featured image – condiment dish: porcelain 8 cm, multiple overlain slips, moon white satin glaze, cone 7+ oxidation
So, if we were to pretend just for a moment, that matter is actually constituted slightly in the vein of the standard model of particle physics, the question which slips noisily into my foggy consciousness appears to be, “In exactly what way does this model help me deeply understand how I created the little porcelain condiment dish I just made?”
I, a potter, develop an idea for a new shape, a new form, a new foot, a new edge, a new curve and new physical texture, a new playfulness with a new placement of new slips, which will help create a colour and visual texture joined intimately with the physical robustness of clay, and still expose the crystalline texture and yet glossiness of the glaze, which I am simultaneously in the process of developing.
So, I have this notion of achieving this physical undertaking — I do not know how I got the notion — and I begin to act and play with the materials. It takes a little while, which could be anywhere from the same morning, or a couple of days to a couple weeks — occasionally a tortuous six months to navigate and usher this intimated notion/feeling/image into the real world as a material object. It now sits on a small pedestal.
But all being well, the notion that was present to me in the moment of imagining, thinking and inner seeing what it was that I wanted/craved/passioned to create, is still with me and has not slipped away (some do). With practice of course this is more and more reliable.
Of course, practice is not what it is that I am wondering about. What practice is, however, is fully fraught with so many conceptual difficulties that I couldn’t begin to explain its details to anyone in a few sentences. Is practice simply repetition, a form of intimate creative body-learning, a step forward, a transposition of a feeling into a thing, seeing a mental map and so on?1
Here and now, I am seeking how to ask a question. We live in a material world, (not only the Material Girl word of Madonna’s dynamic 1973 hit song.) Physicality, human bodies, matter, mass, atoms and molecules, subatomic quanta, particles, waves, force carriers and the energy related thereto: do they generate new ideas and creative images which drive the potter’s practice? Sigh!
So, we’re pretending (prae tendere, Latin and eventually, Middle English) that I have this idea. This inner sight, this image, and this new take on something with which I engage in my studio, and I want to end the process with clay objects in the traditional undertaking in ceramics: they are fired in my kiln. Traditional, yes; practice, yes; new creation, yes! How could practice change tradition if it follows tradition?
OK, I suppose that is true. How is it that ‘I-the- Potter’, had an idea — which I had not had before? As far as I know, I am not my brain and as far as I know my brain is not an idea. This mental (inner) experience is a new vision, a new shape, a newly coloured, textured and created thing: not one from previous creation.
What’s up, doc?
- Ph.D.: “The Art of Earth and Fire” (The Aesthetics of Robin George Collingwood and the Craft of the Studio Potter), 1990, Concordia University, Montréal: great fun, hard thinking, seeing/sensing and stimulating. Much thanks!