Monday, 19 November 2012

Trust your hands

I am in Brisbane now, giving a workshop in creative throwing to the potters at the Brisbane Institute of Art.  This is an independent non-profit organisation which is not a government art school but a place which runs art classes at various levels and is open to anyone.  They have a wonderful building – after years of being peripatetic and homeless, operating out of temporary accommodation, a football club with glorious premises went bankrupt, and now the Brisbane Art Institute has their huge building.  What an interesting metaphor of society here, that it cannot afford football but it can afford art.  There are classes in printmaking in a well-equipped printmaking studio, a massive painting studio, facilities for sculpture, bookbinding, and ceramics of course.
They do award their own diplomas which are recognized by the government art colleges, and interestingly their own diplomas are awarded after students have achieved a certain level of ability, without the need to write long dissertations, in fact without the need for them to do any written component at all.  So it focuses on the activity itself, and is not en route to academia as are all government art courses now here and in the UK. 
The only difference between the old vocational HND courses in the UK and the new BA Hons courses with which the universities rushed to replace them is that the BA course has a dissertation component which accounts for a large proportion of the assessment.  As far as the practical content is concerned it is the same on both courses.  Here the emphasis is on doing, and it seems to be what the participants want, as it is thriving.
There is a mixed bunch of participants on the course, from well-established professional ceramic artists to beginners, including one middle-aged Japanese man.  I am enjoying teaching his culture back to him in the form of the clay preparation method and kneading which I learned in Mashiko where I lived for four years as a student potter.  He seems to know it is something significant to him and has taken to it like a duck to water.
Yesterday we were focusing on using the potters wheel as a creative tool, not just a vehicle for mass production, which of course it can be too.  But too often in the rush to master the technique of throwing pots we can forget that it is a creative medium just as poetry writing is, or composing music is, or dancing is.  I have been surprised to see that the less I teach about the technique the more it is possible for students to grasp what I am saying and to be free to experiment and to play. 
So now I am holding right back, and just suggesting that they focus on playing and being loose, and trusting their hands.  After all, they told me yesterday that the reason they have come on this workshop is because they respond to my lively throwing and also my use of colour, which we will come to later today.
Sandy Brown is an internationally renowned ceramicist who lives and works in North Devon. She is the Art Advisor at Resurgence magazine.
Find out more about Sandy Brown

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