Art class was in the lunch room of my elementary school, well at least for the younger grades. You’d come down the steps to the basement of the school and pass the hot lunch carts they’d be using for the day on the way. Only the big kids got to use the actual art room around the corner.
The space we’d use for art was just a few long lunch tables set up in rows. The art teacher used a corner for his desk and a few storage cabinets for supplies, but it was very basic as far as I can remember. It was also across from the music room. Sometimes you could hear kids singing or playing instruments coming from in there.
The lunch tables were like picnic tables, so there were long benches for seats. I remember sitting in art class at one of those tables and wondering how in the world I could make a shape of a fish from a ball of clay I’d just been given. That was the assignment, but I wasn’t sure how to do it. I remember staring at my clay, pressing it down a bit and then being so confused how to even start.
The inspiration for this story comes from two pieces of pottery I saved from either kindergarten or first grade. One of them has a 1989 etched on the back, so I’d be seven. The other one, the fish, has no year on the back so I’m not very sure when I did it. But, I know both are two of the first works of art I did in school, at least that’s lasted or that I still have in my possession.
Where my clay fish hung in my house and what it still reminds me of
The fish used to hang on the wall of our family room after I brought it home. As you can see the teacher had us poke a hole in the top for a nail to go. Pretty clever. I think it must have also been some sort of texture unit or something because I used a lot of different tools to make all the imprints. I can see the eye, and gills, and even a side fin, but I do recall not knowing how to make the overall shape seem more fish-like.
To me it’s fascinating because this fish captures a time in my development that I just didn’t have the know-how to do something like that. The memory I have of this fish means a lot to me because I remember the feeling I had making it. It was like I knew there was a way to do it, but so completely unsure how to do it. I guess it shows how I just did my best. But all those years it hung on the wall I also remember looking at it time and time again and eventually thinking I knew how to do it. I was glad I kept it then, and I’m glad I kept it now.
What I found inside the dish I made
What I love about this little, two piece, construction is its intent to not only be pretty, but also useful. I always loved making something that could be used for more than just something to look at. I love that you could put something small like a piece of jewelry or a little trinket inside and put the lid on top to conceal it.
When I opened the dish before writing this post I found a small little blue rock inside I had saved from when I was a little girl. I also found some pastel confetti I collected from the first Katy Perry concert I went to with my sister Jenny. Those are from just a few years ago, well 2014 to be exact. I like keeping little tiny things that remind me of something fun or create a sense of wonder inside me. Having a special spot to put them is even nicer.
Here’s a few more close ups of the dish:
Oh, I guess I was in room 118. That’s what that bottom number means. The art teacher had us put our names and room number, and the year on the back of everything so he’d know what pieces belonged to which kids.
The little holes I poked along the rim are made from a pencil tip. There are also imprints on the inside that I can tell I used a seashell to make. Those are a little hard to see in the picture. But the center I clearly made to look like a flower.
As I run my fingers across its shiny surface I can feel all the bumps that could have been smoothed out better. Had I been older, perhaps I would have. But its completely imperfect shape and lack of refinement captures my ability for the age that I was. It shows what I could accomplish for the assigned project doing as best that I could.
The lid is sized to fit on top fairly well. When I lift it up and down with the little handle I can imagine my small fingers forming and shaping it. It’s kinda funny that the things I chose to put inside are in the same color family as the glaze I chose to paint the pottery.
Why I chose to keep these two creations
My mom asked me if I wanted the pieces of pottery I made in high school. I really didn’t. For some reason I just didn’t feel anything when I looked at those. I had a lot of them too! I took pottery more than once in high school and classes were an hour and a half at that point so you could make quite a lot of stuff. But I got better at making things as I got older. I guess what I like about these is that although I’m sure for my age they were good enough, it’s more about the story they both leave behind rather than being some fabulous finished piece of art.
It’s the story of how as a child I looked at a piece of clay to mold it into a shape and knew it could be done different or better. Unlike a lot of kids who might not stop to even think about it, I did. It was important for me at the time to do something realistic, which is not always what art is about, but somehow for me at the time I thought it was. I see now how I worked through that feeling as I began to develop a sense of acceptance. I worked through what I would now almost call one of my first of many creative frustrations. I wanted to make something more realistic or refined.
But all this to say I don’t think I ever thought they were wrong or not good enough. Both were art then and are still art now. But the outcome is so completely different than had I been older, obviously. That’s just interesting to me I guess. I’m sure art teachers see this all the time, how a child’s abilities and what they’re able to create changes and evolves each school year.
I like being reminded that no matter if I know how to do something or not I can make something beautiful and worth keeping. Art is subjective and sometimes it’s in the process that we learn something about ourselves. Overtime we can also be reminded that nothing is perfect and that we are continually evolving and changing.
I kept these two creations and will continue to keep them because I want to remind myself that I am an artist. I can be creative. I can not know how to do something perfectly and still do it. I will get better. I will learn to refine things over time, and I will have the chance to look back and learn from things I create along the way. I will also be able to simply accept that some things are just fine the way they are and don’t need to be over analyzed.
If something makes me or you feel something after I’ve created it, well then that’s all that matters.
Do you remember making a piece of art that impacted you?
I’d love to hear your story. Leave a comment below.