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Learning from Imperfection

I first heard about the University of Michigan’s Ceramics Club from my classmate Sylvia. We’d been in the depths of M1 year for several months at that point, and I was looking for some kind of creative outlet so it sounded perfect.

When I entered the studio up in North Campus for the first time, I was amazed. The studio had everything: bins of clay rolls, dozens of different glazes, multiple kilns, and all the tools and wisdom we’d ever need. The room’s walls and racks were filled with incredible works of art like blocks with faces expertly carved out of them, huge colorful vases, and something that looked vaguely like a didgeridoo.

Being surrounded by this much talent with the realization that the last time I had even touched clay was in elementary school art class, I was immediately struck with a feeling of worry and inadequacy. However, my feelings quickly dissipated as I met the other members of the club, like Hazel, a member of the Ann Arbor community who’d been doing ceramics longer than I’d been alive and taught me how to make my first bowl on the wheel. I also became friends with Avery, an UM alum who happily answered my endless questions and guided me through the art of glazing. I was amazed by how supportive everyone in the club was and how willing they were to share their skills and help anyone who asked.

With Avery on the last day of ceramics

After doing ceramics for several months now and absolutely loving it, I still find it difficult. Ceramics is very different from any art media I’ve ever tried before. Making something on the wheel relies just as much on how the piece looks as on how it feels in your hands. It’s a very physical art form; it surprised me how much force I had to use just to get the clay centered on the wheel, and some days I’d leave the studio with my forearms aching. I don’t think a single piece I’ve made has turned out 100 percent the way I intended, but I’ve learned to see the beauty in my happy accidents. For example, a bowl that I’ve trimmed too far with a hole in the bottom becomes a flower pot. When a vase I make gets too lopsided, I’ll just fold in the edges and give it a frilled edge.

Having an open environment in the studio to learn without consequences is a very enriching experience that has helped me learn not to get too bogged down in the mistakes. In the studio I’m able to play with the clay and explore different ways of working it, without the pressure of needing to have a perfect finished product at the end of the day. In fact, the club members encourage and celebrate mistakes. There are days where all my attempts on the wheel end up in the bin, but it’s okay, because I know that I can just come back the next day and try again, and whatever I accomplish is purely for the sake of enjoyment and learning.

While in medicine we can’t just come back and try again, I can still see some value in learning in such an open and fearless place. In a world full of pressures, this environment of unrestricted learning is one that I’ll strive to find more of, not just as I get better at making symmetrical pots but also as I learn to become a physician.

One of my favorite pieces from this year, before it was glazed!

Gavisha is a first-year medical student at University of Michigan Medical School with an interest in pediatrics. When she's not studying in Taubman, you can find her petting someone's dog or playing with her neighbor's cat.