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Judith B

What Is Ceramics, Is It Art?

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Hello everyone,

So I was reading The Ceramics Reader (Livingstone & Petrie) and I stumbled across a very thought-provoking essay, I thought I'd like to hear what you all think about this

 

In the essay, Ceramics and Art Criticism, Janet Koplos makes a few very interesting points

 

1. The debate about whether ceramics is art is futile since: clay is already present in many museums and galleries, and art is defined by a material, format and treatment of subject so ceramics is not, by its nature, excluded.

 

2. Ceramics is a very diverse art since it can take any form, and the community needs to learn how to embrace this plurality. Ceramists looking up to other art such as painting or sculpture tend to lose touch with this multiplicity whereas this is a key component of its identity.

She writes:

"Ceramics is a visual art, although it's not painting, and it's not sculpture. It has its own identity. The position of ceramics today is not a problem. If there's a dilemma, it's that ceramists (...) lust after the perceived status of painting and sculpture."

 

It's hard to summarise it, the essay is captivating. Unfortunately I couldn't find it online.

I'd love to hear your thought on this :)

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Before I answer. let me say I have enjoyed the last week off, and will be off until Wednesday of next week...finally get to play with clay all the time.

 

The debate of rather ceramics is art,craft, or hobby has been going on for ages. Personally, I do think pottery hits a point where it enters in the artistic realm. The skill level required to make some of the pieces I have seen in the gallery is hard for me to comprehend: because I do not possess them. However, that does not mean I cannot appreciate them when they come along.One thing is for certain; the love and passion for the craft comes out rather it is a novice or a seasoned veteran. I tend to dismiss art critics anyway, because a certain amount of bias and snobbery comes out with their critiques. Pottery is certainly more than a visual art: last I checked I cannot drink my coffee out of a wadded up Picasso.

 

 

2. Ceramics is a very diverse art since it can take any form, and the community needs to learn how to embrace this plurality.

We need to learn how to embrace this plurality?  This is the one issue I wanted to address above all others. Pottery is about as diverse as it comes in regards to technique, application, and definition. Like the world we live in, pottery has names assigned that categorize individual methods of how a piece was made, glazed, or fired. The world does the same thing: divides people into groups, ethnicity, and cultures. Two differences are made very clear: the names assigned in pottery only identify how the piece was made, it does not identify who made it. Secondly, potters (in this forum) accept those differences, embraces them, and does not demand those different to comply to our definitions. No one is diminished because they made a piece differently than someone else would have: rather they are encouraged. Now, if we could only get the world to do the same. It would be much more peaceful out there.

 

Nerd

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When we talk about functional ceramics often termed pottery, we usually don't use terms like art, or artistic, or creative very often. Most really good functional ware is considered "well crafted". I wonder though at the piece of pottery that becomes beloved for some reason, like the mug that you are drawn to use over all the rest. . . is it that it just fits well, or is  there something intangible that pull you to it and warms your day and brings a smile to your face.

 

I have seen lots of art in books, museums, slides(heaven forbid), posters and what not, some I like, some don't care for, and some I find so beautiful, you almost want to cry as it brings on so much emotion at the moment. I remember when I first saw the Grande Jatte by Seurat in Chicago, I had seen it many times before in pictures, but when I saw it in person, I was overwhelmed, practically breathless. Maybe it was the weekend, as I had gone out to see John Gilck demonstrate at A.R.T., I was sick with the flu all weekend, and feeling better that Sunday so before heading back home on the train I went to the museum. Truly a monumental accomplishment and great work of art. 

 

I had the same sort of feeling when I went to a ceramics conference at the NC Potters conference in Asheboro. It was my first full fledged pottery conference, in 2010. We had had a day full of great demonstrations and then after dinner everyone was invited out to Dwight Holland's house for a party. I really didn't have any idea, driving out into the country almost gave up because I wasn't finding it, then did find it. Walked up a little drive from the highway to a rustic home, with lights on inside everywhere. Some pottery here and there as walking up to the door. When I walked inside. . . I swear, I almost fainted. The amount of pottery, on the walls, the floor, on stairs all over was completely exhilarating. I felt so giddy!  I had heard of so many of the potters and seen their work in magazines and books, but never in my wildest dreams would I have ever expected what I saw that night. Pottery art! No doubt about it.

 

 

best,

Pres

Judith B likes this

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We need to learn how to embrace this plurality?  This is the one issue I wanted to address above all others. Pottery is about as diverse as it comes in regards to technique, application, and definition. Like the world we live in, pottery has names assigned that categorize individual methods of how a piece was made, glazed, or fired. The world does the same thing: divides people into groups, ethnicity, and cultures. Two differences are made very clear: the names assigned in pottery only identify how the piece was made, it does not identify who made it. Secondly, potters (in this forum) accept those differences, embraces them, and does not demand those different to comply to our definitions. No one is diminished because they made a piece differently than someone else would have: rather they are encouraged. Now, if we could only get the world to do the same. It would be much more peaceful out there.

Yes I agree and she refers to this diversity many times through her essays. 

I think while labels can be useful to explain techniques, when it comes to uses or meanings, they can be too confining and restrictive.

I think the point she was trying to make is that some people in the ceramic community aspire to be recognised as artists (the endless artist/craftsmen debate) and along the way become snobbish towards other kinds of ceramics. She argues though that this debate is pointless since ceramic is a unique art and made on many kinds of makers and practices and that this is the core of its identity.

I have seen and heard of potters (not on this forum) making functional ware being disdainful toward more experimental work, and the other way around. Maybe this is what she refers to? 

glazenerd likes this

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I was a member of another forum for awhile; even though I mostly lurked for years. When I finally did start posting some of my theorems on clay and glaze chemistry: it was met with absolute scorn and disdain. I post theorems here: and yes they are questioned, hashed, and opinions are expressed: but done with the same final goal- truth. Thankfully the old forum has fallen away into the cyber pothole. I have the pleasure to share knowledge, but also the pleasure to acquire it from others.

Judith B, Pres and S. Dean like this

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Hey folks, remember the disdain for photography as an art, then came Ansel Adams, or the misunderstanding of computer art and animation, it really depends on how broad your perception is, and what sort of things you decide are correct, there are all sorts  of bigotry out there, but hopefully not in our community.

 

 

best,

Pres

Judith B and flowerdry like this

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I too been on other forums other than ceramic and I hear the same debate within different mediums.

 

The one constant I've noticed in all mediums is the difference between functional and art is that people are willing to pay more for art than functional items. Many times the only real difference is the signature.

 

 

If it doesn't hold water its art :rolleyes:

 

A colander (berry bowl in american) doesn't hold water, but isn't necessarily art.

 

 

We call them colanders here too, at least I do. But it would be art if Picasso made it.

 

 

Picasso also made pots.

 

The exception that prove the point :D

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In this discussion about art, maybe one should consider personal taste. Say a person likes a style of painting, from a rising artist. Suppose that this painting hung in the house for years, and then as things happen, tastes change and the painting was relegated to a back room, or a garage. The value of the painting in many ways is lost, especially if those that are around it have no idea.Point being, tastes have a lot to do with value, and time also. We have all known of artists that died paupers after years of struggle, not appreciated until after they are gone, in some case long gone. People deal with antiques in much the same way. Often a piece bought for use from a craftsman is used, and later stored in a corner, then put in a yard sale, and rediscovered by someone who knows the value of what was there. Do you suppose that a $5K Otto Heino bottle will be lost because no one knew?  By the way, the lost painting. . . it happened. . . the Jackson Pollock found in a garage in Arizona, valued at 12 million dollars. 

 

 

Who knows,

best,

Pres

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Much of my work is non-functional pottery. My recent experience with a gallery owner who invited me to participate in the 2018 Ceramic Invitational  at the Radius Gallery in Missoula wrote this about my work. It was the first time in several years where someone has actually "gotten" what I am doing. It certainly made my day!

 

 

 

Well, I LOVE these forms with the crackly surfaces.  It’s not just the texture & color—for me it’s that each piece is simultaneously so naturalistic AND so composed, in just the right proportions.  The controlled chaos of the process is really evident in the end result, which is appealing to me.  (I feel much the same way about the work of 
  a Montana artist you may know.)
 
<marcia1.jpg>

 
I’m also very impressed by these more polished forms—for much the same reason.  But these add an element of delicacy that is so appealing.  (I find myself liking pottery that looks virtually indestructible, as if it were stone excavated right from the earth, or looks so delicate that a strong wind might turn it to dust.  It’s an illusion in either case, but effective at least insofar as tickling my aesthetic sensibilities!)
 
<marcia2.jpg>
 
I suppose I also admire that your forms feel traditional without feeling the least bit tired.  I’m always impressed by artists (not just clay artists) who can embrace a style or subject or form or technique—some kind of “frameworkâ€â€”that has been around for perhaps hundreds, even thousands, of years, and still make that framework feel vital and new and interesting.
 
I’m probably going on too long!  And could go on more, but that’s some of what I think when I look at your work.

Judith B, glazenerd and flowerdry like this

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I too been on other forums other than ceramic and I hear the same debate within different mediums.

 

The one constant I've noticed in all mediums is the difference between functional and art is that people are willing to pay more for art than functional items. Many times the only real difference is the signature.

 

 

If it doesn't hold water its art :rolleyes:

 

A colander (berry bowl in american) doesn't hold water, but isn't necessarily art.

 

 

We call them colanders here too, at least I do. But it would be art if Picasso made it.

 

 

Picasso also made pots.

 

The exception that prove the point :D

Picasso decorated pots made by the functional potters in Vallauris, France. I am unaware of any instance where he made a vessel. I had a residency in Vallauris and visited the Picasso museum there and in Artibes, nearby. I think, may be wrong, but I think Picasso took the traditional forms made by the potters and transformed them into sculpture or decorated platters making the oval a perspective form of a Bullring, etc.His presence is everywhere with historic scenes on buildings of him at the barber or in the square or in the potteries. I do love what he did with the clay, but I think others prepared his canvas.

Marcia

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I too been on other forums other than ceramic and I hear the same debate within different mediums.

 

The one constant I've noticed in all mediums is the difference between functional and art is that people are willing to pay more for art than functional items. Many times the only real difference is the signature.

 

 

If it doesn't hold water its art :rolleyes:

 

A colander (berry bowl in american) doesn't hold water, but isn't necessarily art.

 

 

We call them colanders here too, at least I do. But it would be art if Picasso made it.

 

 

Picasso also made pots.

 

The exception that prove the point :D

Picasso decorated pots made by the functional potters in Vallauris, France. I am unaware of any instance where he made a vessel. I had a residency in Vallauris and visited the Picasso museum there and in Artibes, nearby. I think, may be wrong, but I think Picasso took the traditional forms made by the potters and transformed them into sculpture or decorated platters making the oval a perspective form of a Bullring, etc.His presence is everywhere with historic scenes on buildings of him at the barber or in the square or in the potteries. I do love what he did with the clay, but I think others prepared his canvas.

Marcia

 

From all that I have been taught and read, true about Picasso. He was a decorator, not a potter.

 

 

best,

pres

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Much of my work is non-functional pottery. My recent experience with a gallery owner who invited me to participate in the 2018 Ceramic Invitational  at the Radius Gallery in Missoula wrote this about my work. It was the first time in several years where someone has actually "gotten" what I am doing. It certainly made my day!

 

 

 

 

Well, I LOVE these forms with the crackly surfaces.  It’s not just the texture & color—for me it’s that each piece is simultaneously so naturalistic AND so composed, in just the right proportions.  The controlled chaos of the process is really evident in the end result, which is appealing to me.  (I feel much the same way about the work of David Peters  a Montana artist you may know.)
 
<marcia1.jpg>

 
I’m also very impressed by these more polished forms—for much the same reason.  But these add an element of delicacy that is so appealing.  (I find myself liking pottery that looks virtually indestructible, as if it were stone excavated right from the earth, or looks so delicate that a strong wind might turn it to dust.  It’s an illusion in either case, but effective at least insofar as tickling my aesthetic sensibilities!)
 
<marcia2.jpg>
 
I suppose I also admire that your forms feel traditional without feeling the least bit tired.  I’m always impressed by artists (not just clay artists) who can embrace a style or subject or form or technique—some kind of “frameworkâ€â€”that has been around for perhaps hundreds, even thousands, of years, and still make that framework feel vital and new and interesting.
 
I’m probably going on too long!  And could go on more, but that’s some of what I think when I look at your work.

I love how she reacts to the shapes, feelings, surfaces, colours and impressions! I can imagine how special it'd feel to receive such feedback :)

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It is a he. But I love the feedback. And although I think some of my work feels more feminine at times, not necessarily so. 

 

I think, for example, that Carlo Zauli created abstract expressionist sculpture with a more feminine feel than Peter Voulkos. Zauli's work toured Japan a few years ago. I have visited his museum several times located in cadenza, Italy. I like his work more than I do Voulkos' work. They were contemporaries. 

Marcia

 

It is a he. But I love the feedback. And although I think some of my work feels more feminine at times, not necessarily so. 

 

I think, for example, that Carlo Zauli created abstract expressionist sculpture with a more feminine feel than Peter Voulkos. Zauli's work toured Japan a few years ago. I have visited his museum several times located in cadenza, Italy. I like his work more than I do Voulkos' work. They were contemporaries. two on left are Zauli, two on right are Voulkos.

 

Marcia

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The points made about Voulkos (who influenced my drive to just be myself with my cracked/raw/full of holes pieces back in the day) no matter what anyone else thought, vs. Zauli, who "feels" undeniably more "feminine", a side of myself I am just beginning to tap, are intersting in that they highlight how gender issues inescapably inform how we view art.

 

If indeed, ceramics is art. Trying to stay with the thread here LOL.  Simple response: some clay objects "is" art, and some ain't.

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Lee, 

I admire Voulkos and appreciate his work, but I have a stronger resonance with Zauli's work. Both entice with strong textural forms. I feel Zauli's process utilizes a more complicated procedure of carving clay while it hangs on hooks on a wall and then the forms are cast in plaster and then the final positive is formed by press mold. Voulkos' process was more direct with beating and stomping, adding and subtracting directly on the piece.He used mostly a colemanite wash on stoneware. Zauli used one glaze, a selenium base that would occasionally have a red along some edges, but mostly gray/white. Responding to art is always a subjective issue. I love to visit the Zauli museum and have met his son and the son's mother-in-law who gives tours for groups. I like the family. The studio is very much the way Zauli left it although they have opened residency studios along side the museum. I don't have this type of in depth knowledge of Voulkos except that his brother, Manny, had a very idiosyncratic greasy spoon restaurant in Bozeman writing a daily menu on a blackboard. And my friend , Frances Senska was Pete's teacher and had some of his early pots in her house. She always spoke highly of him. Both men definitely made Ceramic Art and influenced the field in the 50's through the 90s. 

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On Voulkos: I am not a fan of Voulkos' work but appreciate the journey that was traveled to get there.

 

Personally i feel not all pottery is art...but then i also feel just cause it is on a canvas it might not be art either. I make function and nonfunction, i know when i am making art and when i am just making pots for pots sake...a pot can be art and a nonfunctional object can be art.

 

For those dealing with art snobs let me tell you a story...so it was my last semester in art school. We were required to have an exit show. The last firing before my exit show my pots had a fatal flaw...i mean fatal...they self destructed as they sat after i took them out of the kiln, just suddenly broke apart on there own in to at least 5 large shards each. I watch pot after pot break sitting on the desk. These bowls were suppose to be the bulk of my exit show. Upon thinking upon it, I ran and got some shadow box frames and framed up the most interesting shards one per shadow box called them potter's paintings. For my exit show i had some pots, pots i made metal stands for out of brass, two fountains and my framed shards. The art faculty which i had struggled with up til then to accept functional pottery as art started to look at those framed shards, see something and accept them as art...then look at the whole pots and find the art there too.

 

So for those that still question pottery as art i just tell them i make sculptures of bowls and vases...it has to be just as valid as making sclupture horses or ballerinas i think.

Judith B likes this

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 I make function and nonfunction, i know when i am making art and when i am just making pots for pots sake...a pot can be art and a nonfunctional object can be art.

 

Wow that's very interesting. What is the difference for you when you create? Is the thinking process different? Why do you choose to engage in an "art" practice or "non-art" practice?

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I make function and nonfunction, i know when i am making art and when i am just making pots for pots sake...a pot can be art and a nonfunctional object can be art.

 

Wow that's very interesting. What is the difference for you when you create? Is the thinking process different? Why do you choose to engage in an "art" practice or "non-art" practice?

Lets see how can i compare...when i am creating I am much more involved mentally and personally creating not just the process of handling clay, when i am just making something without much creative input it is more process/the craft of clay and end product driven. And why would i engage with a non art practice...money...the items pay the bills and why engage in art practice....sanity...so i can enjoy life.

Judith B and Marcia Selsor like this

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that is a good explanation. When I am working of large "art" pieces, like installations, to smaller sculptural pieces, I have already designed and established a social message. It can take weeks or months to complete these works. Smaller pieces , like my orbs, are thrown and they are a form I love making. The creative part comes when I am preparing the saggars and toying with how the alchemy will turn out.here is one installation that took months. https://www.marciaselsorstudio.com/architectural-ceramics-and-installations.html

 

I have exhibited it in numerous locations.The other is a foil saggar pot which has also been exhibited in several competitions and won an award in San Antonio.

 

Marcia

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