Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Ceramics Will Take Over the World!

I have added some pictures of the work I have been making since arriving in Eastbourne. My new but old kiln is still waiting to be hooked up in the garage....but it is only a matter of time before I and my ceramics start to take over the world! (mwa ha ha ha ha)

I have been pondering the long history of ceramics and the human relationship with this mud of muds. It's long and ancient history threads through weaving its way side by side with the evolution of mankind. This is not to assert that clay needs us in some way it is clear that we need it more than it needs us. It could be said that this mud is as close to us as the clothes on our backs, we piss in it, drink from it, lick it smash it and fly to the moon in it. It could be argued that it is integral to our development as a species it has played a significant role in our cultural customs.

I recent years with the advent of industrialisation the manufacture and use of ceramic as a product has morphed into some thing all together different. This has happened at break neck speed, given that until the advent of industrialisation in the late 19th century nothing much changed for thousands of years in the production of ceramics for domestic use. The need for the leach-esque bearded potter has faded much to the disgruntlement of the potters wishing to live the dream in the countryside churning out earthy cups and plates for the local community. People now buy their cups and plates from Ikea because they are cheap and they look cool. ( I have to confess my plates are from Ikea, as much as I would love hand crafted wares, I just can't afford it).

So what of the people with the muddy hands? Is this situation simular to the advent of photography and the effect it had on painting? Painting was no longer needed as a functional representation of the world. So it morphed and abstracted into something more subjective and non-representational. With out function. Well now people don't need rustic hand made pottery - they might want it, but they certainly don't need it.

So what of these people with the muddy hands, the ones with the desire to make, what is their role, what is their fate? The desire to make is integral to the maker, it will not simply disappear. Speaking as person with clay under my finger nails as I type i feel this very potently, I am concerned for the future of ceramics. I predict a time of flux (pardon the pun) in ceramics. Change is inevitable, we must embrace it, and move with the tide. There will always be a place for the leach type potter, but those resisting change must make way for the new and stop blocking the natural development of ceramics as a discipline. It might sound odd but I feel instinctually in my blood that this is true.

I read a letter titled 'Unhappy With Changes' in Ceramic Review (issue 253) its was stated that the publication is full of 'pages of meaningless conversation and psychological analysis of 'artists'' I disagree I don't think it can be that meaningless if even just one person who works in clay feels the need to frame their work within a critical context, to give it deeper meaning and to find a foothold in the contemporary world. The day of the leach-esque potter has passed, it is not relevant in this day and age.  This quote from an essay in the book 'Deliciously Decadent Ceramics' struck me as holding a great deal of truth;

"Leach's rustic Cottage Pot with its faux humility, drab palette and monk-like adherence to functionalism. (one can argue that the spectre of the university-trained, middle-class man and women taking on the role of the peasant potter is a form of decadence in its self a la Marie Antoinette plying shepherd in the gardens of Versailles)"

I anticipate changes in ceramics that are already evident is some areas of the discipline. Simular to the end of the 19th Century when we saw painters abstracting and pushing boundaries, testing their medium to its limits I expect to see work that pushes and stretches known and accepted definitions of ceramics. Not all of it will be good, or bad. But one thing is sure, we cannot live in the past and we cannot stay at the crossroad inevitable decisions will be made and a new path will be hewn.


LindaB said...

I disagree. I am a potter churning out modern tableware for my market, which is London. People still buy hand made tableware. I can easily sell all my output of functional tableware and I make pots full time. I find it hard to keep up with demand. Linda Bloomfield

Anne Castano said...

Hi Linda, I have looked at your work it is very elegant and graceful, and you are very lucky to be able to sustain yourself through the production of your own works. I am not sure I put my point across successfully in my blog post. I believe that there is a place for the creation of handmade table ware and there is definitely still a market for these types of wares. I shared a studio with Daniel Smith for 8 years and he sells his work internationally and is always filling order after order.

The point that I was attempting to communicate is that the country potter who supplies the local community with tableware at cheap prices is well and truly a thing of the past. We now have potters who work in urban and country studios providing what can only be called luxury goods. Industry has made it impossible for the potter to provide tableware, or any kind of ceramics at affordable prices. To provide tableware at the same competitive prices as Ikea would mean a life of the poverty line. I think that we ned to accept our new place in the world and adapt and change to fill it which many people such as yourself are doing.

This is a teapot on sale from ikea £6.99. I certainly could not produce a teapot and sell it for that price. I would not be able to put dinner on the table. The annoying thing is that your average consumer does not understand the research, development and hours that goes in to making a teapot such as yours. I think part of what what we need to do is raise awareness of the amount of work that goes into handmade ceramics and the skill that is required to produce any one item. I do agree with Leach that there is something unmistakably magical about using such precious items on a day to day basis, it is this essence that need to be communicated more clearly.

In India in some areas Chai tea is served by Chai Wallas on the side of the road on low fired biodegradable terracotta cups. I cannot for one moment imagine getting my coffee from Starbucks in anything but a plastic totally un-biodegradable cup! Even though India is post industrial nation, it is more viable to buy wares from the local potter than it is from a manufacturer outlet. The economy there is different. But those days have gone for us in the West. We need to accept that and embrace new horizons. Change is inevitable whether we like it or not.

LindaB said...

I agree that we need to raise awareness of how ceramics are made, both hand made and mass produced, so that consumers understand better what they are buying. I have just finished writing a book about Contemporary Tableware, to be published by A&C Black in January 2013. It includes both hand made and mass produced tableware, particularly makers who also design for industry. A lot of industry is run by accountants and salesmen who do not use input from designers (Ikea is an exception, Scandinavia has a long history of collaboration between factories and artists).
Design is very important and I see it as the way forward.

Anne Castano said...

Wow thats amazing! Its incredible who you can meet out here in the World Wide Web!. I studied as a Ceramic Designer at St Martins, but as the years have passed I have become more of a hand builder although I take on one off design commissions mainly for film and theatre. I will get your book when it comes out. Congratulations on your publication!

There are infinite directions that ceramics can go in. The future I believe is BRIGHT. Did you see my new post with your work and some work from Ikea, you mentioned Ikea and wondered if that was why, or maybe it was a strange coincidence.

You raise some interesting points about design as a way forward which I would like to think over and then make a well thought out response to. Over all my general feeling is that we are at the beginning of a new chapter in ceramics. To ensure that we are not held back we should embrace every way forward whether it be Art, Design, Craft, Maker.... I am sure there ar many other titles that could be added to this list. We should not discriminate about another's practice because it doesn't match our own. My belief is that condemning certain types of ceramics as invalid because they dont match up to the Leach Doctrine or other outdated modes of practice will only hold ceramics back as a whole. We do not live in the past. A friend of mine put it quite succinctly. 'Although i understand his relevance, i find Leach's work frustrating, his legacy is oppressive rather than inspiring'.

LindaB said...

Thank you for mentioning me in your latest post. I look forward to your next one. I think Ceramic Review and the ceramics world in general (the CPA, writer Garth Clark in the USA) is discriminating against tableware makers by promoting mostly art ceramics, although I am looking forward to the next issue which is going to be about design.

Anne Castano said...

Not a problem, glad you don't mind me using your images! I think one of my letters is going to be in the next issue of Ceramic Review. Thats the second time! I am amazed at how many people have been responding to my posts. There are so many people out there who care about the future of ceramics, and I think at this time it is important out voices are heard. No matter what opinion or direction people want to go in. In my mind it is a very personal and subjective thing and no one can tell you what to do with you bit of clay. If you are honest with yourself and are engaging with the medium at a meaningful level, I don't believe anyone can undervalue what your work entails.

Anne Castano said...

Hi, did you also recently publish 'Colour in Glazes'?