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Inspiring Creativity

The Pottery Approach to Getting Creatively Unstuck

Using the Potter's Wheel as a Life Metaphor

By Rick Benzel | Updated September 1, 2018

When I was 25 a few decades back, I decided to try pottery as a form of artistic expression. I signed up for a summer course at a small pottery studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Within months, I was sitting at the potter's wheel, throwing vases, sugar bowls, and pitchers. During this time, another student potter suggested that I read a book called Centering in Pottery, Poetry and The Person, by M.C. Richards, which has turned out to be one of my most inspiring reads.

In Centering, Richards uses the potter's wheel as a metaphor for life. When you try pottery, you quickly learn that if you do not center the clay on the wheel, it is nearly impossible to pull the clay up into a balanced object. For Richards though, centering clay means far more than simply plopping it down in the middle of the potter's wheel. Centering also must take place in your mind, in your feelings, in your entire physical being. In talking about knowing how to center, Richards wrote:

Wisdom is not the product of mental effort…. it is a state of total being, in which capacities for knowledge and for love, for survival and for death, for imagination, inspiration, intuition, for all the fabulous functioning of this human being who we are, come into a center with their forces, come into an experience of meaning that can voice itself as wise action.

When you are stuck, it often means that you are not centered in your being. Your inner artist is at odds with something in your life that does not support your art. Something is awry that tilts your "clay" — that is, your ideas, your projects — and you will not be able to get unstuck in the same way that a potter is not able to fashion a nicely centered pot.

The Pottery Approach is thus oriented towards finding ways to center yourself. Perhaps you need to meditate, go for walks every day, or have a talk with someone who is causing you emotional pain. Perhaps you need to create a nice spot of color on the wall at which you can stare to re-center yourself. Whatever you do to get centered, your goal is to be able to approach your artistic endeavor by being fully there — mentally, emotionally, spiritually, sexually, physically — as one integrated, wise artist. When you are in this state, you will be capable of working with your creativity in the same truly blissful way that potters work, becoming one with their clay as it spins around the wheel, their hands becoming the pot and the pot becoming their hands. In short, when you and your art merge into one "beingness," there is much less opportunity to get stuck because all of you, including your inner critic, become one with your art.

And if you cannot find an activity that centers you, I highly recommend taking a pottery course!

Next: The Buddy Approach

©2005 Rick Benzel. All rights reserved.