As our kiln crew has morphed from a primarily middle-aged team to a younger group, I’ve given a lot of thought to the demographic of kiln crews and workshop participants. Over the years I’ve found the firings and workshops I’ve led were filled with thoughtful and engaged potters. Among these wonderful experiences a few stand out as being exceptional. I’ve been taking a close look, trying to discover the elusive factor that tips a great experience over the edge of magic. Turns out there are a lot of them. However, the mix of ages and gender kept showing up on my radar.
I’ve found both workshops and firings can be inspiring with any blend of folks, but when there is mix – not necessarily a balanced mix, of age and gender – a higher octane creativity and exploration kicks in.
When a homogenous group turns out to stoke or explore, they work with shared values and assumptions, resulting in a comfortably supportive experience. Shake up the mixture to achieve significant gender and age variation, with a variety of backgrounds to thicken the plot and a certain tension fuses the collaboration. In this group there are quick second thoughts about jokes told, music played and political remarks. Assumptions about aesthetic choices and motivation for working become more complex. A creative tension exists that provokes and encourages the extension of boundaries.
Young guys, hot off an MFA program are wheel to wheel with a middle-aged mom taking a break from kids and routine; who’s throwing complex forms with an ease the guys haven’t seen before. They silently recalculate their place in the ceramic food chain.
During a tea break, a couple of mid-career potters listen to a young woman speak passionately about her work, the importance of clay in her life and why it matters in the 21st century. They listen and hear an urgency, a fire that they’ve forgotten and see the lack of it in their work – good work, but safe work. Their focus in the workshop shifts. In this context, if all goes well, magic happens; and we leave the firing, the workshop, changed.
For now, this is my best hunch about what really comes down to mystery and grace. Slippery to define, but we’ve all been there and we know it when we see it, yes? Wheels turn. Hearts open. Peace, Kevin