12.03.12

March 12, 2012 § 2 Comments

The March/April issue of the Northern Potters’ Association newsletter came out this week. It’s a great newsletter full of salient pottery-related information and opinion. They were kind enough to include an article I’d written and I’ve copied it below:

Art has never been useful. Apparently, for its purposes, US customs defines an art object as something that is ‘utterly useless’, or words to that effect. And this has always been my problem with it. I am now in the process of learning to become a potter, but I spent a dozen years floating around the world of Fine Art. I completed an M.A. in sculpture in 1998, towards the end of which I was making video installations. I believed the work I was making to be beautiful and poetic, painterly – framing real objects, such as the wooden frame of a window or the flame of a candle, in extreme close-up to create abstract or semi-abstract images.

The appreciation of art is, primarily, an intellectual experience. There is a bodily engagement with a work of art, of course, especially in relation to scale and the space before or around the work, but, essentially, it is engaged with through the eyes. Rarely do you touch it. Generally, you are positively dissuaded from any form of contact. You stand back and admire, or not; analyse; cogitate. Above all, you intellectualise, creating space between you and the object in order to do so. As an artist, the creation of the work is usually a physical one, the making of something three dimensional to be displayed. As a spectator, the experience is at one remove. This, for me, was, and is, a problem.

Recently, I discovered that the answer lay in the fingertips. I hadn’t understood that what I saw as this barrier between me and the appreciation of an artwork was a barrier to me making the work of art itself. I wanted to make objects that were part of people’s ordinary, everyday lives, that were still beautiful and poetic but where you didn’t need a special education in order to feel able to understand them. I wanted to make objects that combine all the aesthetic considerations of a painter or a sculptor and marry them to function, creating pots that were useful, relevant, enhancing to everyday life.

I don’t want to be a Fine Art potter. I want to make simple, functional tableware; repeat ware; containers; vessels; objects concerned with the very basics of human life. One of the most beautiful objects that I can imagine is a yunomi by Phil Rogers: the colour of the glaze, the weight, texture of its surface, the feel of it between your fingers, the touch of it on your lips. This is beauty that must grow with you, with use; an understanding of its character that will develop with time spent in the palms of your hands. This is an object that has relevance to your daily life, that affects you on a daily basis, that nourishes your soul.

Yunomi by Phil Rogers

(image courtesy of the artist)

I have been teaching myself to throw for a year now in a small workshop in my cellar. Through adult education, youtube tutorials, books, the handling of well-made pots, and many mistakes and some successes, I am developing my skills at the wheel and my knowledge of a pottery business. My goal is to make, as Michael Cardew described in an essay, pots that are ‘well designed, good to look at and to handle and to live with, not too much more expensive than those produced in the “factory system”, and above all, alive (whatever we mean by that)’.

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