You Cannot Fly Into Flying: Beginning Anything in Real Spacetime


You cannot tightrope walk by watching this YouTube clip. (But the person who created it is learning!)

You cannot watch and watch and watch,  read and read and read, talk and talk and talk, think and think and think about tightrope walking and say you are actually doing it.

The doing of the thing is the thing and that happens in Spacetime. And as that link you just read past will tell you, “Spacetimes are the arenas where all physical events take place.” Where you and your physical body are located right here, right now.  HERE = the 3 to 24 (it’s debatable) spatial dimensions.  NOW = the 1 temporal dimension (apparent agreement.)

OK, the watching, reading, talking and thinking will help line yourself up right for the doing, especially if you try to be fully present as you watch closely, read the right sources, talk to the right crowds, think about it in an associative and retentive  manner, and maybe – or even especially – run through the related physical motions. They will most certainly lead you to better observations, reading material,  conversations and cognitions galore.

Rehearsals, all!

And if they lead you to the doing part,  you might be so well-rehearsed in mind, body and spirit, you surprise yourself with how simple and honest it feels. Honey, that’s good rehearsing! As Olympic Gold Medal figure skater Scott Hamilton has reportedly said, it’s also “skating stupid.”  The doing falls out of you because you have successfully absorbed the Preparatory. The watching, reading, talking, thinking, even the pantomiming, have transitioned you to the Repertory.

Preparatory. That’s  still where I’m at with designing my Beginning Ceramic Handbuilding class.  The actions I’m involved with right now are definitely not the real teaching. All this gathering, editing, organizing and questioning are totally necessary to manage a good run when the time comes. If you want more of what’s going into that, my recent two posts here and here do some pretty elegant expository hand-wringing about “my process,” such as it is.

There is, however, a larger motivation for aligning myself with the vital differences between preparatory/repertory – or theory/practice – and that’s because the students who will come to study with me will experience their own version of it. How can I guide them as they transit the continuum from hearing, reading, watching, etc. to doing?

We both know that all the talking and reading and showing and sharing we do are but the foundational intro or interlude to touching the clay and moving it around with intention. Hell, we all can practice the valuable Coeleen Kiebert exercise of physically assuming the positions of our pots and sculptures, but it’s ONLY when we mold, pound, coil, pinch, carve, smooth, sponge, brush that we deeply know what this clay stuff is for ourselves.

Some of these beginners will undoubtedly run gladly off in many directions, full of joyful assumptions.  Wanting to do it all at once perfectly,  attempting to swallow the clay universe in one gulp.  Acting as if Spacetime didn’t include the sequential time part. That’s where I think the heart of my guide role is: pacing the doing. Intertwining the cognitive with the active in our tiny corner of the Wide World of Clay. Supplying a studied but ultimately idiosyncratic version of a sequential scaffold for them to climb around on, lift by lift.

Friedrich Nietzsche (that’s him painted by Edvard Munch in 1906 in the top illustration) said it brilliantly, “He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; you cannot fly into flying.”

Clay work taught me patience and presence. Well, not so much taught as forced them upon me, as I was definitely of the Fly Into Flying bent as a newbie. My endless groundings and crashes lasted years more than perhaps needed. Could  I have spent more time on effective Preparation? Could I have had better scaffolding? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Because of my experiences, I don’t expect to save any artist from their personal process. But I do believe the least I can do as their flight instructor is to shed a bright and true spotlight onto the highwire act and the ladder up to it in our spacetime arena and encourage them to give it a real try.

Class Nuts and Bolts: 6 Thursdays, 2-5pm, Session I: Feb 23 to March 29, Session II (with different techniques and projects): April 12 – May 17. Held at the Santa Cruz Mountains Art Center, 9341 Mill Street, Ben Lomond, CA,  831-3364ART.

If you’re so inclined, you can call or register online at Class is $180 for Members/$200 Non-Members.

Next time: Those visual aids! (Yes, I know I promised them last post and the post before. Clay takes an uncertain amount of time and they’re just not done yet! Think I would know by now, do ya?)



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Time and Gravity Fall Down Go Boom

Fallen Sphinx Totem

It happens several times daily: the dog pushes open the back door to get in and I am too pre-occupied to get up and shut it. Besides, we are having weeks upon weeks of the best Summer-in-the-Winter ever here on the Monterey Bay and there is no need to batten the hatches. The daffodils are blooming and the bugs are still asleep, a sweet time.

Last week Zorro, our sly XL Mini Schnauzer, pushed himself inside and disappeared around a corner. Shortly, I heard an emphatic crash which ended with semi-tinkling flourishes. Well, that got me up! I wasn’t sure where the sound came from and found no obvious broken dog messes anywhere in the house. Nothing jiggled off the dryer, no artwork detached from the walls, my studio remained quietly waiting for me. The dog was unconcerned. I concluded that because of the open door I must have heard one of our (nine – but that’s another story) neighbors, or the roofers three doors down. Back to my pre-occupations.

What fell is pictured above. It has been a fixture in the side yard for years and it fell over behind plants, a wooden cart and the fence so I didn’t notice it until days later. I called it the Sphinx Totem and it is still one of the most wildly complicated things I have ever pulled-off in hand-building ceramics class.

Each of its parts were soulful references to ancient and classical imagery, the entirety crafted to resonate with the sacred geometry of the Golden Mean as explored and diagrammed in the commanding book The Power of Limits by Gyorgy Doczi.

I can’t locate a photo of the completed piece in its former wholeness. Instead, I found my concept drawings:

Sphinx Totem Sketch with Golden Mean Harmonics

Starting at the bottom, a ring of roots surrounding a Greek column – a column being a formalized tree as well as an axis mundi. On top of the column a sphere within a cube frame. Then a large shallow bowl windrose with symbols for the eight winds of the Mediterranean around its rim. Above the windrose, an s-ribbed wind turbine which I had designed to spin at the slightest puff, but inertia and friction have long-proved to be fearsome contenders.

Guarding the whole piece at eye level, the Sphinx, one of my first figures in clay. She’s magnificently capable of issuing a perplexing riddle. She rendered the top pieces – a fairly graceful Lamp of Learning and a lumpy Rub ‘n’ Buff-colored Chakra Tower – mere finials of denouement.

The interior support for this four foot high twelve-part affair was a metal pipe which went about half way up, with a longer wooden dowel inserted into it running the entire height. As predicted for Someday, the dowel rotted and broke at the exact top of the metal pipe, toppling everything higher than the axis mundi onto the marble, bricks, and Mexican river rocks below. Teetering Empyrean! Someday’s arrived!

Years of ceramics have left me with little resistance to the shardy reality of a broken Opus. This might be an oxymoron, but I felt rather Vulcan: it was fascinating! I photographed it, swept up the pieces and noted that my favorites survived whole: the roots ring, the column, the Sphinx.

What's meant to remain

I take this as a sign of necessary evolution and simplification, of putting away childish things, of movement and progress, crossing the bridge, fording the river, sailing to the New World. I am blessedly released from a certain kind of past and this crash reinforces it.

With a new studio, the new year, new associations and the ACGA Exhibiting Member acceptance, fresh vistas have appeared. And while a few somethings, even significant ones, are lost, Time is currently sending more fascination than lack. Gravity is just not all that grave right now.

Fall seven times, rise eight as the saying goes. But maybe it’s easier than that; maybe falling is like autumn leaves, utterly natural… and if we trust and allow, don’t mope and protest, and stay fascinated, we see that rising up and leafy renewal are already written within Fall Down Go Boom.

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