Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sincerly Yours...

So as I continue to pretend that NCECA just didn't happen(I couldn't go=sucks=pretend it did not happen), let me start a new conversation with you...

I was having beers with a friend a couple weeks back at our local watering hole where on Wednesday nights they have 7.00 dollar import and specialty pitchers. We usually get a pitcher of Dog Fish Head IPA and for 7 bucks, that's right sister...7 bucks! Anyways, my beer buddy works in the art department here and his area of expertise is in Art Ed with an emphasis in Visual Culture. We talked about the challenges he faced when teaching a graduate art class where almost half the students were rooted in a craft based medium. Like usual, our chat rambled on about other art related stuff ...Hennesy Youngman was among the topics that night, and I made the comment later on about how I was currently more interested in simple objects including utilitarian pieces than I was "high art". I said that the work felt more "sincere". Was this a couple pints of Dog Fish Head talking?! I am not so sure, but ever since then I have been thinking about this position. Sincere. What does it mean to make art that is perceived by the viewer to not only be interesting but also...sincere.

My definition of it is:
Sincere - free of deceit, hypocrisy, or falseness; earnest. genuine or real.

So after thinking about this for a couple of weeks now I still have no sure answers. In fact, this concept can sound kind of cornball but, I mean, isn't "art" in general supposed to be sincere? If I were to look back on my undergrad art school days(if I can remember that far) and even to my fairly- sorta -recent grad school days...I would say...nope, not all art is sincere. Students especially are often guided down theoretical avenues that hold little to no meaning when applied to their art work. It is great that students are exposed to these filters of thought but more than often I do not believe it helps to develop a more"sincere" body of work. Its like trying on cool new hats.

Further, I wondered if in fact, this is just a medium specific issue. So that is where I am now. I have stopped applying this term as a blanket statement to all art and just decided to explore it when applied to ceramics. I have mentioned this idea to a couple different people and its possible they are still scratching their heads at me but still I soldier on.

I apply this idea to my own work and also others. I ask myself if I feel that I am making work that is meaningful to me other than the thought that I "sincerely" want to make a few bucks. Now there is nothing wrong with being a full time potter and making work that people will love and use on a daily basis...but what I am digging for is closer to the heart of the matter. I certainly do love making mugs and I put a lot of time into the surfaces and finishing of each one. My thought is to elevate the have the viewer consider it as a drinking vessel, yes, but also something more. A gallery director once told me that I made "sculptures of cups"...which I liked.

But are all mugs sincere? Is all handmade pottery sincere? Does it have to be?,no,no...sometimes things just are what they are. Objects have the ability to transcend their utility, but its not always the artist's intent. That's fine...but I want more.

Lets try it from another angle...What makes a sincere ceramist? Is it the artist that uses traditional materials and tools that have been associated with a particular style of ceramics for the last 5 gazillion years? I'm not so sure. I do personally know ceramists that do this, but their work is such a genuine extension of who they are in every mark and thoughtfully tweaked shape that there is no question of the sincerity or honesty of the work. I also see ceramic works and ceramists that are just the opposite. So, is this concept of sincerity consistently inherit to edgy new ceramists that push the boundaries of the medium? I will say no again...edgy and boundary pushing can often leave out a sense of the sincere in favor of other things.

With that being said lets then ask ourselves...What conjures up the feeling that a piece of work is sincere? I can help with this one...for me its something that provides a connection to the human condition. The human condition and "Art" have not always been best buds however. Modernism sought to separate itself from outside associations related to being human or the "everyday". That all ended in the 60's and in the early 70's different factions of art were at play and all of a sudden we had Post Modernism. But this too has passed and we said there was now a state of Are we still involved in this or is there something new? Does anyone want to talk about either...just trying to wrap my head around it still. Now that's an art history lesson in a very small nutshell, but lets come back to ceramics and ask does "craft" factor into this mess? Craft being the art ghetto where ceramics, glass, wood, and their kind mingle with other lower forms like wood burner art ...did we in clay feel those changes? Sure we did, maybe not as deeply as high art but definitely. Should we be aware of these changes?...hell yes. It is from these changes that ceramics has shed some weighty chains. I'm not talking about a revolution here, just a little elbow room to stretch your brain. This is what I think constitutes sincere work. It's the evidence of this new found freedom...artists working within their field...working from the familiar but not forgetting to add in the updates...the newest and latest versions that make that particular work honest and real...sincere even. I'm not interested in the avant garde because to me it lacks that human connection, I'm more interested in what the salt fire potter Walter Keeler said..."Rather trying to stretch the boundaries of craft, far more is to be gained by working in the middle of our field. For ceramics, useful pottery is at the middle, yet it seems increasingly marginalized". That sounds like a challenge to me... making the marginal(and I don't just mean pots) meet and fully exceed the expectations of a certain medium and/or viewing audience.

Recently I have been talking to the Gallery Coordinator for the Red Lodge Clay Center, Jill Foote-Hutton and have been also enjoying her perspectives from her blog...on my side bar(whistle pig studio)...She has a great statement in her bio that refers to her taking her new position there and also reflects what I'm rambling on about here..."excited to be present in a time and location where traditional techniques and methods come together with contemporary ideals to create a new creature, more wholly reflective of our world"...(thanks Jill), check out her blog for more talk of this.

Now whats a blog post without some visual illustration of what I'm talking about...the images below and at the top are examples of work that I consider meeting the criteria stated above...are you feeling me? I'm not sure If I have answered any questions of mine or yours...maybe like all art criticism, I have just continued the line of questioning and possibly created more questions...I'm fine with that...that just means there is more to come. The images are as follows, top of post then just below this(in order): Beth Katleman, Melissa Mytty, Nick Ramey,and Julie Goyot. Thoughts?


homefry sketchbook


D Kuhn said...

ok, wow, that was alot to perk. I think that the change we are seeing is the liquid side of our modern state. we cannot survive on pots alone. and by that I mean, we have to acquire a multitude of skill sets in order to create beyond the simple pot. material is a vehicle, chosen by we to facilitate either a functional or expressive need, or both. The "both" is where shit gets interesting.

Linda Fahey said...

Kyle - I love your blog. The torture of the existentialist potter is like a trigger food - I can't stop! The subject of the sincere or honest pot is so wide open it would take a lot of beer to vet it out...but it's nice to think about, thank you!


pure art! beautiful blog!!!!!!hugs from Sao Paulo, Brazil!