Thursday, January 20, 2011

Graduate School -- USF -- 1971

I went to graduate school in Ceramics at the University of South Florida in Tampa and since NCECA is in Tampa/St Pete this year, I just had some slides scanned. Both of these slides are of my work at the end of the first year, which would be the early summer of 1971. We had to display our first year's works to see whether we would be accepted to continue and this was my setup. Casual. The whole place was casual. But effective as all the professors came out to see it, and I was allowed to continue.

USF was a very new college at that time and the view you see here is long gone, with buildings everywhere. Almost all of the professors were under 35 years old, so it was a young place and very stimulating. New, progressive, confrontational. We had people like James Rosenquist and Robert Rauschenberg making work down the hall from us in the GraphicStudio, and the place was teeming with energy.

I'm not sure how these pieces relate to my current work; I had only been interested in Ceramics for 3 years at the time, and so these were some of my early pieces. This was also before I decided to become a potter so I was not trying to make pots. Pots were not looked upon as a valid direction for a graduate student at USF. I had shelves in my studio and kept black plastic over them and made pots on the side all my way through grad school. Fired them on the weekends. So I really had two bodies of work going at the time and the professors knew about the pots, did not seem to mind much, but they never saw them.


Ann said...

Doesn't everyone make sculpture in Graduate School?

John Tilton said...

Only if they want to graduate.

Actually, at that time it depended where you went to school since there were still potters teaching at the university level.

Just trying to stir up some comments.

John Bauman said...

"Pots were not looked upon as a valid direction for a graduate student at USF."

Y'know, I hear this time and again and I've always wondered...was this "looked upon" vocalized and overt? Or was it tacit and an atmosphere created by intimidation?

...or is it even possible that it is a student-generated (mis)interpretation?

John Tilton said...

My teacher, Charles Fager, told me that I was to make work that was on the cutting edge of Ceramics, and that functional work was not an option. My friend Neal Jowaisas got his MFA at RISD under Norm Schulman, and he made a set of dinnerware for his thesis, so functional pottery was being done in universities at the time. But, in my case, it was clearly stated that my path would be sculpture for a couple of years.

I must admit that, even though I was probably an incredible pain in the ass, I look back on that time and really appreciate all my teacher did for me. I could not have been in a better place or had better instruction than what I got.

Fager's style was to just let me work and not really say that much until I asked him for a critique. I would spend a whole day setting up my work in my studio. Then he would spend an hour one on one and it was always incredible what he had to say. He was very kind but honest, and his perception was amazing. I just learned so much from him.

My work won a few nice prizes at that time and of course I thought it was me, but after a few years out of school, I realized that it was him. I was using his perception to make my work.

So I look back on that time as one of great freedom, not as one where I made stuff that I hated. Plus I was making pots on the side.

I do think that the sculptural ideas still inform my work today.

John Bauman said...

Sounds like it was a great experience for you.

I would never have made it. I shudder to think of what I might have thought important as a 20 year old. Having the framework of pottery within which to be creative probably saved me lots of embarrassing backward glances.

John Tilton said...

It was certainly a great experience. The whole faculty was good, my committee people were incredible, and I got to have these people help me crystallize my ideas.

The idea was not so much what I made, but how I learned to analyze and approach problems. Pretty much all graduate school work is immature with respect to what happens over the next 50 years, so in that sense, it just doesn't matter what you make. Not that I didn't think it did at the time, just that over time things change and develop.

Lookout Mountain Pottery said...

John, wow, I remember when you made those. I also remember the big vessels with the fire cracker holes and how about the flocked pots. I do have a pitcher you made when you did that collection of pitchers.Those were some super times and you made a great collection of work

John Tilton said...

I'm getting some of those slides scanned at ScanCafe and I wish I had them now so I could post them. I've got all the firecracker ones and the flocked ones already picked out to scan, but I have almost 40 years to go before sending them off. Even a couple of the pitchers.

Boy have those slides faded. I have kept them almost as nicely as you could, and they are mere shadows of themselves.