Thoughts on Clay


I see myself as a ceramicist. I do not label myself strictly as a potter or strictly as a sculptor. I value the utilitarianism of pottery more than I value whatever function sculpture has. I have always seen sculpture as a frivolous sort of art form; call me ignorant or whatever you might accuse someone who lacks the understanding of the great purpose of sculpture. Still, when I create a sculpture, I feel more the artist than when I do pottery. I note that I place a difference on the artistic level of these two types of ceramic processes. Yet I feel such a stronger conceptual connection to pottery–something I feel should be happening in any form of art.

Pottery–usable, functional pottery–is a language I can understand. I care deeply about the form of an object–the way it rests in your hand (or the way in which your hand rests upon it), the breath of a vessel, the comfortable touch between your lips to a rim or your hand to a handle or lid. I put avid consideration to most any object I make. I want to make something that will be used and appreciated in the household. I consider this kind of thought to be essential during the ongoing process of making something if I am going to end up with the perfect product at the end of my final firing. This is a feature in my making process which makes my ware acceptable to be released to the public. It is the means, but it is simultaneously what makes the result, as Greenberg assures us is the key to art (Status of Clay).

And yet, it seems I throw all of that out the window when I sit down to create a sculpture. I allow the clay to crack or slump, I don’t connect all the seams properly, and I let the clay do whatever it wants to do. It decides the shape it will take. All my careful thought that I put towards pottery is nowhere to be seen in my sculptures, at least not while I am making them. The difference is I do not know how to explain sculpture. I don’t know how to sell it to someone. I don’t mean money, I mean conceptually. The language of sculpture is still at large to me. I can list everything I want out of pottery, everything that should be seen in the end result of one of my pieces, but I can’t begin to explain sculpture to you. And yet I feel more artsy when I am working on one. I see it as a higher art form than pottery, and so maybe that is why I have a harder time justifying it to others. I would specify that I mean my sculpture, but if I am honest with myself I admit that I find no justification for any sculpture. More than that, I lack a concept behind sculpture that people can believe in. Here I do mean to talk about my own art. As I stated before, I get this feeling that there should always be a concept behind what I am making. If I don’t have that, then I almost feel like I skipped a part. 

Why does Greenberg classify ceramicists (potters, he means) and sculptors separately? To be a ceramicist, I imagine one would have to create objects out of clay which are most often then fired in heat. In my opinion, there is no differentiation, no separation of the two. For all I disagree with Greenberg, there is one thing I do agree with him on. He says in Status of Clay, “I don’t believe these complaints to be all that justified or, to be more exact, necessary. So much of the best art of the past got along without written, publicized criticism.” The complaints he refers to are those which bring up the lack of ceramic contemporary criticism.  Boy howdy, do I tip my hat to that. Why are we so worried about what others think and have to say about our work? Why does public recognition make our art more real? The answer is because that is how the art world operates. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to witness it, does it make any sound? Likewise, if I make something and no one publicly applauds it, I am to assume that it is nothing to write home about. We rely on attention to succeed in the art world, otherwise, we are the tree that falls unnoticed. I am liable to think I don’t care.

See, I am a bit of a hypocrite. I want people to enjoy my art with me and I post it online, yet I am not clamoring to be in the position of being critically acclaimed. I admittedly recognize that I see sculpture as a higher form of art, yet I put more weight to utilitarian ceramics. 90% of the time, I will buy a cup (or any other usable object) from a ceramicist before I will ever buy a sculpture, and usually the only time I buy sculpture is because I believe in the person who made it and what they do. It is a contradiction; I put more artistic value to sculpture and more personal value to pottery. The “less artistic” work is more important and certainly more approachable to me. I don’t have answers to all the questions about ceramics and art, but I can say that all the hubbub about it leaves my head spinning in circles. I am sure that I should be avidly searching these things out and finding the answers (FOR ART’S SAKE!) but for now, love what you love and do what you want to do. In the meantime, I think I can agree with Clement Greenberg’s final statements in Status of Clay. If you need me, I will be busy making whatever I want over in the studio, regardless of if an art critic wants to talk about it or not.

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