I started to think about when I first started doing ceramics, before I understood it would lead to sculpture. My teacher that semester, my friend and colleague Sachi Akiyama, was working furiously to get some of her large sculptures finished for a show. Her stuff is cool.
Sachi told me something I never thought of before: Doing sculpture develops body awareness.
What did she mean? I interpreted her statement to mean that one's interaction with the medium (she does larger-than life sculptures from wood) requires an awareness. Of the hands, the shoulders, the torso, even the legs. If you are involved with your sculpture you understand it in relation to your own body.
I've written about this before in terms of thinking that sculpture is an extension of your heart, brain, and hands. But I think there's something else there.
When you are playing with the clay you are solving clay problems. The clay wants to behave like clay. You want it to do your thing.
While you're trying to get the clay to behave you are devoting thought, energy, and action to the material. So you are solving the problem with your body.
Solving a problem with one's body....sounds strange. By physically engaging the clay, can we say we are "physically engaging" a problem? By extension, can we say that we are engaging ideas with our body?
I think yes. And if solving clay problems with your physical body is possible, touching an idea is not far off.