From the Editor: January 2017

Shiyuan Xu’s Through the Lens, 26½ in. (67 cm) in length, porcelain, 2015. This piece was included in NCECA’s 2016 NSJE exhibition at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center in Kansas City, Missouri in 2016. Check out a review.


While we do not really know where creativity comes from, we have all found ways to invite it in. In this issue, beginning our 65th year (!) we decided to bring together articles that look at artists’ approaches to cultivating the creativity that is at the core of our studio practices—from the role that following curiosity plays, to the ways that thinking about an object’s ability to ignite the imagination (both for the artist and the viewer), to the boost that changing your surroundings through a residency or travel can provide.

How do you cultivate creativity? For me it’s been about paying attention to what I notice or am drawn to, then following up on that by reading, researching, writing, and drawing. I believe that creativity favors the prepared mind. Once my thoughts are flowing, I work on a draft or prototype form as I think about and develop the idea further. Then I step away, giving my mind time to mull things over unconsciously by listening to a podcast or an audio book, going for a hike, cleaning the studio, working in the garden, etc., before continuing to develop my idea. Invariably, the time away leads me to make new connections between ideas, or helps me to challenge myself with new questions.

I am deadline driven by nature, but my personal creativity depends on allowing myself time for “making work for the indulgence of possibility, exploring for the sake of exploring,” as Katey Schultz phrases it this issue’s article on Steven Heinemann’s work. Paying close attention to something, truly looking, leads to new discoveries.

In my first drawing class as an undergraduate student, we each had to build a vaguely architectural structure out of 100 white, 1-inch squares of mat board held together with white glue. We ended up drawing these structures from all different angles for weeks as we tried to master perspective drawing. As I created drawing after drawing, I became acutely aware of little details, like the number of colors that could be reflected off of or contained in the shadows on that white mat board, how different viewing angles affected my perception of the form, and the ways that the elements of the structure that I noticed most would change from day to day.

I was reminded of this experience when I was at the 2016 National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) conference in Kansas City, Missouri. Despite the sense of urgency I felt while visiting exhibitions—based on the need to see so much great work in a short period of time—certain pots or sculptures made me slow down, look, and really consider them. While at the NCECA National Student Juried Exhibition, this happened often, and one of the times was when I found myself in front of Shiyuan Xu’s piece (pictured below). Beyond the obvious physical similarities that brought up the memory from a drawing class long ago, what the piece communicates to me is that focused time spent looking at a form is valuable and worthwhile because of what that investment can reveal, both in the object of your gaze and in your own thoughts.

What we do in the studio is complex, requiring not only technical skill but also, and equally important, creative thinking. Finding ways to keep the practice engaging provides infinite rewards.


- Jessica Knapp, Editor


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