As usual, everything suggests that it was a cultural exchange, in this case from the Middle East and Asia, that provided the breeding ground for Athenian ceramic creativity - a huge industry. Initially, abstract geometrical patterns were preferred, then animals, often in regular lines of caravans, but gradually increasingly wild compositions which later emerged into the most wonderful depictions of war, love, mourning, and everyday life, with lanky, muscular figures, nude or clad in thin tunics. From art history we have learnt a word which I can only use in just this context: tectonic, which means that the scene depicted - however complex the motif, however many people, animals, chariots etc are involved - is always subject to the vessel’s form. This is in order to create a beautiful totality, of story and material. A remarkable human instinct and ability to maintain order in chaos. While the motif and way of drawing the body was constantly being developed (for example, the eye began to be shown from the side instead of straightforward, even in profile, at some point during the 6th century BCE), the forms of the vessel remained the same century after century: pithoi, amfora, dipylon. They are what we see in the markets today.
In 1948 Picasso was 67 years old and rather fed up and bored with life, despite the presence of his 40 year younger girlfriend, Francoise Gilot. His fame had made his admirers more interested in him as a private person than in his art, and at the same time, the Nazis’ harassment of him in general and of modernism in particular had stymied his painterly creativity. The pair moved to Provence, where life went on as usual, undisturbed by war and modernity. In Vallauris, Picasso happened upon a pottery studio. The couple who worked there recognized the celebrity, but did not bow and scrape; they explained the rules: “Here is the clay and here are the tools. Learn the craft so you can be one of us.” These strict guidelines triggered a new lease on life in the old cubist. He spent all his time in the studio and in the end learned all the techniques required for the formation of vessels, for glazing, engraving and colour. Between 1947 and 1971 the artist created 633 different series. What is remarkable about Picasso’s ceramics is that after intensively experimenting with forms, he finally decided on learning to precisely copy the ancient original forms (a unique exception for a man who lived for breaking rules), and with light artful lines enliven these forms - creating curious eyes staring out from the far distant past, meeting the viewer’s gaze.
Back to the baby’s spew and the clump of clay. Let us suppose that my art teacher friend is right, that the accumulated knowledge of evolutionary biologists suggests that bodily sensations release creativity. The mind boggles. It would mean that our ingenious complex organism sends out impulses that cause us to create things we don’t understand but that awaken our desire and wonder, which in turn, are formed into new ideas and visions, sending back something new.