Why do I teach community clay classes?

Jenni Ward ceramic sculpture | the dirt |why do I teach community clay classes? I was recently asked why I teach community clay classes, as opposed to university level instruction. Well, one big reason is I don’t have the Master’s degree, so I actually can’t teach at universities. In the beginning, I thought I would go for the terminal degree for fine artists and get my MFA but after a few attempts in that direction, I finally made the choice to not pursue it. I realized that I really wanted to be my own boss, make my own schedule and share my clay experience with everyone, not just in an academic environment and I’m really happy with that choice. Over the past 15+ years, I’ve taught everyone from seniors to pre-schoolers how to make a pinch pot, roll a coil or add texture to a slab cup. I’ve worked in mobile classrooms in under-served communities and private classrooms in private schools.  It’s been an amazing way to piece together an income for myself and I have learned that no matter what your background or experience level, everyone leaves clay class feeling pretty good about what they did.

As my own art career has launched forward, I’ve cut back on the number of classes that I offer at my studio but I know that no matter how busy the art world gets, I will always teach. Each week I welcome some of the most amazing and talented people into my studio space. I love that they are passionate about being creative and intrigued enough to try something new. What I hope that they take away from their time spent in my studio is an appreciation of what it takes to make something with your hands along with the confidence to try it, compassion for others creative ideas and a respect for the vulnerability of making something with your heart. Some of my younger students tell me that they are going to be artists when they grow up, which is sweet to hear but of course most of them will go on to do other things. So I’m not churning out the academic artists of the future here but what community clay classes create instead is art enthusiasts, supporters and collectors, and the world needs a lot of those kind of people!

Join us at the studio and B CR8IV!

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4 thoughts on “Why do I teach community clay classes?

  1. When a child tells you she wants to grow up and be an artist you should tell her that she already IS an artist. The reality is that most adults FORGET how to be artists rather than a child needing to learn what it takes.

    The reason we get in this bind is often the assumption that to be an artist is some special sort of calling and that mostly its a thing done by professionals in the field. The truth is that there are fewer and fewer professional ‘artists’ who can manage doing their art full time. Most of us have outside jobs, and some of us (like you and I both) teach classes in art to amateurs and hobbyists. What’s important is that we DO something that is creative, not that this is our only or primary gig. The label is less important than the practice.

    And so when my students tell me that they are “not an artist” I do my best to correct them. The only difference between me teaching the class and you taking it are that I have more experience, have mastered certain techniques, and have investigated the nuances of what the medium offers a bit further. Other than that, we are as much the same as any two people can be bringing their own interests and values to the table. An artist isn’t just what we have done, but what we are prepared to do. Its not a certification by the authorities that you have measured up, its just finding a creative way to express yourself. And any medium counts, and any level of ability qualifies.

    And because these are things worth sharing in, I too teach folks who want to learn about clay. What greater purpose could there be?

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Carter, and I couldn’t agree more. I am also always telling my students that they are artists already and how cool it is that they don’t have to wait to grow up to be an artist. I agree too that most of them forget how to be an artist when they do grow up, sometimes that makes teaching adults harder than kids. Wishing you the best with your classes, sounds like your students are lucky to have you!

      B CR8IV,

      -j

  2. How beautifully put and having spent many years in an academic art department, I think your choice was no better or worse than those who got the MFA. The MFA especially these days doesn’t necessarily get you a job other than making lattes at Starbucks. You can certainly learn a lot from great teachers in an academic setting but you can also learn just as much from great teachers anywhere.

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