I am finally putting my two cents in to an interesting discussion that has been happening on a number of blogs out there recently; mainly, two blogs that I read on a regular basis, Sawdust and Dirt and Mudstuffing. Sawdust and Dirt is Michael Kline's blog and and he has stirred up a bit of controversy in the last month or so regarding his guest blogger, Don Pilcher who banged out several posts including this post as well as this one titled "Criticism". I want to also refer to a post on Keith Phillips's blog, titled,"Gluten Free Pottery"(sorry Keith, can not link directly to the post) that also responds to all the hoop-la that has been floating around out there in the blog-o-sphere for the last few months.
Why you ask?...Why not I say.
I am a terminally degreed guy who has spent the majority of his adult life in education, either receiving one or giving one. I have worked adjunct in art history and art ed. for the last four years at a small state university as well as serving as gallery director/curator for the same university for what is now going on 3 years. For the past 3 summers, I ran a fast paced, community based ceramics program within Chautauqua Institution's Art School and worked with a bunch of super folks. And, since the early 90's I have devoted my spare, and not so spare, time to making and showing art. AND, I have been tapping away at this keyboard filling these blank templates with text and images related to my ceramic life since the tail end of 2007. So, in our digital world where everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, is getting their 15 minutes, I just may be over qualified to state an opinion.
so yeah, why not.
But first an announcement!...I almost quit on you. That's right, I fell under a great grey cloud of self doubt and blog loath. It wasn't really from the articles I have mentioned above, it was from the weight of the outside world bearing down on my noggin. The articles mentioned above sparked more interest in me to write...but every time I did I felt hugely disingenuous on espousing my ceramic manifesto as it were. Who am I to tell you the need and importance for: continuous critical analysis, self reflection and the understanding of why you employ a certain method of finishing to your own ceramic wares?! Disregard my rattling off of the resume above, I just don't feel right about it. What I do know is, why I make certain objects, why I finish a piece the way I do...that everything is considered almost to the point of creative constipation. That's right kids, constipation. And personally, I have been backed up for a while now.
So between my creative grunts and pushes, I read blogs, look at magazines, and generally spend too much time online. And it has been recently that I have felt the need for change in my own personal work. Do I want to continue making predominately atmospheric fired utilitarian ware? I posted a brief musing concerning this back in early October, "Reacquainted"...this was a couple quotes that supported my writing on the necessity of a hybrid form. This also brought me back to the idea of "reflective nostalgia". All my sculptural work is based in this concept and I can talk about the utilitarian wares that I am making with the fired on decals through this same filter. But lets revisit the idea of a hybrid...in my mind, objects can be a hybrid even though they do not appear to have another function other than what is initially apparent. Let's take a mug for instance...coupled with the technique of firing images on the surface, creating a composition of sorts that allows the viewer/user a bridge to a separate association. This is a hybrid...a multi-contextual hybrid.
"This type of hybrid object aims to create a new and previously unintended use of a familiar object. By relegating a new chore and a new responsibility to the ordinary object, multi- contextual things embellish its functional resume and broaden the context of its use. … a thing that performs a particular function in a way that enlarges its context (Akhtar, 122).”
What I am proposing is that an object can have function other than its implied or intended use. This has been my interest in utilitarian ceramics and my need for the images within the surface decoration. It has been only in the last 6 years or so that I have been making work that has actually been intended for utilitarian use and not simply using pottery as a point of reference. This practice is based within a theory called reflective nostalgia...
“Reflective nostalgia can be ironic and humorous. It reveals that longing and critical thinking are not opposed to one another (Boym, 49).” Consider this too from Boym. “Reflective nostalgia does not pretend to rebuild the mythical place called home; ‘it is enamored with distance, not of the referent itself.’ This type of nostalgic narrative is ironic, inconclusive, and fragmentary. Nostalgics of this kind are aware of the gap between identity and resemblance; the home is in ruins or, the contrary, has been just renovated and gentrified beyond recognition. This defamiliarization and sense of distance drives them to tell their story, to narrate the relationship between past, present, and future. Through such longing these nostalgics discover that the past is not merely that which doesn’t exist anymore, but, to quote Henri Bergson, the past ‘might act and will act by inserting itself into a present sensation from which it borrows the vitality.’ The past is not made in the image of the present or seen as foreboding of some present disaster; rather, the past opens up a multitude of potentialities, nontelelogical possibilities of historic development. We don’t need a computer to get access to the virtualities of our imagination: reflective nostalgia has a capacity to awaken multiple-planes of consciousness (50).”
Which leads me back to the earlier mentioned blog posts that got me fired up about writing this post as well as adding to my cheese packed constipation. I enjoy reading other blogs. I also will admit that I enjoy just "looking" at blogs mostly however. My blog time is usually a brief experience while I drink coffee in the mornings or when I relax in the evenings. I often just peruse the pics and do not dwell long on the text. (By the way, this is the most text heavy post I have ever written) In one of Pilcher's posts on Sawdust and Dirt he rails against the blog crowd and the plethora of seemingly mundane chit-chat...the lack of a critical dialog. OK sure, I get it. Others might agree with Mr. Pilcher or surely disagree and continue to communicate nothing except what new mug they posted to their Etsy shop. I am guilty of this at times,(thats my next post!) but I also believe the blog format is still interesting and like a hybrid object can be multi-contextual. I can revisit it at different times and it meets my varied needs, technical talk, conceptual wrestling, and wanting to see your new puppy in a Halloween costume. That's "theory" to me.
People have been throwing around this term "theory", as in "ceramic theory" or a need to develop more "craft based theory". Whatever. Does ceramics have to have its own private "clay talk"? After a while(and I believe that "a while" has been up for some time now)don't you think we will be talking to the same people over and over and a lot of that talk might be based, and also end, mired in the technical or stuck forever in limbo watching demonstrations by folks "making a better pot" on Youtube. With such a rich and ancient history, ceramics can be viewed and referenced from a myriad of points, why get stuck in one or two ruts? Ceramics as a medium, has often, and in the most conventional sense, been thought of and understood as pottery. This label functions as an accepted period to the end of many ceramists’ sentences. And consider this statement from Garth Clark,
“What began life as a movement to return pottery to its classical roots soon became an overbearing, regressive force that today retains just enough power in the schools and journals to defeat a more contemporary vision of functional pottery (Pagliaro, 390).”
So if if the hairs on the back of your neck began to raise and tingle after reading some of the before mentioned posts, then good...keep thinking.
My own research led me to ideas and issues that were below the surface when my main concern was finishing the surfaces of my own work, and I have rarely looked back. By "back", I mean strictly to "craft" or "ceramics" to help define what it is that I do. In fact it has mainly been theories of "collective memory" or "shared memory" that has fueled my work...whether the work is a sculpture/object or simply a cup. It is this understanding of shared experiences that propels me to believe that when certain images and forms are viewed, what comes to the viewer’s mind are recollections based on human experience that is derived from interactions with people and things from a domestic or intimate setting. These recalled experiences have many similarities even among the great diversity of the people who are actively involved with this nostalgic phenomenon. The images or objects that trigger the concept of cultural myth or collective memory are the only tangible artifacts of a recollected past.
I could certainly go on about these ideas and how these theories led me to re-examine all the objects that populate my immediate and intimate domestic landscape, how people determine or place value on objects regardless of their inherent worth or how the medium of ceramics could be the very hip great granddaddy of the art world, but I think this beast has roared long enough. I'm relieved...but not cured. It was time to shit or get off the pot.
Akhtar, Salman. Objects of Our Desires. New York: Harmony Books. 2005
Boym, Svetlana. The Future Of Nostalgia. New York: Basic Books. 2001
Pagliaro, John. Ed. Shards: Garth Clark on Ceramic Art. New York: Distributed Art Publications. 2003