Why are ceramic artists so good at dealing with failure?

January 10, 2018

photo: deightonceramics

“In mid-November, Jennie Jieun Lee was moving a life-size ceramic sculpture of a woman out of her studio. The piece, which had taken her a few months to create, was about to be photographed, ahead of its debut at a Miami art fair just weeks later. But Lee’s dolly hit a bump, and the ceramic figure toppled to the floor. It was shattered irreparably.

What exactly makes clay so volatile? Issues can arise at the earliest stages, from the moistness of the material to the way it’s kneaded and stored. If clay is too wet or too dry, it can collapse or crumble; if its parts are improperly attached, it can break; if it’s not “bone dry” when it’s fired, the piece may crack or explode in the kiln.

photo: deightonceramics

Glazing, too, is notoriously tricky; if the coating is too thick or too thin, the desired results are impossible. Plus, chemical reactions between clay and glaze can cause things like “shivering,” when a glaze cracks and flakes off a piece’s surface. And firing is a science all its own, which, when executed poorly, can also lead to cracks and explosions. Indeed, ceramists are not only challenged to achieve feats of dexterity and creativity, but also chemistry. Of course, even when a piece is complete, there’s ample danger of the fragile material breaking.”
Why do it at all?
“There is such thrill in opening a kiln door after a work has been fired,” Wedel explains. “There is so much hope and so much wonder. The material has the final say over who you are as an artist. It can be both humbling and humiliating, and not many artists are okay with that.”
I don’t typically take photos of my failures, but I do have my share of them.  I follow The Potters Motto:  Make another one; just make another one.
My recent firing – It was a good day
Full story by Cassie Lasser on Artsy


  1. Love this. It’s so true! For me every pot I’ve thrown has had a higher possibility of failure even before it gets to drying. But that time when you make something that’s usable: that’s marvelous.

    • There are so many variables involved – and yet I keep going because of the rewards. I feel I am, perhaps, a little crazy.

      • Nah… creative! The results you get are lovely (like the pattern near the skull mugs) and fun.

      • That was done with dish soap, water, black underglaze and a straw – bubble glazing. It is fun! and thanks.

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