A few nights ago I attended the opening night of “Ceramics on the Edge 5” with my mother in law Rosella Leslie.
The show celebrates 14 Sunshine Coast Ceramic Artists. The work at the show was broken down into three categories: Innovative, Functional and Functional/Innovative. For example a bowl is functional, a statue of a moose with leaves for antlers is innovative and a sculpture of a tattooed dog that functions as a teapot could be seen as functional/innovative.
After the opening festivities and public critiques, I had the opportunity to speak with the juror of the show Debra Sloan. It can take years for a potter to find their style. And even when they know their style, or their passion, or where they are skilled, it is impossible to predict exactly how a piece will turn out. Once a potter finds what works for them they can start to reproduce with some consistency. They can figure out what tools work best for them and add them to their toolkit.
And even then, there are no guarantees.
I told Debra I am an actor. She explained to me, in her opinion, the difference between what she does and what I do. As a potter she can hide in her basement and work on, perfect, create, discover her art for years and years if she likes. There is no time limit or time restrictions when you are a potter. Then she can send her work out into the world. In a gallery, into a store, where the work is hopefully bought. After it is bought the work can be given as gifts or put on a shelf or used everyday. Then maybe it gets sold at a garage sale, or a second hand shop, or given away. And maybe it keeps making the rounds.
Unless, of course, it gets broken.
As an actor, she says, your work is much more immediate. The time is always RIGHT NOW. Your work has to work NOW, it has to happen NOW, you have to be the right fit for something NOW. If you have to perform, it has to happen NOW. An actor cannot sit in her basement working on her craft and then send out a finished product. It requires community and collaboration, and engaging in the world. NOW. Acting is a craft that requires a lot of outward input but it also requires a lot of inner work. And a lot of Luck. And then, after all that, an actor can find success. And then, after all that, time is on the actor’s side.
Unless I get broken, I say to Debra.
She laughs. Not at me…but she laughs with the knowledge that, I believe, all artists have…that yes…we do what we do with the understanding that there is a very real possibility that the work could break. The fire could be too hot, the material too thin, the environment too hostile. We could be dropped, chipped, broken.
And we often are.
There is a style of sculpture creation that requires the sculptor to build the whole piece from a solid block of clay and then cut it apart piece by piece and hollow it out then put it all back together again. Debra expresses just how terrifying this is for the sculptor. They finally get the piece finished and then they have to start slicing it up. And the panic sets in. It will never work. It will never be put back together. It is ruined!! But it is not ruined. It works. It can always (ALWAYS) be put back together.
I can relate.
Some of the work that we do as actors is functional, some innovative and some bridge the two.
Here are a few examples from film:
Functional…think the barista, the mother, the teacher, the lawyer, the news reporter in a film…all these serve a functional role in the film as a whole. The work may not be groundbreaking or earth shattering or Oscar making but it has to function or else the plot doesn’t move forward, the story cannot be told without these functional pieces/actors.
Then there is the functional innovative. How about Marilyn Monroe in The Misfits or Amy Adams in The Fighter or Meryl Streep in pretty much everything. Service to the story (function) with a high regard for expression of that specific artist (innovation).
It is comforting to know that regardless of the discipline…there is the opportunity for connection and understanding and growth. I have learned to appreciate and honor and respect that moment when I say words like “UNLESS I GET BROKEN” and I hear the laugh of recognition. The laugh from the artist on the other side of the sculpture/stage/screen/canvas/piano that says I GET IT.
TRUST ME, I GET IT.