Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Tomorrow is a bit of a lecture day in my ceramics class. We'll watch a video and I'll give my little talk about the importance of ceramics, craft and art in past culture and in ours. My talk is a little stale...I'm not so good at verbalizing these sorts of things, I know it in my head but putting it into words can be difficult(thank god I don't have to teach lecture classes!) As Joe Bennion said(and I paraphrase...can't remember the exact quote) "If you could put it into words there would be no need to make pots."

So I need some help...Why are/is pots, ceramics, craft, art important in our culture or to you personally?(or why isn't it?) Why, when you can get pots that are cheaper and work better, do we continue to buy and support the handcrafts(or why should we?)
So if you feel inclined...leave a comment and let me know what you think. Feel free to say as little or as much as you like. I may plagiarize your thoughts and use them in my lecture tomorrow ;)

I found this on PostSecret several years ago and I saved it because it made me sad and laugh all at the same time...look no further if you are offended by curse words. Is that a woodfired pot in that grouping?



Linda Starr said...

A visitor to my booth at an art fair once said to me, "I like your work, it seems like you've had your hands all over them, I like that". He didn't buy anything, but what he gave was worth a lot to me. I think what he said sums up how many folks feel about handmade art/craft nowadays, when things made by machine break so easily, they start to appreciate handmade much more.

Hollis Engley said...

For me, Brandon, making pots - and selling or giving them to people who will use them - is about making a connection with people. Most of my pots are sold by me, directly to the person who will drink or eat from them. And I know it's a cliche among potters, but I still get a kick out of the people who tell me, "I have coffee out of your mug every day." And they tell me that because they love the pot that I made. It's pretty cool, especially when you think that people will pay $20-$30 for a teabowl or mug that I made when they can go to the nearest WalMart and buy a non-leaking manufactured clay mug for $1.99.

Anonymous said...

i like handmade pots because they communicate to the user. whether it is a pot made by you or someone you admire all the little things you notice when using it almost make you learn more about the person who made it. also i like using pots that i make because i can add little details that improove the functionality of the pot that you cannot get from a slip cast/press or whateverd pot.
warren mckenzie put it pretty well in that video you had up a little while ago.

ang design said...

I'm with Hollis, I buy pieces more because of a relationship with the maker, then look for something that grabs me my personal taste in there range be it glass or clay the same applies.. I also get a kick out of personally meeting folk who buy my work and when they break it and come back to replace it, even better...GOOD LUCK with ya talk

Judy Shreve said...

Besides the obvious connection to the actual artist -- it's the connection to history. Pottery - handmade objects have been in use since the beginning of mankind. I think in this crazy time of too many people in the world - using handcrafted items takes us back to a simpler world. It gives us a zen moment in the middle of chaos.

And the idea that I can use a piece of art to drink my coffee --- well now that's pretty unique isn't it.

carter gillies said...

Howdy Brandon! As I understand it your question is "why Art?". One perspective would be to see what art tries to achieve- what are individual artists trying to do with their art? Of course this is often personal and sometimes unformulated by the artist him or herself, but it seems there are at least a few generic categories that art can be lumped into (and of course I am not an art historian, so what I have to say may not be officially sanctioned by your department). Some art tries to add beauty to the world, and is appreciated for its purely decorative value. This has been a motivation for as long as humans have been intrigued by the emotions evoked by a physical presence. Sometimes all a work needs to do is look pretty in order to gain status as 'Art'. In recent times our culture has been more critical of this motivation, and especially in academic circles the emphasis has turned toward conceptual content. Much like the sentiment in your Joe Bennion quote, modern art seems to require an engagement with the viewer and not merely be there to be appreciated. Conceptually oriented art attempts to lead the viewer to perspectives that words alone fail to achieve. Otherwise, why bother? Well, there are also artists who aren't as much interested in engaging an audience as they are in expressing themselves. The sole purpose of much of this personally inspired art is wholly self absorbed. It may even look like it is trying to communicate, but it really is only the semi articulate cry of its creator, as happily placed in a vacuum as in a gallery. The interesting thing about pottery is that it often aims at both an expression of beauty and also a form of communication with its audience. The fact that much of 'functional' pottery has a role in the everyday lives of its owners means that it is often there not merely for contemplation but for engagement in the daily activities of a home. For some reason this gets devalued in many academic circles where instead they teach you that in order to be significant art also needs to be 'about' something, to be conceptual in orientation no matter how trivial the content. Somehow an actual teapot means less than a sculpture 'about' teapots. Kind of funny if you ask me.

So it seems that the people who get pottery are the ones who see the value of the quiet beauty of simple things. They are able to engage functional art in their daily lives and appreciate the communication of the artist's hands in what they perceive. It isn't that mass manufactured items don't also share some ideals of beauty, but they lack the communicative power of something uniquely crafted by the caring hands of an individual artist. As humans we are simply less sympathetic to what machines do. Machines don't speak to us the way other human beings do. As long as this is true there will be people to appreciate the pots that potters make. Or so I hope.....

Good luck with your lecture! Hope you have a great semester!

Tracey Broome said...

Brandon: There are so many reasons I use hand made ceramics. First, the aesthetic for me is so much better than anything you could buy that is mass produced. Second, when I pick up a tea bowl, mug, soup bowl or platter I have a memory about the person that gave it to me or the person that made it and I have so many fond memories from the studio tours I bought a piece at or an art festival. It brings back memories of the whole event sort of like a memento would. I am a very tactile person and I like the texture and weight of handmade ceramics much better than store bought pieces. Then there is the history of pottery. Here is a nice quote for you "Natural material, natural process and an accepting heart...this is the kind of beauty that saves us." Yanagi Soetsu
Good luck

cindy shake said...

Great post for a weighty dialog. I'm saving this one.

To me, craft is important in culture because of connectivity. As human beings connecting to one another is essential to life. Pots, ceramics, craft, art are life giving. The age old problem is that the Humanities in general have had a difficult time being quantifiable –pots are quantifiable. Not to get all existential, but I enjoy feeling the energy from each piece of art we buy -or better yet when I barter.

Pottery Mama said...

What a brilliant question!
Pottery and crafting in general provides current 'american' culture with an inherent quality that is painfully lacking in our society today. Its a quality that demands you actually CARE about a thing you posess instead of treating it as an object to be abused and discarded when its usefullness is deemed expired. Beyond that - in our drive to consume, craftsmanship has gone down the toilet as our need to obtain more and more sacrifices skillful work. A skilled artisan not only has the technical expertise to surpass any piece of industrial machinery used for mass production but adds their own unique energy and love for their craft into each piece they make. There is no humanenss (if thats a word) required from a machine, no thought, no care - these are all characteristics that come through in art and crafting and are all characteristics that are becoming more and more uncommon in today's world.

I realize i am a day late, but i hope this helps you for future lectures. :)

Kris Parkin said...

Hi Brandon,
Thanks for all the help a while back with my little woodkiln. I have since fired it 4 more times and each time the firing time has gone down. I think the last firing might be as good as it gets at 11.5 hours >10 flat top to bottom and side to side. Like you said, air tight, and wood seemed to make all the difference for us.

For me I guess I dont think of it so much as supporting a potter or craft person. I think I'm drawn to these objects for the relationships I form with them when I hold then and use them. On some level there is a sort of satisfaction from using a clay pot to drink or eat from. I connect over and over again with certain pots and each time I feel that I find something new to admire or enjoy while I use it. I'm not sure if it is the tactile response that gets me or the visual aesthetic of these pots. Maybe the secret of my pleasure lies in not fully being able to understand it or at least not being able to verbalize it and certainly not really caring to which is unlike so many other things in my daily life. In a way I think that if I were convinced that I understood this, I wouldnt enjoy it so much. So why bother trying
I'm not against some store bought products, after all, they can and do make some aspects of life easier and there is something to be said about that. But, I dislike the uniform, perfection of store bought utilitarian pottery. There was no process or consideration when these pots were made and they do not invite the connections that I tend to feel. There are no suprises, no moments when you realize there was something you missed or something that hadnt caught your hand or eye.

Collin said...

To me it comes down to a question of what kind of world we want to live in (collectively). Do we want to value quality and beauty or simply cheapness of price and efficiency of production. Does human skill in working a material have an intrinsic value of it's own?

Gene Logsdon says that old school traditional farmers are of value if for no other reason they maintain a store of knowledge that will be of priceless value once the world returns to its senses. I think of functional potters in much the same way.

Also, there is the joy of food which is very closely linked in my book. Artisanal food, artisanal crafts just go together.