Clay Times Back Issues Vol. 21 Issue 99 - Winter/Spring 2015 - Page 18

CLAYTIMES·COM n WINTER / SPRING 2015 Perspectives I As Far As I Know What’s So Special Every art form has its own distinct, salient characteristics. From photography to dance, teachers and practitioners alike need to understand what these characteristics are to better understand their field, evaluate quality, and to know when “new” work is truly new. If you look back at the critical writing in ceramics that appeared just a few decades ago (1970s and ’80s), you might think that pottery was a junior form of sculpture, sharing the same goals and characteristics, but in a sort of light, watered-down way. It’s only with time that our field has gradually begun to understand other things about pottery that are important and, to some degree, unique. Ceramics is just one of seven studio art disciplines that we teach at my university, so most students will only take one ceramics course while earning an art degree. For this reason I think it’s important in that class for me to teach about things that are important to pottery. Otherwise, one could easily assume that the only thing that’s unique to ceramics is that we use clay. Here are a few points that merit discussion. Like other visual artists, potters enjoy working with composition and content. Potters are very concerned with the formal, visual, compositional aspects of our art. We actively engage with form, texture, color, pattern, balance, and all of the other compositional elements and principles of art. About Pottery? Likewise we are now thinking about content: what pottery can mean, suggest, or imply. The work of potters like Richard Notkin and Grayson Perry has certainly raised everyone’s awareness of the ability of pottery to carry overt meaning. At the same time, many of us are also interested in the implicit, embedded content that pottery can carry, especially when you think about pottery as having both an artistic and a social aspect. Pottery is visual and intellectual, but can also be tactile. Content and Composition are important aspects of our work, but we probably approach them in a slightly different manner than other visual artists do. For one thing, pottery is inherently tactile: we assume that the viewer will touch the object. Certainly our eye can see things that our skin cannot (I don’t know what the color purple feels like), but touch can reveal information that is invisible to the eye. Ultra-fine sandpaper has a velvety look, but not a velvety feel. Besides that, touch communicates at a much more basic level than vision: this is why we describe the things that impact us the most as having touched us. The ability of the viewer to touch the artwork allows the potter to explore this form of communication in a way that purely visual artists cannot. We don’t just look at pottery, we experience it. BY PETE PINNELL Pottery is experiential. Much of the time we assume that the viewer will interact with the object and will incorporate it into one of life’s events or processes. This both allows and encourages the viewer to spend more time with the object and to give it different consideration. It also means that the viewer may sometimes interact with the object while not consciously paying attention to it. This is actually a good thing, as a lot of the quieter, subtler messages (in both art and life) are only audible during quiet moments. Spending a lot of time with an object makes that possible. According to one study, the average museum attendee spends less than 30 seconds in front of each work of art. One of the great things about pottery is that the viewer might potentially spend hours with the object in a single day. With pottery, the viewer can collaborate with the artist. Of course, interaction can occur on many levels with pottery. It may simply mean using a pot in an ordinary way, such as drinking coffee from a cup. This act doesn’t require much esthetic decisionmaking from the user. On the other hand, pottery forms with which the viewer can serve, display, or present are an inherent invitation for artistic collaboration between the potter and the viewer. A vase, for instance, can be a complete artistic statement that stands on its own, or it can encourage the viewer take to part in a collaborative artistic venture. Pottery is one of the few art forms today 18 Perspectives I As Far As I Know What’s So Special About Pottery? BY PETE PINNELL E very art form has its own distinct, salient characteristics. From photography to dance, teachers and practitioners alike need to understand what these characteristics are to better understand their field, evaluate quality, and to know when “new” work is truly new. If you look back at the critical writing in ceramics that appeared just a few decades ago (1970s and ’80s), you might think that pottery was a junior form of sculpture, sharing the same goals and characteristics, but in a sort of light, watered-down way. It’s only with time that our field has gradually begun to understand other things about pottery that are important and, to some degree, unique. CLAYTIMES·COM n WINTER / SPRING 2015 Ceramics is just one of seven studio art disciplines that we teach at my university, so most students will only take one ceramics course while earning an art degree. For this reason I think it’s important in that class for me to teach about things that are important to pottery. Otherwise, one could easily assume that the only thing that’s unique to ceramics is that we use clay. Here are a few points that merit discussion. 18 Like other visual artists, potters enjoy working with composition and content. Potters are very concerned with the formal, visual, compositional aspects of our art. We actively engage with form, texture, color, pat