he asked me why was the thing to be made of clay? Why not wood or any other kind of material?
I was a good student; and by that I mean that I followed directions, and I responded to inquiry and input, and I defended my positions. I showed him my sketches; I talked about clay's similarity to the plasticity of whatever sugary paste wagashi was made of. I wanted it heavy in the hand- wood was too light. I wanted it ceramic, because it lasts for eons in the pyramid. Of course, even my answers helped to derail me, and I was sufficiently discouraged to abandon my idea, and my box took a different direction. I decorated the outside of it with watercolors and pencil (instead of glaze and slips), and I filled it, much later, after I graduated, with nude self-portraits as potent women of legend: Eve, and the Virgin of Guadalupe.
I interject here, an image of Bob Arneson's own work in clay:
Do you ask yourself why it is made of clay? I think that question is a large part of the meaning of the piece. But, where are we going in this conversation? It is a question of prefixes: dis- or en-. I was encouraged by Bob Arneson to ask a question of my intention that persists to this day. Why are you making this out of that material? It is a good question, an appropriate question for a professor of ceramics to ask. However, I was ultimately discouraged from making my box. Discouragement comes from all around. One might expand this question of why make this out of that, into why do anything at all?
Large silence here. Big space, because really, why?
Well, if you keep on following this question out, in an ever-widening circle, you'll find there isn't any reason beyond wanting to, and that is what I would say to him now. I would say, "Bob, I am making this out of clay because I want to, and if you don't want me to, you can express your feelings in my grade, at the end of the term."
So, today, and tomorrow, too, be ready for discouragement, and know what you can do about it: Answer the question for yourself, and then proceed. Make your thing anyway. Make your hubcap fence, or your needlepoint phone case, or your clay box filled with nude photos. Because one thing is sure: You don't want to go around making things that you do not want to make, now, do you?
Have courage, and read this article, which relates to today's parable.
This charming image of higashi wagashi comes from this blog.