We were sitting around the sturdy wooden pottery workbench, watching the instructor create a piece of sculpture from raku clay. Initially, there were only two of us—first year students—watching, but during the course of her demonstration, a few other more advanced students stopped by to watch. Most made a comment or two, which morphed into conversations. A few used the occasion to talk about things completely unrelated to pottery or clay or the class. Some just fixed their eyes on her hands as she deftly turned a hunk of formless grey clay into a work of art.
The instructor teaches beginners to highly advanced potters and sculptors, all in the same large room. The students group together around workbenches according to their level of training and skill, but there’s a lot of intermingling and considerable conversation. That day, while she demonstrated raku sculpture, the intermingling amplified. Conversations normally reserved for individual groups erupted around our table.
“Did you hear about the girl who got arrested yesterday over by the liquor store on Albert Pike? That was my neighbor’s girl, the one I told you about, the one who I said was a meth-head. Didn’t I tell you she would be in jail before she was seventeen?”
“I read that they think the Holy Grail was found and it’s in the USA! It was in People magazine, I think.”
“There’s a bunch of nudists living in a house down the hill from the tower. And they’re not young, you know, there’s old men and old women! Yuck, why would people want to show themselves like that?”
“I think I understand why people want to be nudists; if I could get away without wearing clothes and without people shrieking in horror at seeing my shriveled old body, I would. It’s freeing!”
“She’s making that lion for me. She knows I like lions, so she’s making it for me. Aren’t you? Hehe, aren’t you!?”
“He filed a complaint against me! Can you believe it?”
“Every time you make a pot or a figure, part of you…part of your essence is preserved in that piece of art. Don’t you think so?”
“After the Pell Grant money comes, the parking lot is almost empty. A lot of them getting that money attend class only until they get their money, then they stop coming.”
Some of the conversations make sense, some reveal the limits of intelligence or experience of the speaker, some are just conversations to fill dead air. Everyone of the speakers, though, appreciates art to one degree or another.
It’s the real world, real life on a community college campus that serves a largely impoverished population,.