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9.19.2009

Open 4 Discussion: Ceramic 'Art'?


So the question that's been meandering around my brain since I posted about the ceramist versus ceramicist thing is 'Why am I so triggered by these two words?' I think I know the answer and it boils down to a feeling of exclusion. And that makes me feel completely whiny but I think there is some validity to this. Artists working primarily in ceramic are still fighting the remnants of a societal agreement that ceramic is pottery and pottery is a craft not fine art. Voulkos and Arneson and Frey and Autio all toiled to bring us out of the craft age but we're still struggling to be excepted in the fine arts' world.

What I see, and I could be completely wrong so do correct me if I am, is one or two ceramic artists breaking through into recognition by the fine arts' world every once in a while. However, the majority of our appreciators seem to in fact be ourselves. In other words, ceramic artists primarily make art for other ceramic artists. We engage in a unique and private dialogue that is more difficult for outsiders to understand than say the dialogue between painters or metalsmiths. Our proccess is less accessible to general patrons of the arts and so the general fine arts audience becomes less accessible to us.

It is not only the complexity of our medium however that keeps equal recognition at bay. Time has its hands at work here as well. Because time is so integral in the actual process of the ceramic medium, there is an unequivocal amount of preparation and planning that goes into a ceramic sculpture. Take Jun Kaneko for example. The sheer scale of his work drastically affects the time frame of each piece. In order to ensure a full return from the kiln, he fires at a rate 10 times or more slower than a traditional firing. In the case of Kurt Weiser's sculpture, time plays a role in the number of different firings the artist has to preform just to get the layers and depth of color from china paint that a painter using acrylic or oil could develop over a couple days.

That it takes longer to produce ceramic art means there is a delay in the expression of our ideas that doesn't exist as often for artists using other mediums. This is in no means meant to say that other fine art doesn't take time as well. I recognize that some paintings and sculptures take years to produce. What I am saying is that completing those works in ceramic would most likely take even longer.

This is sort of a cop out, though, and I see that. There has to be more reason that ceramic art seems slightly delayed when it comes to contemporary art movements. I'd love to know if anyone else has a take on this.

It seems to me that there is a strange community affliction in the ceramic world that hinders our ability to meet on the same level as other art forms. We seem to rely heavily on tradition in this medium. There are essential rules governing the medium that seem to be pulling us back from the edge of creativity. These rules differ slightly from school to school but they all say the same thing: Breaking from tradition is dangerous and highly discouraged. For instance, your teachers might prohibit you from using certain surfacing techniques or frown upon the use of other mediums in your ceramic work. Perhaps it is that your teachers discourage innovative throwing methods or novel production concepts. It might even come down to what content is acceptable for your ceramic work. It seems that the ceramic world, at least in the US, is terrified of change. (Kind of ironic considering the California Funk Movement.)

Really I don't know. It's just something that has been on my mind a lot recently and I wanted to put it out there. Please tell me what you think, if you agree or disagree or find it completely irrelevant. I'm really curious about this.

(image of Stilt #2 by Anders Ruhwald via Danish Crafts)


1 comment:

theaestheticelevator said...

Some excellent thoughts in this post, particularly related to process.

Somewhat related, have you seen this video? http://theaestheticelevator.com/2009/06/26/pete-pinnell-on-fine-art-that-functions/

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