Clay Times Back Issues Vol. 21 Issue 99 - Winter/Spring 2015 - Page 19

that is openly welcoming of such collaboration between the artist and the viewer. The best potters are mindful of this and thoughtfully approach their decision-making with this collaboration in mind. Utility can be both practical and aesthetic. Throughout much of the 20th century, the self-described fine arts world consciously kept its distance from the events and process of life. To take part in a life event was to risk becoming craft (that most lowly and despised class of objects). Art wanted to talk about life (often politics and other social issues), but not to actually take part in it. Throughout this time, utility (the ability of objects to play an active role in life) was seen as simply a limitation: an impediment to creativity. Ceramic artists who chose to make non-functional objects were lauded as transcending function. The implication was that utility was like a bad habit that one had to learn to overcome before one could make real art. What this viewpoint failed to note is that utility provides a potentially powerful vehicle for both expression and communication. That’s why the Japanese tea ceremony isn’t simply a slow and inefficient way to get a hot drink. The general term “utility” encompasses an astoundingly wide range of actions and activities, so to even lump all of these into one category seems like a stretch. It’s good to remember that even activities as mundane as the making and serving of tea can be the basis for a beautiful and sophisticated art form. Pottery is at home everywhere, but especially at home. Because of this connection to life, pottery is inherently domestic. Yes, pottery has always found its way into museums, palaces, board rooms, and gardens, often in the form of heroically-sized versions of ordinary pots (there will probably always be a market for giant vases as long as there are grand hotel lobbies). Still, most pottery has both a scale and a utilitarian reference that places it comfortably in a domestic setting. This is true of pottery intended for contemporary homes as much as the historic pottery that was intended for the homes of emperors and kings. As such, pottery is usually intended to communicate with the viewer in a closer, more intimate setting than most other contemporary art. Scale is relative, with pottery and everything else. Artwork is generally viewed at different distances, and complex artwork may require the viewer to view it at a variety of distances in order to completely understand and appreciate the object. Generally speaking, artwork can be viewed at five distances: intimate (arm’s length), personal (within a few feet), social (within about 12 feet), public interior (large rooms) and public exterior (outdoors). Largescale artwork was all the rage in the second half of the 20th century and much of contemporary artwork is still intended (by the artist) to be viewed in larger spaces and at a greater distance. By contrast, we are comfortable bringing pottery into our personal and intimate spaces. One distance isn’t better than another; each offers opportunities for an artist. It’s good to be mindful of this and consider how we can turn scale to our advantage. Otherwise potters can fall into the trap of thinking that bigger is better, and that their work needs to be large, imposing, and impressive in order to have impact. Scale is relative, of course: a jumbo shrimp can fit comfortably in the palm of your hand and a massive diamond is still almost invisible. A large pot is usually only large in the context of other pots and the domestic setting: a big pot may be smaller than a tiny human. When thinking about scale, it’s useful to consider what ideas or qualities you want to communicate and how you can best accomplish that. With pottery, then is also now. Human beings evolved into their modern form while making pots, and pots evolved along with us. Pottery has always played a role in human existence because the storage, preparation, and serving of food and drink are so central to life — not just for human survival, but for the full enjoyment of life, especially the social life of people. It’s not surprising, then, that pottery has been an artistic focus for most cultures and has always enjoyed the creative attentions of countless people. Combine this with the essentially permanent nature of ceramic materials and you can see why potters have such a rich and fascinating history to draw from. Pottery connects us to the basic humanity of other people, past and present. Not surprisingly, potters today are comfortable drawing from and learning from the past, both as a source of visual inspiration as well as for the insights into basic human nature that we can draw by viewing the practices of other cultures. Potters love process and materiality. I probably don’t have to mention that most potters develop a lifelong Perspectives I As Far As I Know CLAYTIMES·COM n WINTER / SPRING 2015 19 Utility can be both practical and aesthetic. Throughout much of the 20th century, the self-described fine arts world consciously kept its distance from the events and process of life. To take part in a life event was to risk becoming craft (that most lowly and despised class of objects). Art wanted to talk about life (often politics and other social issues), but not to actually take part in it. Throughout this time, utility (the ability of objects to play an active role in life) was seen as simply a limitation: an impediment to creativity. Ceramic artists who chose to make non-functional objects were lauded as transcending function. The implication was that utility was like a bad habit that one had to learn to overcome before one could make real art. Pottery is at home everywhere, but especially at home. Scale is relative, with pottery and everything else. Artwork is generally viewed at different distances, and complex artwork may require the viewer to view it at a variety of distances in order to completely understand and appreciate the object. Generally speaking, artwork can be viewed at five distances: intimate (arm’s length), personal (within a few feet), social (within about 12 feet), public interior (large rooms) and public exterior (outdoors). Largescale artwork was all the rage in the second half of the 20th century and much of contemporary artwork is still intended (by the artist) to be viewed in larger spaces and at a greater distance. By contrast, we are comfortable bringing pottery into our personal and intimate spaces. One distance isn’t better than another; each offers opportunities for an artist. It’s good to be mindful of this and consider how we can turn scale to our advantage. Otherwise potters can fall into the trap of thinking that bigger is better, and that their work needs to be large, imposing, and impressive in order to have impact. Scale is relative, of course: a jumbo shrimp can fit comfortably in the palm of your hand and a massive diamond is still almost invisible. A large pot is usually only large in the context of other pots and the domestic setting: a big pot may be smaller than a tiny human. When thinking about scale, it’s useful to consider what ideas or qualities you want to communicate and how you can best accomplish that. With pottery, then is also now. Human beings evolved into their modern form while making pots, and pots evolved along with us. Pottery has always played a role in human existence because the storage, preparation, and serving of food and drink are so central to life — not just for human survival, but for the full enjoyment of life, especially the social life of people. It’s not surprising, then, that pottery has been an artistic focus for most cultures and has always enjoyed the creative attentions of countless people. Combine this with the essentially permanent nature of ceramic materials and you can see why potters have such a rich and fascinating history to draw from. Pottery connects us to the basic humanity of other people, past and