Though the new month has begun, August, the summer starts to feel a little old this time of year – it starts to feel long. The days are still long, and hot, and outside the door the annuals are spilling out of their pots. They need a lot of water. Days in the studio start early – when the room is cool and the door back to the kiln area is flung open – and then end late, after dark, with the sound of crickets. Anything you want to stay wet has to be covered.
This sounds a little like complaint, but, I love this part of the summer. There’s a slight feeling of stasis – like summer will go on forever – I love that. Change is good, sure. But it’s also good when something lasts, when it seems endless. The other day Terri Gross was interviewing Jay McInerney on Fresh Air & they started discussing this, in a way. “Why is economy a virtue?” one of them asked, I think McInerney. “Why is it necessarily good for something to be shorter?” I had to think about that. I was driving, in traffic, with the air conditioner on, listening to the radio. The idea that something is intrinsically more valuable if there’s less of it is easy to fall into – a kind of rudimentary, comparative, valuation – but really, how does that work? You can’t map the rules of economy onto aesthetics – you can’t live by them.
Terri Gross, with her usual sanguine humor, suggested that for her, there really is a virtue in economy – she has to read so many books that the shorter they are the better. But that’s just it – she was saying that because it sounds ridiculous – a good book is a good book. The longer the better, right? if it’s good. In the studio a kind of profligate spontaneity reigns – a kind of extravagant use. Throw as much clay as possible. If you’re going to make bowls – make eight of them, throw them off the hump, and keep the best three. I’m always chagrined to hear people talk about time-saving measures, or ways to conserve, in the studio – best to splatter half the glaze onto the floor when aiming for the side of the vase – best to waste a whole afternoon chasing after an idea that may or may not work. Economy – that’s the end of art.
“We shall tell it at length, thoroughly, in detail – for when did a narrative seem too long or too short by reason of the actual time or space it took up? We do not fear being called meticulous; inclining as we do to the view that only the exhaustive can be truly interesting.” – thus Thomas Mann. He gets the last word on this topic. I first read that famous paragraph the summer I was first learning to throw clay – another endless August, quite some years ago – it has informed my days in the studio ever since.
I’ve been sitting writing for twenty-five minutes now, and the light is coming up, and the morning begins. I open the door and step outside – is that the smell of rain? or – just a faint crispness, a tiny suggestion of coolness – tiny hint of summer’s end, still a good month away.