Alchemists worked in teams which were usually one woman and one man: sister/brother, daughter/father, wife/husband because they believed both anima and animus had to be drawn on in the creative process. I am sure there were transgressive teams that were same gender, or groups or solo pioneers but as alchemy was such a secretive science and magic there is not much evidence of this.
I am drawn to alchemy as a ceramicist as it explores the magic of early understanding of our material universe, the roots of chemistry which contain transformation from one substance to another, the application of the elements in controlled conditions – fire, water, air and earth – to create something new from these basic stuffs.
It is magic, It is chemistry. It requires a willingness to engage with both.
As an art potter I respond to ideas about the world and my environment, the qualities of the materials, the tactility and plastic nature of clay, the joys of decoration and glazing, the accidents, mistakes and mysteries that happen when you commit work to the kiln.Some might call this a “feminine” approach to making – instinctual, emotional, exploratory.
So my work to date has been allowed to flourish without too much application of the discipline of the scientific processes. But this scientific rigour is what I need to learn be able to direct my work now – so I have more choices and more control over what I produce, and this is the basis of the work with my mentor during this process of professional development. I am learning how to control the clay to make a well-made pot and it’s a challenge but one I’m enjoying.
Straight lines, well made edges and joins, clean cuts and precise decoration. Is this accessing and using a “male” aspect of creativity?
As an artist I find it easier to be in the right side of the brain for my work and find the left brain stuff more of a challenge. But this is because I have been through a gender segregated education system that wouldn’t allow girls to do woodwork or technical drawing.I had no teaching of practical skills within my family; I taught myself to wire plugs, change light bulbs, paint and decorate and put up shelves from the age of 10 because someone had to do it.
This process of working with another potter on making, decorating, glazing and firing is going to fill that gap for me and give me a sense of entitlement to that knowledge and those skills.
I do believe we need both – the instinct and the control, the gut response and the ability to refine in order to effectively express our creativity.
I don’t believe these are “naturally gendered” qualities. We all have them, we can all use them. We just have been supported and encouraged to develop one set at the expense of the other.
Of course I am writing this as a child of the 1960s and hope this isn’t so rigidly divided now,but we seem to be going backward in this respect in advertising, the media, gendered toys and career paths.
So now the emergence of the baggy pot which allows the clay to follow it’s natural inclinations and create its own baggy bottom with gravity, but where I have great attention to detail of texture, decoration and glazing is drawing on the best of both worlds.