I am a clayer. This is my manifesto.
Ceramics, more specifically Studio Ceramics is more than a medium. If the only difference between the different art areas was materials, then the distinctions would cease to have much significance. But clay is more than a gooey alumino-silicate; gloriously plastic. Clay is a way of working, a way of thinking about process. Clay is a history or group of histories. It is not the progression from cave painting to Jackson Pollack1. It does not much care about the transition from tempera to oil in the early renaissance. It cares more about the transitions from low to high fire, about the Japanese/Korean pottery war2 and the effects of trade secrets, about form and function and about the relationship of surface and volume, and about the universality of whorl patterns. It is concerned with the move in many cultures and continents from decorated earthenware to porcelain and the search for artificial jade.
Clayers have a set of primary aesthetic principles that are different from those of other art areas. We talk of form and function, surface and volume, breath and bones. Our primary forms are vessels. We stress volume over mass or structure.
Clayers have a long history of abstract expressionism3. It stems from the process. There is an inherent level of Taoism resulting from the need to "go with flow" when working with clay. The medium teaches the philosophy. And the philosophy reverberates in the need to accept a work as it is and move on to the next. This set of qualities encourages an expressionistic response to the material.
Clay is an excellent recording medium much as the saxophone4 is an excellent transmission device. Clay responds to emotion by recording movements as they happen. Although parts of an object may be cut away, it takes a conscious effort to delete expression. Even with conscious effort this deletion often fails. Clay memory5, a result of the fine particle alignment structure in the walls of a vessel, invisible until the clay is fired, can restore information that has been scraped away. The surface, gloss, particle structure, form, volume, and bones (gross wall structure) all act as separate tracks for the impression and then preservation of emotion and action.
Oddly in Japan and China the appreciation of expression in clay seems to grow because of an appreciation of expression in calligraphy. Calligraphy, as practiced in China and Japan, is a branch of painting. But like potting it is very formal and functional.
Zen inspired calligraphy seems to stress a direct connection of spirit to hand. The emotional impact on the artist of the words about to be painted is channeled through the hand to the brush and then to the paper.
Some tea ceremony ware, throwing as taught by some Leach6 school followers, or by students of Ken Ferguson7 has the same stress on jazz, on spirit to hand transmission. That is a stress on the direct intuitive responses from eye, heart and intellect to the hand.
We hear a great deal about minimalism in painting and sculpture. Yet pots are often minimalist works dealing with form and proportion. What is the perfect shape and placement of the handle? How wide is the mouth as compared to the neck and the feet? How low on the belly should the attachment of the teapot spout start? These are formal design considerations and often, if not usually, have primacy over other less formal concerns.
Representation is rarely the issue in ceramics. We make things, real things, usually not representations of them. However sometimes the objects exist as both presentations and representations as in Richard Notkin's work or in the work of Gail Busch, my wife. Notkin's teapots are teapots but also represent skulls or hearts. Gail's teapots represent teapots while sometimes being teapots. Objects like these add a rich depth to the genre' and blur the sometimes meaningless distinctions between the concepts of representation and presentation.
The fine art painters8 are humble. In choosing the title they give themselves, "painters", they recognize an equivalency among users of the term; those who do walls, interior and exteriors, and sign painters. In contrast the term ceramicist is a term used by those vying for a special place for the ceramic arts; a seat at the fine table of art, and a wish to vacate the table of craft. Potters, really a subset of ceramists, seem to distance themselves from their sisters and brothers, the status seeking ceramists. This is false modesty, a denial of the inherent human expression of clay. If they were truly aiming at modesty they would align themselves with the seemingly mundane makes of tile, brick and toilets. These are people who usually do not recognize the expression they impress on their creations.
Not a ceramist, nor a ceramicist, I am not a potter. I am a clayer. Like painters I label myself in unison and siblinghood with brick makers, kiln builders, and skeet manufacturers.
1) The Peter Voulkos of Paint
2) The Japanese are reported to have stolen an entire village of Korean potters to start a porcelain industry.
3) Utilitarian pots are abstract, they represent nothing. Just look at European Medieval pitchers to see expressionism.
4) I only learned of Saxophones as an adult. They were musica non grata in my father's house.
5) Clay memory is responsible for teapot spouts unwinding in the kiln and much warping. In my students work it often returns the signs of their constituent coils to the surface of previously smoothed ware.
6) If you don't know who Leach is you need more art history before reading this.
7) Don't pronounce Ferguson in a sweet tone or too softly. See note 6 above.
8) Historic paints were just ceramic pigments ground into linseed oil or fish oil. In this respect painting is just a flat subset of ceramic art.
<<<<<<< Written at Siem Riap Cambodia. December 51 PE
Technical Notes 1. The videos were produced on Sony Camcorders and a Macintosh Computer using Final Cut HD.
2. Still images were edited in Adobe Photoshop.
3. The grids of headphones have an impedance of approximately 8 ohms.
4. Most of the video was shot in one take and then overlaid with other tracks.
5. The videos are the result of combined support from The Island University, The Archie Bray Foundation and its residents, LH Projects, Gail Busch, Sammy and Benny Katz, and the people who appear in them. I also owe gratitude to Greg Spaulding who helped me learn to use the old Island University linear editing lab and Martin Holt who kindly helped me get my start in Video in 1988. I could not have completed this project without support from the Friends of the University Galleries, and the gallery staff and directors Beth Reese and Joe Pena. The support of our dean, Richard Gigliotti, and chair, Jack Gron, created an environment that encouraged me in this endeavor. Chet (Gregory) Tegarden helped with soldering and other tasks that allowed me to keep my cool while the work progressed. He and many other students helped fire the many kilns the work in this exhibition. I wish to thank these people and express my gratitude and to anyone whose name I have forgotten to mention.
6. Spuntales was lit with three colored lights
7. Styrene was lit with colored lights, black light, fluorescent light and light emitting diodes.
8. ARS is mostly done in natural light and was shot in Utah, Oregon, and Texas.
Definitions: Art, any artifact of intelligence. Craft, any artifact of intelligence. Ars, to assemble or put together.
Katz' Observation Craft + $$$ = Art
Katz' Law You can never attain mediocrity by striving for it.
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