Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Beauty in Ceramics.

Beauty Queens, Ling and Naomi Campbell by Richard Avedon for Pirelli Calendar, Dennis Rodman Contrasto and Kate Moss by Herb Ritts forPirelli Calendar. images from On Beauty By Umberto Eco.

Beauty, Beauty in Ceramics, Future Concepts; an introduction.

Umberto Eco states, "that the mass media no longer present any unified model, any single ideal of beauty. ............Our explorer from the future will no longer be able to identify the aesthetic ideal diffused by the mass media of the twentieth century and beyond. He will have to surrender before an orgy of tolerance, the total syncretism and the absolute unstoppable polytheism of beauty" (Umberto Eco 2004, On Beauty:428) .

Allain De Botton states that "our impression of beauty continually swings, between stylistic polarities; between the restrained and the exuberant; the rustic and the urban; the feminine and the masculine to abandon objects to expire in junk shops at every swerve"(author of Architecture of Happiness; 2006) For the potter this statement has serious ramifications especially in the context of recent developments. Globalisation has brought about radical changes on all levels especially the ceramic sector, impacting even on the production output and market share of big brands such as Wedgewood, Spode and Rosenthal. Did we see this coming - were there any signs? Peter Dormer dropped a bombshell in 1996, captured in his book titled The Culture of Craft, when he predicted the demise of the studio potter. "He stated that market researchers employed by the table and gift ware manufacturers have confirmed that the public wants consistency and desires a dependable almost hygienic neatness in the quality of table ware. This news bodes ill for the studio crafts '(Dormer 1997;11). How right he was and slow we were to respond to the challenge. Some individuals in authority refused to hear, Tony Ford, then director of the British Crafts Council responded by regarding such research "unduly pessimistic".

Grand Prix winner, Ceramic Competition 98 Mino Japan, Ceramist Kati Tuominen Niittyia.

Grand Prix Mino 98. Ceramist Kati Tuominen Niittyia.

White ware honoured as the Archetypal Ceramic Statement (Ideal Beauty).
There were other signs we chose to ignore - when Kati Tuominen Niittyia won the prestigous 5th International Ceramic Competition 98' Mino Japan with the white plate featured above. Take note of the title of the catalogue ironically called Poterie. She has been based at the Ceramic Research and Design Centre at UIAH in Helsinki, Finland for many years and has produced a variety of ceramic products manufactured at Arabia (see images below) more of which can be seen and bought on www.stylehive.com.

Kati Tuominen Niittyia, Arabia cataloque, 1996 -1997.

Finnish Contemporaries, Lizz Mitchell writes on Finnish Potters. Ceramic Review, Nov/Dec 2004;23)

About Cheap Chinese Imports - Beauty adored, admired, coveted and bought.
Today our markets are not just flooded with cheap imports from china, but also quality inexpensive and expensive ceramic white wares are on the shelves of most of the home and lifestyle stores worldwide. - by the way they are also made in China and other major ceramic producers in other countries (including the work above available from, Arabia Finland) with the expertise and a competitive price point. Customers are only drawn to what is fashionable and they only know what they are told (advertising and through catalogs).

Cindy Sherman, Featured in L"UOMO Arts Issue on the Venice Art Biennale 09.

A New direction for ceramics - the Fine Art option (Beauty in Expression).
Garth Clark professed a new direction for ceramics (Fortress Ceramica - Answered Prayers). He called upon ceramists to take the discipline seriously as an art form, on par with the rest of the Fine Art, referring to the work of Grayson Perry (Turner Prize winner). However contemporary art, is about other things says Daniel Bimbaum at the Venice art Biennale (09L UOMO page 243). " Because a work of art is so much more than an object more than a commodity. It represents a vision of the world, and if taken seriously must be seen as a way of making a world" This statement elevates the role of the Artist to that of an 'aesthetic philosopher'.

Four seasons, Hella Jongerius, Hand-crafted and hand -painted porcelain, Producer Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory, Photo Credit Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory.

The work conceptualised.
"This new collection designed by Hella Jongerius finds inspiration in the figures designed by the well-known sculptor Dominikus Auliczek depicting the four seasons. Hella created archetypes of products corresponding to the character of each season; a hand mirror (spring), a teapot with a silken cosy (summer) a pitcher (fall) and a candlestick (winter). The 'Four Seasons' are decorated with historical stylistic elements and porcelain miniatures" (Fragiles, 2008;140)

Our opposition as Ceramists.
Where does this leave us, studio potters, ceramic designers and or makers, studio ceramists, crafts people and or ceramic artists. Especially when contemplating our new creative endeavour. The matter is further complicated with Fine Art increasingly conceptual and the Design Fraternity capitalising on the one-of-a -kind inspired approach to design and manufacture. More importantly however they have turned to the out of work artisans and craftspeople, to realise their 'couture' inspired 'Neo Sculpture' products - imbued with meaning and significance ( work above by H Yongerius) More of which can be seen in the following recent publications, including Fragiles, Breaking the Mould and Manufractured to be referred to below.

Amnesty International Poster

Beauty in a Globalised society
Beauty is also changing froma global perspective as humanitarian values, ethics and morals take centre stage in a polarised society. As mentioned in previous blog entries (tattooed rats) the enemy is amongst us as religious fanatics and extremists challenge our liberal constitutions and individual rights. Umberto Echo calls for greater tolerance, "The mass media no longer present any unified model any single ideal of beauty" as quoted before "Our explorer from the future will no longer be able to identify the aesthetic ideal diffused by the mass media of the twentieth century and beyond. He will have to surrender before an orgy of tolerance, the total syncretism and the absolute unstoppable polytheism of beauty" (Umberto Eco, On Beauty: 2004:428) .

Knotted Chair, Marcel Wanders (1990).

The New Pretty as Beauty.
The new object of beauty was first brought to my attention in an article written by Antonia Williams in the Australian Vogue Living (September 2005) whilst conducting research for conceptual development for our honours student's learner guides and project briefs. She stated "new ideas are budding in design - ornamental, eclectic and fresh, they are the antithesis of Modernism's 'masculine simplicity'. The new pretty can tap into Happy, you can easily see why, because of new artistry and complexity, with both technological innovation and the handmade with cross fertilisation of the arts, we are entering a reinvented Arcadia" (referring to the pastoral themes in history of art (poetry and music) synonymous with the favoured profession of the rural shepherd)

Grand Magasin (Detail) 2001 Regis Mayot. "Each structure derives from a different hand carved plastic bottle; each bottle carries its own personality and attitude"Manufactured Beauty; Conspicuous Transformation of Everyday Objects. By Steven S Holt and Mara H Skov.

Banishment of the term Craft?.
As our concept of luxury shifts we pursue products with not just a utilitarian function, decorative function and or ritualistic function but also a one-of-a-kind expressive function. The question being asked is, "did the globalisation of the 21st century finally vanquish what the great machines of the previous century could not do to the crafts" The answer is no, the emphatic response is captured in the introductory chapter of the new book titled Manufractured. Crafts has found a new purpose, to a select group, in a variety of creative fields - from art to design, music to theatre and cinema including literature. (Steven Skov Holt, Manufractured, page 11) continued below.

Form follows provocation, Constantin and Laurene Leon Boym. "Cast-off's are rescued for a higher purpose and yields to fantasy. Yesterday's middle-class kitsch finds salvation in today's elite objet d'art"Manufactured Beauty; Conspicuous Transformation of Everyday Objects. By Steven S Holt and Mara H Skov

Manufactured Beauty; Conspicuous Transformation of Everyday Objects. By Steven S Holt and Mara H Skov.

Expounded throughout the publication in carefully selected chapters is the work of contemporary designers showcasing their latest innovative and creative responses to Form Follows a variety of functions, including; Ornamentation, Fabrication, Dissection, Infection, Fusion, Manipulation, Perception to mention a few. The designers and artists often capitalized on the discarded spoils including cheaply manufactured products and services to imbue their creative sollutions with a new found meaning; far beyond what our material specific disciplines and traditions could ever have imagined. They realised their creative concepts in direct response to the same challenges we as designer makers and studio ceramists had to face.

In dust Real, Marek Cecula 2005. Royal Copehagen Porcelain wood fire. Photo Sebastian Zimmer. Garth Clark, Separated at Birth. New CeramicsFebruary 2009 page 36.

Our Buildings and the objects we fill them with affect us more profoundly that we might think - Alain De Botton Architecture of Happiness.

Beauty in the Home - The Home as a physical and psychological sanctuary.
De Botten states that "arguments about what is beautiful are, at heart arguments about values we want to live by - rather than merely struggles about how we want things to look ....our homes are (therefore) a physical sanctuary, psychological sanctuary and more importantly a gaurdian of identity" (De Botton Architecture of Happiness 2005)

The last loaf, by Lenka Holikova. makes an unambiguous statement. No matter how faithfully reproduced and innocently white it may lie there, this loaf is only a memory and cannot fill a hungry stomach. Instead the sub-concious pops up: "how much is our daily bread worth to us" Caption by Olaf Stoy, freelance artist in Bannewitz near Dresdan.

New Concept for luxury - Towards Authenticity; Experience Beauty.
Products of ceramic beauty have to function within a changing world - numerous Ceramic academic departments are closing down whilst the big manufacturers and brands are under serious threat. "Change is not an issue of morality but one of inevitability. One cannot cling to the romance of the past eras and expect to make a fresh comment in one's own time" states Garth Clark and his partner Mark Del Vecchio (quoted by Karen Weiis at www.australianceramics.com). Change is occurring on all fronts, in an ever growing knowledge economy. There is a new concept for luxury "it's less about worth and more about values; less about exclusivity and more about experience - its about buying less, but better" (Elle Decoration UK November 2009; page 19). Customers are moving toward buying products that add real value and meaning to their lives . Indigenous knowledge will hopefully play a much more significant role as we strive to define through personal choices, our true identity and what products communicate about who we might really be - authenticity is the new buzz word.

Mind Map - Marian Bantjes' Influences and Artistic Vocabulary August 2006. Data Flow, Visualising Information in Graphic Design, 2006; 72.

So where to from here? - Reinventing Beauty; a clean slate!.
Finally, white-wares are available in abundance; covering a broad variety of products. In many ways it is a metaphor for change, an opportunity to move forward with a clean slate. A universally accepted utilitarian product; stripped bare of all baggage inherent in the form and surface decoration of previous design styles. It therefore provides us with an opportunity to pursue our craft with a vengeance, to embrace change, shift in a new direction (if necessary) and carve a niche for ourselves within ceramics, in our own backyards (Authenticity and IKS), back home, for the world on http://ceramist@blogspot.com, face book, twitter and or all the above.


Anonymous said...

hi eugene, i have to say that your post(s) are so jam packed with provocative quotes and assertions that i'm alway left with the feeling that this wee comment box is insufficient to reply in a way commensurate with the amount of effort behind the research. i've had this post open for days and have been reading it piecemeal and go back to what i've said previously that it would be nice to have some beer and talk about all these subjects more. i confess that i've been happily oblivious to most of what's happened regarding craft up until about 5 years ago when i started making pots. before i guess i was unhappily and mostly unwittingly contributing to said globalization. that being said, i've chosen not to enter the art vs. craft fray and was surprised in 2004 when encountering it that the debate hadn't changed since 1979 when i was an undergrad. i went to study with rudy autio in 1982 and regarded him with voulkos as pioneers who had snatched art from the jaws of craft and settled on that as a final outcome. of course we could not see the ramifications of globalism and the ill effects of rapacious consumerism that is plaguing the globe currently. it is ironic to me that china seems to have been in the middle of this kind of ceramics shenanigans for centuries as they exported over and over imitations of their own wares to confuse antique collectors for eons. i love the eco quote and was reminded of a conversation with a friend who mentioned watching one of these reality model shows and the models were of several ethnicities that could clearly be identified by joe american but that upon examination their skin tone was only fractionally different. his point being that racism is illogical and that it doesn't exist in reality as it does in our minds. he has also maintained for years that the ideal human concept of beauty has to revolve around what would normally be considered a flaw (a scar for example) citing a study that compiled results for what people considered the most desirable traits into one computer image that when finished seemed more plain that anything because it lacked an imperfection. i'm at the point i always get to where i feel i'm rambling but loved the thought provoking post and also wanted to mention that i linked to your blog in the post i did today... i've been having rat problems.

Unknown said...

I, as a student in the field of ceramics am forced t deal with the notion of being overlooked because of Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel type shops. This is a large reason the I think every day about changing my major to something more practical, yet something keeps pulling me back and making me attempt to create some type of piece that spits in the face of uniform consumerism. I do live by the cliche "think globally buy locally" yet the majority of the population seems to consume products that are shipped from half way around the world. The post that you have created is an inspiration to help me realize that not only should I continue on my path to becoming an artist, but to try to say something that is reminding people how consuming effects everyone.

Anonymous said...

"...the population seems to consume products that are shipped from half way around the world."
They certainly do. Why? Because this is the only "option" given to us by retailers. I would love to buy something made in America, but almost everything comes from China, India, Vietnam, et al. By and large it, is poorly manufactured junk, with only the sellers bottom line as the consideration; design, ease of use, quality, longevity are secondary considerations, if they are considered at all.
Unless you want to devote your life to making "conceptual", preachy, moralising, lecturing, or arcanely banal ceramic "sculpture,"
I suggest you change your major to business, and, depending on your location
(if not one of the countries listed above) to "Importing" in particular. It used to be called "import/Export," but I know the only thing America exports these days is well paying jobs.
If only we had known that the real meaning of the term "globalisation" is "Screw the West."