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Are there rules when calling a vase a "sculpture"?

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I ask on the topic of applying to exhibitions which is why I put it in this forum section.  There's always the list of accepted media and some say "ceramics" some "pottery" but some just say "sculpture". I often wonder if I can just call a vase a sculpture. Applications, as you all know, cost money; so I don't want to apply to things that I just shouldn't.

I have seen one person, on Instagram, showing some pieces that were accepted into a show as sculpture which are most certainly vases, and she called them vases before she started talking about them being in the show. But they have those teeny tiny long necks that would basically prohibit them from being functional vases.

Do elements of a vase or other vessel matter, or can people kind of just throw that word around for anything 3D?

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I have yet to find any hard and fast line where on one side, a thing is definitely a vase (implying functional), and on the other side are all things strictly sculptural. It's frankly the source of a lot of esoteric discussions.

For the purposes of applying to shows, I would worry less about strict categorizaion, and have a look at who the jurors are and what the prospectus says. I think that if you can make your piece match the prospectus in your own head and the resulting piece might fit in with the gallery or the juror's general aesthetic, it's worth a shot. I might also take a run at it if the piece I was considering entering pushed those boundaries a bit. Sometimes jurors leave the rules a bit vague on purpose, so that there's room for people to play.


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Why not contact the source to find out what's acceptable? Last June I had a question about the dimension requirements of a 3D submission of 3 jars to a local PBS TV art auction. One dimension had to be 12". I called the station for clarification and asked if I spread the vase/jar arrangement out to 12" if that would be acceptable and got a "yes" answer. It's all a matter of interpretation. Here is the arrangement:


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For me pottery/ceramics implies mostly utilitarian/functional, whereas sculpture implies more decorative. If the vessel is a surface or agent on which much finishing or alteration was performed, which  draws it away from being primarily utilitarian, then I would consider it sculpture. I do not believe that just because it can function as a vase, that then it is inherently pottery, but on the same hand, if it cant function as a vase then it is inherently sculpture.

For me, if I were spending the money on the application, I would classify it as close to what I actually think my work, and the submitted portfolio most accurately represents. Having spoken with other jurors in the past, some artists (not inferring that you are) try to submit their work in a section which has less applicants in it (pottery/ceramics and jewelry are two categories which dominate art show submissions) with the hopes that it will give them better odds at being accepted into the show. If the work, in the jurors eyes, does not fit the category in which they applied, it generally acts as a black mark on your application, which may fare worse than had one applied in the proper category for their submissions.

Some applications give you ample room to discuss your work (500 characters or more) but most give you 100 characters or less, which doesnt leave a whole lot of room to describe why your work may be more sculptural than it appears. Some applications also give you numerous categories in which you can apply in the same media (ceramics/functional, ceramics/decorative, ceramics sculptural, ceramics/figurative, however like you noted, most are just pottery, ceramics, and sculpture which makes it more difficult to accurately apply if your work borders on numerous categories.

Also, booth images do numerous things for jurors; allows them to see your display, allows them to see scale of your work, and allows them to see the variety which makes up the body of your work, which may differ from the 3-5 images you supplied. I would apply in the category which most accurately fits your image submissions, but that is also represented by your booth image. If your booth is split 50/50 with pots and sculpture then you're in the same conundrum, but if its 85% pots, and 15% sculpture, or vice versa, then apply appropriately.

@Callie Beller Diesel said it well, it's a vague, esoteric discussion or classification sometimes performed intentionally, or just because the show cant accurately classify in their opinions how the two categories differ. Its the same discussion on craft vs fine art, pottery vs ceramics, studio potter vs ceramic artist.........................

Also, consider what the prospectus of the show is; if its a predominately fine art show, then you may have jurors which are more apt/educated to understand the nuances of the design which classify it more as sculpture than pottery. If its a local, small show, run by the city park, then they may not understand why a white canvas on a gallery wall has any importance to art history, and may not have any clue how to differentiate between categories.

Edited by hitchmss
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42 minutes ago, oldlady said:

most were profiles of teapot shapes.  if there were any  that would have held tea, i could not see them.

Gets into the same discussion on what is a "mug/bowl/etc"; I always like seeing the "exhibitions/collections" which feature only one type of object and what all the artists interpret as being that specific form. Some of the 500 series books have similar examples....."...thats a ______?!?..."

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I like Hitchmiss' take on this. If there is a show in which a person would like at some point to exhibit and he applies in a strategic rather than truly appropriate category, he might ed up in a "we rejected him last time" pile.

It's a little like applying for a job. I wouldn't advise someone to apply for a job for which she is not well suited if there are actually jobs at the place for which she would be a much more suitable candidate.

If you really think what you have in hand is sculpture, I wouldn't hesitate, but if it is actually an interesting vase, I would call it that.


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What I'm specifically referring to is when the accepted media list includes all 2d and then, simply, "sculpture" without any mention of what they mean by that, and ceramics or pottery are not listed as options. Its all stemming from the sense of feeling sort of left out of a lot of things, since so many things are only open to 2d work, and the hope that "sculpture" is inviting ceramics into it as referring to anything 3d. I'm also looking primarily at gallery exhibitions rather than craft show/art fair type things for the time being.

I do tend to shy away from asking as I would rather not be a bother when I'm hoping to be accepted, but just hearing that I should emboldens me a bit that it might be ok. But I also would certainly put applying for something I shouldn't into the category of being a bother, along with wasting my own time and money, so if I'm just barking up the wrong tree I'd like to avoid it. I agree that if I go around applying to things I shouldn't be, then that really doesn't make me look good over all.

Personally I'd like for my vases to be seen as more decorative than functional, but they are vessels, so I don't know if just saying so is enough for it to qualify as fitting a "sculpture" category.

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