The artifice of random

I had this strange idea that simply splashing a bit of glaze around would create beautiful and intricate designs on my pottery pieces. My early attempts at glazing were very encouraging. I made a few small vases, thought about how different glazes might combine … what might happen if I rubbed back here … and scrapped a bit there.

Then things went a bit downhill.


Small Bowl


Random is not as random as it appears.

In the handiwork of professional artists and potters,  I have seen an effortless flow of colour and assumed at least some degree of randomness in application.  After all, it would be impossible to produce a slashing line with the deliberate slowness of hand that is required for the delicate work of realist painting.

However, I’ve realised that when a professional potter splashes a bit of glaze around it is done with years of experience and an accumulated muscle memory of what works and what doesn’t.


There is an artistic movement dedicated to randomness, and I have no idea how to pronounce its name.

Aleatoricism is described as the inclusion of chance into the process of creation.

I find it helps to understand an idea by looking at how it relates to other ideas.

For example, randomness is not improvisation.  In improvisation, the musician has a pre-defined structure within which to work but has some control over the choice of notes to play.  There is a free form of expression, but there is no chance.

Randomness is also not indeterminacy.  When something is indeterminant, there is no structure and no control, nothing that would allow prediction or certainty.  I think of it as a shrug of the shoulder and a wild guess, a stab in the dark.

When I think about the inclusion of chance in the process of glazing, I can see how it is neither improvisation nor indeterminacy.  The glaze will fall within a defined space, according to the laws of physics, there is no absolute control on the part of the potter, yet an element of prediction may be possible.

Or to put it another way, randomness is the uncontrolled selection of options within a defined set.  There is a limited number of pathways that the splash of glaze can take and it will take but one of them by chance.

The Movement of Aleatoric Modern Artists (MAMA) expresses it very poetically:

“By learning to value and preserve that which we can never own, to respond and yield to that which we can never predict and to respect and trust that which we can never control, the aleatoric artist inherits the divine principle of acceptance, the creative process becomes a cooperative collaboration with the forces that govern the universe, and thus the aleatoric artist transcends the limitations of the mind and body to reach artistic plateaus previously unattainable.”


I’m not that romantic.  I just need to work on my muscle memory.



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