Wes Brown | Episode 915
Wesley Brown is a ceramicist working in East Stroudsburg, PA. Wes holds a BFA from Bowling Green State University and an MFA from Indiana University-Bloomington. Through a combination of hand building and wheel throwing Wes creates vessels in clay that are a meeting place for both the sculptural and functional.
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When someone asks what kind of work you make what words do you use to shine a light on your process or what you do?
It usually depends on who is asking. If it’s someone in an academic environment then I talk about how I am making ceramic works and I talk about how there’s sculpture and there’s functional. But if I am out in the community and there’s someone who’s not academically minded or not artistically minded then it’s like, Oh, I work in clay. I keep it simple. Ultimately I view myself as a ceramicist, I don’t really view myself as a potter. And the reason I don’t view myself as a potter is I know too many potters who make a living doing pots and I don’t want to confuse myself with someone who is making a living being a studio potter.
Do you see blending the lines between sculpture and functional work as innovation?
I don’t know if I would say it is innovation and the reason I don’t see it that way is because that’s just what I do. It’s where I find myself. It’s an odd one. I was thinking about this the other day, I’ve always find myself being in-between things. One thing but also another thing. One of the largest thing is racially I am African American but culturally I definitely skew more white because of my upbringing. I grew up with African American parents but I grew up with all white friends, in an all white school, in an all white neighborhood. And so culturally I don’t identify in many ways with what some might say is the more traditional African American experience, but there are parts of it that are there. And I feel similar when it comes to the making of work. I grew up making pots but I also did sculpture. And so what comes out of me now is a blending of both.
I am curious about you as a teacher. Is creativity something that you can teach?
I listened to a talk of a clinical psychologist talking about creativity and whether or not it can be taught or whether it’s learned. I think that if you are looking at creativity from the standpoint of a trait. It sometimes gets groups with personality traits, it’s like creativity and innovation and that’s kind of defined as the ability to come up with the novel solution. Which means you have a problem and you find a way to fix the problem in a way that hasn’t been thought of before. (One of the examples they used was asking a group to list all the ways one could use a brick and some individuals wrote answers others would not have thought of.) So in that way creativity isn’t something that so much learned as it is something that is kind of innate, an ability to blur the lines between things. Or to rather not have things in a category or to move them out a category quickly in some kind of way that is innovative or new. When it comes to teaching there is an expectation that some people are creative and some people are not, but my goal and desire as a teacher is to move students to get past those first few answers for what a brick can be used for. I am trying to get them to think a little bit beyond that.
To stimulate it? Oh man, it’s just always kind of running. It’s kind of the same with my anxiety. When do you get most anxious in the day? Well I mean I wake up and my eyes open and it’s there. There’s not like a time where there’s more, it’s just kind of always this dull roar. And so for my creativity I don’t know, I think that there’s…inspiration hits when it hits. When I have time set aside and I can actually sit and start doing something. When the rubber starts to hit the road I give myself a few hours to make some new work then I can really get down to it. I also get inspiration when I am making a demo and I get an idea while I am explaining it to my students.
What kind of tools do you use to help your students be more creative?
What tools do I use to help my students be more creative? A sketchbook. Giving my students the requirement of writing things down, things that they have to commit to what they are saying or what they are thinking. What happens if I give students just a prompt to do something and ask them what their ideas are it becomes real flowery and becomes limitless and weightless and it tastes like honey and it’s light as a feather. But when I tell them to draw it then suddenly it becomes concrete.