Flow in Michigan

Installed at the Faculty Art ShowIn early June, I packed up the remaining forty-odd cups from FLOW in a large box, loaded them in my trunk, and headed for Interlochen, Michigan.  I’d been invited to spend this summer teaching ceramics at Interlochen Center for the Arts Summer Arts Camp, and it felt right to share this project at the faculty art show.  

The camp runs in two three-week sessions, and my first session ceramics majors jumped right into the project with only a brief introduction and one quick session of practice.  On Thursday, July 3, seven students did over forty interviews at the opening, in less than an hour and a half.  Interviewees were campers in grades six through twelve and adult faculty, staff, and guests.  

At the end of the evening, only two cups remained on the pedestal.  Those disappeared the next day.  To our amazement, two additional participants wrote their answers to the questions in a clipboard we had left behind in the gallery. 

I’ve seen the QR-coded cups around Interlochen’s campus – cupped in hands, in the cafeteria, in the Writing House, warming tea.  By the end of three weeks of great work in the studio, my ceramics majors understood the meaning of ‘flow.’  Kate B. wrote this thoughtful and honest post to share her perspective on the interview experience.  


Selecting cupsIn complete honesty, interviewing strangers about a concept known as “FLOW” – which we were told little about prior – was not how I wanted to spend my evening.

We were asked – no, closer to requested  – to present ourselves, donning clay-splattered aprons, with recording devices and notebooks, pens and agreement forms. Kate commanded we merely interview the strangers about what caused them to lose track of time, have them sign the agreement form (so that the interviews could be posted on cups), and bestow upon them one of the many leftover cups from Kate’s previous installment of the piece.

Soon we were garbed and punctually prepared, standing stoically by the pedestal that held, oh, say 50 of these speckled porcelain vessels. By this time, we had grown in enthusiasm, and everyone wanted to do the first interview.

But when a young girl from the High School Girls division approached, it was I who first excitedly asked, “Are you interested in being interviewed for a cup?”

The answer was yes. I took my patron to the hallway, still empty and quiet what with the earliness of the opening, and commenced the oral questionnaire after receiving, in turn, a signature of agreement. I was ready, so very ready, to hear this young lady pour every inch of her feelings into this little battery-powered box.

What I got was possibly the blandest nonsense I’d ever heard. And then there was the next one, and the next one – by this time my coworkers had also begun interviews – and even more after that. No matter how I worded the questions, no matter how I smiled and tried to seem fascinated as I was pelted with bullet-like one-word answers, no one cared to elaborate, to lose themselves in describing their passion as Kate had promised.

How disappointing, I thought, snapping out of a daze as a confused young Intermediate asked, “Can I have my cup yet?” These people were not interested in FLOW, they were not interested in opening up to a complete stranger as much as myself. And for what? A rock-hard hunk of clay that someone else had put their time into, had lost themselves in?

InterviewingI thought about the interviews as I walked back to my division. There were some gems, of course, but for the most part all I got in accordance to passion was sand – dry and numerous. These people only wanted cups; they didn’t want to lose themselves in some pointless interview. They had places to be, but by God, they wanted their cups, and they’d go through the motions just to get one of those smooth, white clay vessels.

It was then that I realized I was in the wrong. There I was, expecting people to ramble about their passion and being thoroughly disappointed, while I only had to look at their motives for tolerating me and my cohorts. These people didn’t care to elaborate on their FLOW – they wanted to experience that of others in a physical form.

Of course.

Interviews in uniformIn the cups, Kate and her students had created a physical embodiment of losing track of time – they’d spent hours, days, weeks, at wheels, spinning and spinning and throwing and throwing. Over and over again. The interviewees did not want to talk, they wanted to look. Even subconsciously, they were more interested in the passion of others over their own. Isn’t that why people go to art shows, anyways? To see the interests of others take on literal shapes in our plain plane?

Anyone can go out and buy a cup, I remember thinking, but to have to sit through an interview just to get one – by golly, that’s dedication. It was inspiring in that people cared more to own a labor of love than to prattle on to a teenage girl about their own.

Well, good for them!  At least someone here is honest with themselves, I thought, embarrassingly recalling how ceaselessly I had spoken about art for my own interview.  Enjoy those cups, you uninteresting folk. Enjoy them, because if you simply don’t have a FLOW, you might as well lose yourself in someone else’s.

Would I install FLOW again at a traditional art opening?  I’m not so sure.  Kate raises some interesting questions to consider here.  But it seems I’m going to have to figure this out – because we have a new batch of interviews to share, and so I’ve been making some new cups whenever I have a few minutes to spare in the studio.  

Grateful to my ceramics students, all interviewees (willing to talk and eager for cups), Kate B. and her parents, and especially the Interlochen Visual Arts department for the support.  And always to the original collaborators.  



The best thing I’ve done.

Probably my greatest attribute is the fact that I can convince young people that they can do this, and they get involved with it, and I keep impressing on them that every time they pick a brush up, they get better. And I think that’s probably the best thing I’ve done with my life. That’s what’s probably going to be on my tombstone: That he taught me to pick up a brush.

Pete W. – October of his 42nd year teaching high school art

Caught Red-Handed

red handed

I’ve been in the studio after classes every school day for the past month.  Seriously, it’s become a habit now.  I’m not saying that as a bad thing, in fact it’s sort of my fall sport; throwing red cups.  I love it.  Sometimes I work on classwork, but usually I’m “caught red-handed” with these cups and pitchers.

The funny thing is that we still have no clue what we’re doing.  Maybe I’m supposed to pretend we are old pros and not tell anyone that we’re struggling/working hard here.  Perhaps I’m the only one, but I think we all experience this challenge.  It’s a type of project that we have never done before, and we all kind of ignorantly agreed to.  When I was first told about the FLOW Project I thought it sounded very interesting and I wanted to help.  200 cups and interviews seemed like a lot, but we had 2 whole months so it couldn’t be that hard.  Then came the college application process.  Oh gosh, you don’t know how intense that is until you’ve spent every weekend either visiting, researching, sitting in on talk of, testing for, planning, writing essays for or applying to college.  So that cut deep into my time this fall.  Then of course there are your grades, because you need to keep getting those A’s :).  Overall, we were more time-restricted than I thought we’d be.

image (1)But one week from today, we’ll be completely done!  The show is next weekend so there’s no time for procrastination.  It came fast, and we still have a good amount of interviews and planning to do, but we can manage it.  So maybe this project taught me something about what I’m (we’re) capable of.  We faced a challenge new to all of us, but we boldly accepted it and hopefully will hit it out of the park.  And I really do mean WE.  The collaboration in this project was just off the charts.  I even switched some cups for interviews with a brother; 5 to be exact.  I enjoy the cup making more, though people really do have some interesting things to say.  He enjoys the interviewing more, so we made an arrangement.  Working toward each other’s strengths and interests just makes sense in my opinion.

I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish, and I hope other people can enjoy drinking out of the cups we made and listening to the interviews we’ve done.  In fact, they should listen to more than just the interview that the QR code on the cup sends them to.  The more they listen to the better.  More interviews = awesome.  The reason I think this is important is because I feel like I’ve become wiser with every interview I do.  Sometimes I just gain insight into the interviewee, which in itself is precious.  But other times I see a deeper meaning to some of the conversations.  I’ve done a lot of thinking because of this project and can’t wait until I listen to all of these interviews.  After the conference probably, or maybe on the way over to Boston?  Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read my post and God bless.



Ebbs and Flows

While I’m doing something, I’m immersed. Now, that doesn’t mean I can’t get distracted – because I like shiny things and noisy stuff as much as anybody – but I try to come back to where I was.  And to me, even the distractions – the shiny stuff and the noisy things – become part of the whole process…

It’s all stream of experience as you go through the day… which makes living, first of all, and a job that you enjoy, a lot more bearable, because you see the ebbs and flows…

Rich R.

What IS flow?

Interviewing people about “flow” can sometimes be difficult. The first couple minutes involves explaining what flow is. Well, flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what someone does.

Most people have that one sport or one game they love. Some others even seemed stumped by the question. It’s scary to think our body functions and we “lose track of time” and have a sense of timelessness.

You may see a person in flow and not even realize it. I’m sure most teachers love what they do so much they get into a sense of flow. You never know if the mailman is fully absorbed in his job. Everybody has their own “flow” and some people do not even realize they have a “flow.”  Gardeners, sanitation workers, artists, scholars, poets, athletes, and businessmen all may have different flows, and all have found one thing in their life that they simply could not live without it.

Personally, I get into a flow sitting down at the potter’s wheel.  Three-hour open studios go by in a blink of an eye, and after school from 3-5 is even faster. I zone out everything around me and focus on the clay ball spinning in front of me.

It is almost funny to think that I put this much effort into making a drinking vessel or a pitcher when I own so many of these at home. I’m not sure that I enjoy the finished product and using my pieces as much as I enjoy the atmosphere of the studio and the relaxation of throwing a bowl. There isn’t a word to describe the feeling of putting a piece into the kiln to glaze it and seeing it come out. You can predict glazes, but there is nothing for certain. These are the things I enjoy so much that I could do without an end.


Challenge / Satisfaction

Challenging is an interesting word…. I don’t see it as a challenge… how can I put this? It would be challenging if I didn’t enjoy it as much as I do.

It IS a lot of work. That’s what some people don’t realize – it’s definitely very tedious, and it IS a lot of work. But the outcome you get from putting in all that work and effort… the amount that it pays off takes all of that feeling of challenge away. It’s just pure satisfaction.

Joe C.

Mindfulness and Learning

I’m trying to teach my students to just focus on the activity and the process, and not worry about the outcome. Their lives are so hectic right now, and so distracting – with technology, and with so many different subject matters – that they seem to turn on and off, on and off with subject matter – I’ve really been encouraging them to be mindful on the activity. To be aware of the mindfulness of just mindfulness.

Jon T.

Process over product

The ‘after’ really doesn’t matter to me as much as I thought it would. It’s really the process that I’ve come to enjoy. The building is the part that I look forward to… That’s what I think we need to get students to buy into: It’s the process of learning that’s valuable, not what they produce along the way.

Kevin Q.

Coding it up…

Coding it up...

Our first page of QR codes. We’re laying these out in Illustrator. We print the QRs on laser water-slide decal paper, using an older model HP printer. Then we apply them to the cups, and fire them a third time to a cooler temperature than the glaze.

It’s a process.