Friday, November 16, 2012

Passed the test. Failed to use it.

About 25 years ago, I took a test and found out I was a VKA. That stands for Visual, Kinesthetic, and Audio. It’s a learning style. Mine. And although I thought it was interesting, I didn’t see the point for me because I was ‘done’ with school, right? Wrong.

It went something like this: I took the test as part of a volunteer orientation at the local Children’s Museum. They wanted to show volunteers the importance of learning styles and how they used that in their exhibits. It was fascinating, especially since my original college major was early childhood development. At the time, I had one pre-school daughter and another boy on the way. I couldn’t wait to test them, find out their learning styles and use it to help them learn and grow.

After I was tested as VKA, I was told that I would be very good working with my hands. Creating art, especially, functional art because my test showed that I was good at seeing not just form but function and putting the two together would be natural for me. The tester, a woman with great insight, asked me, “So, do you love to work in clay?” I nodded because I had worked in clay in high school and college and I did like it. She went on, “You’re a potter, aren’t you?” I shook my head because using the wheel in ceramics class had been an embarrassing nightmare.

Here’s where I failed: Not using the information for myself. Because I thought I was done with school.

Surprise, a few years later, I went back to school. I took art classes in everything but clay. Why? Fear. My fear of failure with clay was so great because my love of clay was so great. I made clay masks and small sculptures but they became parts of my bigger mixed media pieces or sat unfinished in my closet. I switched to working in copper and window screening giving up on clay, once again. Until one day a generous man came to my studio, saw my clay work and gave me his kiln and wheel. I got the kiln up and running, but the wheel gathered dust for several years. Fear, again.

Another surprise, I went back to class again. This time, I took wheel throwing. I struggled, not just with the wheel, but with my fear. One day as I was folding laundry, I’d had enough. I had two choices- never use the wheel again and live with my fear of failure or get out there and conquer it.
I threw down the towels, went outside, pulled the wheel out of the dusty corner and slapped a ball of clay on the wheel head. I sat down. Somehow, magically, a bowl appeared on the wheel. Then I made another and another and another.
Today, in my studio, I have two 6 foot shelves filled with bowls, mugs, vases and more stashed in my kitchen. I made so many this year, I donated bowls to support the local food bank. And, the biggest surprise of all? People actually want to buy my bowls, cups and vases. For the first time, my kids ask if they can have some of my pieces.
I passed the learning styles test alright. But I failed to see what it was trying to show me. If I’d listened 25 years ago, who knows how many more bowls I’d have made by now?

So, here’s my word of wisdom to you. Take the test here. Figure out what learning style you are. Then, take a look at your life and see if there’s a way to put it to work for you. Now.

Oh, and give the test to your partner, kids, grandkids, best friends. Why? Because it might help them see themselves in a much clearer light. And it might help you see why they are the way they are.

And to the woman in charge of the Children’s Museum in Portland, Oregon 25 years ago: THANKS!

Because of the seed you planted all those years ago, today, I’m proud to say, that yes, I am a ceramic artist creating functional and sculptural work in clay!

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