I agree that not every student to walk through the door wants to learn to make pots or to improve the pots they are making. Some are just looking for something to do with their hands after a long work week. Some are there for the social aspect. Some are there just to play around. But I think everyone wants to have at least a little fun. So I try to push them when I feel I can. I always try to rationalize it that the more pots they make the more experience they get, the more experience they get, the better their pots will be, and that the better their pots become the more they will enjoy making them.
Not everyone is convinced by this, and some are truly happy just making that same old heavy bowl over and over again. Its not just about courage some times but desire, and I can't object if there is no desire to learn new things. But fear IS something I try to discourage. If the reason a student has for doing something a certain way is that they are afraid to do it differently, then I DO encourage them to break from this (isn't that a great word, "encourage"?). And I don't think there has ever been a student not to thank me for helping them get over their fears.
If their courage ended the moment they stepped through that door they won't have the desire to keep with it. And they certainly won't have as much fun as they could. They will remain fearful and intimidated, and letting students stay this way is not doing them a service. Or so I believe. If they honestly don't want to do something I can't dispute that, but if they are afraid to do it I will always intercede. I will encourage them the best I can. Children are such natural artists because they are fearless creators. The rules haven't been invented to chain them down. And 'success' is only measured by how much fun you had.
Its only as adults that we can't accept being "powerfully bad", as you put it. I like what you say about being a bridge for the students, fanning the flame of their passion for clay. For me, setting the ground work involves putting the students in as good a position as possible to have fun with what they are doing. So of course the experimental creative side has to wait for the building blocks of skill and confidence. So I don't rush beginners or even some advanced students to jump ship on the things they are already doing. There is a time and place for all that.
I guess my real point was just that the more serious the student the more important it becomes to nurture this creative fertility. If we don't acknowledge it or we discount its value then the examples of artists like Catherine are wasted on us. If we admit that it is important to learn we are saying that it is important to learn new things, maybe not at this moment, but that it IS important. And if this is something we value, then learning to think for ourselves is a huge advantage. It is a necessary skill for moving beyond the things already mastered. Or so it seems to me.