Saturday, April 24, 2010
The New Ceramic Absence
The current issue of Ceramics Monthly contains an article -- one of CM's regular "Comment" features at the back of the magazine. The article is titled "The New Ceramic Absence" and is written by Glen R. Brown. The article discusses the current state of ceramics in art.
I don't pretend to understand everything Dr Brown is talking about, but the article spurred the following thoughts. My apologies for my inablity to link to the article. No doubt, if you could read the article, my response might hold greater meaning. But a number of you are CM subscribers. So in the name of continuing the discussion, here are my thoughts.
Seems to me that the American ceramic artist could have chosen to set themselves a better table than the one they built atop the three legs of:
3. Rage against Ward and June Cleaver.
I’d absent that table too. Did, in fact. Not much fun to sit at such a table full of the privileged expressing their angst, and then audaciously accusing as “ignorant” those unwilling to sit at the table with them to indulge their ceramic rants.
Probably not ignorant, though. Most “got it”. No, really. They did. They just decided that it wasn’t inherently engaging. And if there were those who didn’t “get it”, it’s probably because once the work required the accompaniment of words to convey the message, in the long run, the work and the words still didn’t match up. The tortured explanations didn’t clarify the expressions.
Further, though it is human nature to rubberneck at a tragic accident, few wish to stare at carnage for long.
So a small, self-supporting clique with clan-like tendencies, appreciating their own esoterica by employing a vocabulary of their own invention, spun their wheels or thrived within big city galleries and academia.
Meanwhile the American ceramist thrived in a continuation of pottery stretching back through time, quite unselfconsciously putting their own stamp on that history.
Look up into the clear night sky. Your eye will catch stars and clusters at the edges of your vision. But as soon as you try to look directly at those points of light, they disappear (technically, your rods – denser in the periphery of your retina – can see light, while the cones – concentrated toward the center – see color, but confuse the eye’s search for fainter light).
Trying to create “art” with ceramics seems to often be like that night sky. Try too hard and fail. But engage in the process, and soon all the peripheral elements can come together to create a whole greater than the sum of those now in-focus parts.
Too much freedom, paradoxically, seldom leads to creativity. Give me no direction other than “new” and I’ll come up with nothing and meaninglessness. But give me a direction, and in very short order, I’m likely to achieve new AND meaningful.
I remember reading of an interesting study. It was observed that, given a playground full of children with no fence to define that playground, the children are inclined to stay clumped together in the middle of the playground. But as soon as the playground area is defined with a perimeter fence, the children suddenly play with abandon – utilizing that entire fenced-in area.
Seems to me that American art ceramic has spent the past fifty years clumped in the middle of the schoolyard – intimidated by academia and some gallery-induced aesthetic to believe that only certain ideas and concepts (ironically, in the name of TOTAL freedom of expression) were worthy of consideration. So they glommed onto an acceptance of new-is-inherently-superior as a goal. And they also acquired some warped sense that there must be something inherently inferior (either intellectually or aesthetically) to what struck them as commonly attractive.
But all the while there have been American ceramists -- unintimidated by academia and the galleries – quietly going about the business of creating great, distinctively American work and letting the future and the public -- if they wish to do so -- categorize it.