The freedom in limitation

Limitations give us the freedom to explore within a closed set of variables.

When you write music you don’t just say, “Lets start, here are ALL the notes I can play, let me pick some and see how they sound.” There is just way too much in that scenario. You You pick your scale based on the feeling that you want to get across. Then within that scale you start to pick your notes and chords (and the spaces between the notes matter just as much). Then a song is started and we hope that the muse is with us.

Its the same with Martial Arts. There are only a finite number of ways that the body can move. In Hapkido we try to make our opponents joints move in a way they were not meant to 😉 which is still finite. We try to master our 15 basic techniques which is what all else builds upon.

It is the same with clay and the techniques used. I am a simple guy. Although Rube Goldberg machines are fascinating to watch I don’t like to get into that method of creation. I want to use the least amount of variables to achieve what needs to be done in a simple and elegant way.

The minimum amount of variables that we can use in ceramics and I’m probably missing some –

  • Clay body (for the sake of argument lets just pick a pre made body – you can go real deep into the ingredients and the amounts of each that make up a ceramic body)
  • Forming method (Wheel / Handmade / Slab / Sculpt / Etc…)
  • Shape & Form (Bowl / Cup / Plate / Sculpture / Thickness / Function / Almost infinite variations!)
  • Glaze (again for the sake of argument lets just pick a pre made glaze)
  • Glaze Color
  • Firing Type (Electric / Gas / Pit / Wood / Salt / Oxidation / Reduction)
  • Firing Temperature (low fire / high fire)
  • Firing Speed
  • Firing Length
  • Cooling Speed

As you can see this simple list contains so many variables already that when you start adding in making your own glazes, making your own clay bodies, firing with wood and choosing the right place in the kiln for the best flashing effects, we end up with basically a whole UNIVERSE of possibilities.

This is why I am focusing on only a few forms, trying to limit my glaze palate and just get better at throwing in general. I’ve only worked a year out of my 10,000 hours (the general rule of thumb that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in a given field although I hear it has been debunked a bit in recent years given that an innate talent and quality of practice gives you some wiggle room with that number). Even with the humble Chawan tea bowl there are so many variations that you could spend a lifetime on that single form.

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