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An Apocryphal Tale of Learning Pottery

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How to cut the completed pot off the potter's wheel after throwing.

The cut off line must be as taut as possible when cutting a pot off the potter's wheel.

Photo © 2008 Janet L. Giles

There is an apocryphal story about a ceramics prof who makes a bargain with his Ceramics 101 students: anyone who could throw a single perfect pot would get an "A" for the course; and anyone who threw over 50 pounds of clay, as weighed up once fired, would also get an "A". Students could either go for quality or quantity.

Throughout the semester, the quality group discussed and argued aesthetics and techniques, but didn't do much actual throwing. The quantity group quietly sat at the wheels, throwing dog bowl after dog bowl. They didn't talk much, since the quality group had gotten rather snobbish about it all.

Eventually the final critique came. On one side of the studio classroom were the "quality" students and their single pots. On the other side of the room, the "quantity" students jostled with each other as they displayed their myriad pots. The prof arrived and the class began to go from pot to pot, beginning with on the "quality" side. They then moved on to the "quantity" pots.

After everyone had finished examining all the pots, the prof asked the class, "Which group had the best pots?"

Feet shuffled. No one wanted to answer. After a while, though, one student gathered up his courage. "The quality pots were ok, but the quantity pots...well, there were a lot of junky pots, but they also had the best pots."

"Exactly," said the prof. "Throwing is not about the head knowing what to do, nearly as much as it's about teaching your hands what to do."

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