Classical, Reggae, Rock, Folk, Tribal, NPR – How does Music Affect your Work?


At a recent workshop I attended, a participant asked the instructor what music they listened to when they worked.  At first I thought it an odd question.  For me, it is a hodge podge, driven by the consensus of my group studio where it is either NPR or classical to keep friction to a minimum. But as I thought about it more, I realized that I have been thinking about the relationship between clay and music for a while.

Even though I don’t always get to listen to the music that strikes my momentary fancy, I have often wondered what effect music would have on how my pots, particularly at the throwing stage.  When I alter my pots, I do so quickly and deliberately, but also with a sense of freedom and looseness.  I intentionally vary the movement to keep the pots fresh.  And I have wondered if that movement would change with the melody or base line playing in the background.  I’ve thought about doing a series of “music” pots – some made to energizing percussive rock like Cowboy Mouth, others to soothing classical like Mozart and still others to bluegrass/gospel rhythm, such as Red Molly.  Alas, I have not had a chance to explore this idea, but I can’t quite let go of it.

My idea is starting to get more momentum.  I was sitting at the wheel the other day, with classical playing in the background.  I began to alter a freshly thrown pot and noticed that my motion was in line with the melody.  Hmmm, there it was.  It was a gently curvy line.  And I wondered – would “Honey on My Grave” produce something different; more soulful?

And would “Jenny Says” result in something entirely different; more erratic, more energetic?

This last weekend I was attending our local clay club get together.  It was a wonderful potluck with great food served in beautiful pottery.  And there was musical entertainment.  Aca-perco, a vocalist/songwriter/percussionist and her drummer/potter partner who makes his own ceramic drums.  The music was great and inventive with a lovely tribal undertone from the drums.  I was moved enough to buy a cd.

My first chance to listen to the cd was while driving to work the other day.  One song in particular really spoke to me.  It had lots of clay drums and made me wonder, now what kind of pot would I make if I was listening to this while throwing. Clay speaking to clay through me. What a beautiful thought. And then I thought of someone asking me what music influenced my not-yet started musical pot series.  How fun.  And that made me think about how cool it would be if a musician had a potter influence their music?  You can see the dangers of a long commute.  Well, I’ve got one example of the latter.  Here is a beautiful song written about throwing pots on a wheel.

Potter’s Wheel

By the way, I have no answers to any of the questions I have posed here.  Maybe after my fall wood-firing I will get a chance to explore this.  But until then, I am wondering how music affects your pots?  Does it? Do you play different music when making different forms?  Let us know.

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About Claytastic

Health coach. Writer. Teacher. Artist. Living an amazing life with MS. Interested in bringing peace and beauty into people's lives.
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6 Responses to Classical, Reggae, Rock, Folk, Tribal, NPR – How does Music Affect your Work?

  1. Lori says:

    I chose the name Claydancer for a reason – anyone can tell what I’ve been listening to just by looking at my work – one of my students referred to it as claydancing rather than throwing.

    My ‘Gershwin’ pots are more voluptuous and have a quiet femininity to them. ‘Bond’ causes them to be very fluid and full of energy. ‘Ted Nugent’, on the other hand just helps me throw them BIG.

  2. carter says:

    I used to have a great deal of anxiety over this issue. When I was in grad school I was working in an environment that had music playing, but it was not my music and I was not in control of what got played. One of my studio mates had Madonna blasting away most mornings, and I noticed that her work DID in fact seem influenced by this. This scared me enough that I changed my studio practice so that I only worked while there was no music. I thought that the best way for me to be true to my own artistic vision was to do work without Madonna’s help. Some environmental influences can be shut out, others cannot. Some influences are obvious and others are insidious. My belief was that by avoiding music in my practice I was somehow being more ‘authentic’.

    Well, there is something real and important about how music can influence our work, but my response was obviously overboard. It is not as if we can strip away external influences and be left with something that has artistic interest or value. Rather, we are beings that are COMPOSED of all these influences and what we experience, what we like, and who we are is merely a manifestation of this. There is no ‘pure being’ standing behind these layers. So the question becomes one of control. Avoiding music was not even as useful as sticking my head in the sand. Music is part of who I am, whether I am listening to it at the moment or not.

    A painting instructor once gave a lecture where he described his studio practice as involving what he called “priming the will”. What this meant was that he would set out to place himself in the circumstances that were most conducive to successful creative endeavor. This could be anything from a breakfast mug of coffee to NPR in the background, starting out with a sketch, Tai Chi, yoga, what ever. The point is that we are at least somewhat in control of the conditions in which we work and that these have a real impact on our performance. Becoming aware of the things that put you in a position that better leads to your goals is simply smart practice.

    The wellspring of our creativity can sometimes be mysterious. The things that influence us can often lie below our awareness. But there are patterns. In a medium as tactile as ceramics we have trained our hands to do so much of the thinking for us, and our practice depends on the foundation of this firm relationship. But as immediate as our interaction with the clay can seem, there is always an undercurrent of influence that we bring each time we sit down at the wheel or the table. If you make your best work when you are mad, get mad. If you are most creative when you are at peace, be at peace. If you work best with a background of music, put the stereo on. Does a clean studio seem to help? Are you comfortable only with your tools organized and in their proper places, or is clutter your preferred natural state? Know these things about yourself and give yourself the benefit of your own wisdom.

    • claytastic says:

      Great comment Carter. There is a lot to think about in our studio practice and how it influences our work. Ninety-five percent of my work is done in a communal studio. But during that 5 percent when I work in my basement, things are more peaceful. There are fewer distractions and I can get completely absorbed. I can’t always do that in my other studio.

      Since writing this post, I have been bringing my ipod with me to the studio and have found that allows me to block out everything else going on around me. A good compromise to having to shuttle tools and green ware back and forth.

  3. judi tavill says:

    I’m afraid to admit this BUT I love a good soap opera(oxymoron perhap…) .
    And then there is Bravo and E…
    Not one to sit down and watch it ..
    but it is a bit of a laugh in the studio…

    • claytastic says:

      Judi,
      I think laughter is important to our work. On Saturdays, we always play wait, wait, don’t tell me on NPR. I can’t say I get great work done during the show as I am too busy laughing. But I feel more open and relaxed from laughing.

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