Art is Art is Writing : Pottery
by Karen L. Oberst

  Just as painting is an art, and music is an art, so writing is an art. There are certain principles that apply to all art, the knowledge of which can help you put together a story or article more deliberately. A previous article (Novel Advice 1/15/99) looked at writing in relation to graphic arts. This one considers the links between writing and creating pottery. "There are certain principles that apply to all art..."

  Mixing the Clay / Researching the Article A pot starts with small flat squares of clay, often in different colors. These are then piled one on top of the other to create the appropriate mass of clay for the pot-to-be. A story or article starts with ideas, research, and the first thoughts about what the writer intends to say. Although he will probably not just pile up the information, a filing system is the equivalent.

Next the potter wedges the clay to mix the colors and soften the consistency, kneading it much as a baker kneads a lump of dough. Like a baker, the potter can feel when the clay is ready to use. A writer tried her ideas in different order, working with them until they form some sort of preliminary story or outline. With experience, she knows when she has the right sort of information in the right order to begin.

  The potter takes the wedged clay and places it on the wheel. He centers the clay as he slowly spins the wheel. It is important at this point to get the clay in the center of the wheel, and to learn the feel of the wheel. The writer takes the outline or ideas and begins working with them. He begins to get a feel for the purpose of the story, or the viewpoint of the article before he begins writing anything.

Now the potter begins working with the clay, adding water, and spinning it in her hands. Previously she centered the clay; now that it is centered, she begins feeling it out, learning the texture, and characteristics of the particular lump of clay before actually beginning to form a pot. Now that the writer has the purpose of viewpoint of the piece of writing, she can begin to pull together the information she has that relates to the article or story being created.

Spinning the Clay / Pulling together Information

  Hollowing the Clay / First Draft Once the potter knows the clay, he begins to raise it; not hollowing it out yet, but pulling it up, and perhaps pushing it back down to widen the base. This may be done several times. For a writer, this is like the first draft of a piece.

Now at last, the potter begins hollowing out the clay, and actually shaping the pot. She must get her fingers right down to the bottom of the clay to make the pot properly. She knows that the hollow center is what makes the pot useful. The writer begins removing what doesn't directly relate to the topic or viewpoint. She knows that extraneous information left in the piece or story only dilutes the message. The piece of writing is defined as much by what is left out, as by what is there.

  When the potter has worked the clay to the shape she wants, creating something beautiful and useful, she removes the pot from the wheel and sets it aside to dry. The writer also sets aside her finished article or story for a little while before going back for a final edit.

When the pot is dry enough, the potter fires it in the kiln. The time in the kiln removes the impurities and changes the nature of the pot from clay to pottery. The writer picks up the article or story again, and gives it the final, ruthless edit. Everything extraneous is removed, the prose is sharpened, and the story or article is sent to the publisher. The finished pot and written piece are now available to the world to enrich the lives of the buyers/readers.

Finishing the Pot / Finishing the Story

  Thinking like an Artist Understanding the similarity of all art can help a writer think like the artist he is. Basic artistic principles apply to writing as to all art, and can be used to strengthen both articles and stories.

Copyright © 2000 by Karen L. Oberst

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