Sunday, April 28, 2013

The value of constructive criticism and ceramic role-models; featuring the work of Ann Van Hoey and Ian Garrett.

Ceramic vessel, Ann Van Hoey.
Origami Etude Geometrigue Ceramics.

All photographs cited on the internet.
Ann Van Hoey Vessel
Belguim Ceramist
My previous blog post highlighted two ceramic expositions that opened in Johannesburg two weeks ago. By now these two exhibitions have come and gone. One a regional ceramic competition and the other an exhibition of some of South Africa’s ceramic stars – a number of whom are rising stars. My first intention was to promote the work on display, having taken very complimentary images of the porcelain vessels on show, even if I have to say so myself. 
Ann van Hoey vessels

On writing the text on the individual works photographed, I soon discovered that my feelings for some of the work were not that complimentary. I quickly realised that I was wearing my critic’s hat. Having taught ceramics for most of my life and for seeing the potential in the work, I could not resist giving constructive criticism.  At the time of writing the crit I thought of giving advice as I would give to one of my own students at the Ceramic Department where I taught during the eighties and nineties.  I was and even to this today I am always blatantly honest, addressing those concerns, glaring issues that stare me in the face. Those issues which one would refer to as a blemish, oversight and or weakness in the design. Only then will I turn my attention to the amazing qualities inherent in the design and how great it was and or how amazing the end product was going to be. Only if and a big if it was, the student saw the need to address the glaring mistake, oversight or weakness in the design.
I get rather impatient when designing my own work – a mistake or issue compelling me to address and or rework the design with passion, vigour and relentless drive. Considering all options in an effort to see, reveal and or capture the finished refined end product. Never satisfied until the desired end result is finally captured in a rendering and or manufactured to perfection.

Exquisite forms, shapes and appropriate surface development
technique including construction method.
My intension is never to be destructive in my criticism, but always to motivate students to reach their full creative potential. Being a passionate Scorpio one always comes across arrogant and tactless in ones approach. Encouraging students never to cut shortcuts, quite the contrary, students are encouraged to work on a design until it is perfect – often at all costs. Cutting into the allotted manufacturing time allocated for the entire project to ensure the design is perfect on paper before going to manufacture. In retrospect there is always room for improvement and redress, this is my motto for creative success.
Ian Garrett
South African Ceramist.
Group on pots.
Ian Garrett.
My colleague John and I often have debates about our work, feeding off each other’s suggestions and criticism. That’s what you would expect from a fellow ceramist and or friend. Honesty and constructive criticism was and is always at the centre of our debates - each motivating the other to improve our work in a country where we are rather isolated from the rest of the ceramic fraternity. As we strive to expand our creative horizons we need all the assistance and creative help we can get – if we acknowledge there is always room for improvement. With ceramic departments closing down and informed advice not always that forthcoming, one would expect every bit of input in whatever form and from any source would be appreciated. It would seem this is not always the case. More than often we live in a creative bubble where mediocrity and praise is bestowed at will to support the Status Quo. ‘Fortress Ceramica’ continues to provide high walls around fragile glass structures where potters continue to bask in their supportive creative malaise.
Ian Garrett's finely crafted surface technique.
Therein lies the concern, the last thing we need in our isolated and dwindling ceramic community, especially amongst working groups at studios and collaborative projects and group exhibitions is to be dishonest in our view of each other's work.  As we strive towards perfection, from good to great, we need every bit of help and dare I say blatantly honest criticism to assist us on our creative path towards ceramic greatness/stardom. Unless we want to remain a buddy hugging and pretty promoting social group of hobbyist ceramists on ‘a road less travelled’ in neverland.
Fine forms, shapes, appropriate surface development technique
and construction method of Ian Garrett.
I doubt this is the case, as we all strive to constantly improve our skills and refine our ceramic expertise (to grow). With great maturity we take all criticism for what it is worth, apply what is necessary, realising one is only as good as the last creative output, and that there is always room for improvement and another opportunity to showcase one's work. We also realise that to grow we need to expand our knowledge and insight into our field of expertise. We also acknowledge our pride – that there were moments in our creative development that seemed impossible to peak. It all seems ridiculous now in the wake of our recent creative achievements. Believe me when I say that often such moments of creative doubt brought about by what seems to be negative criticism is just what is needed to urge one on to even greater heights. One must rise to the challenge, retreat to one’s studio, reflect on what was said, apply what is relevant and makes creative sense, and in solitude plough the felt negative energy back into one’s creative work.
Ann Van Hoey Belgium Ceramic Artist 
We need to set our sights higher, be inspired by relevant national and international ceramic role models, such as the work of our very own Ian Garrett (image below) and international rising star Ann Van Hoey (Belgium - image above), both master craftspeople at the pinnacle of the creative endeavours. I trust you will find the work of both these ceramists inspiring and suitable role models. Their handcrafted forms, shapes and appropriate surface development techniques, including construction methods are the epitome of fine craftsmanship - realised from concept to creative end-product.  Perfect ceramic role-models. All photographs taken from the internet.
Ian Garrett
Master South African Potter.


Cathy Brennon said...

HI Eugene, please could you change the colour of the background for your blog. I love to read it but it's so difficult to see the writing on the screen with such a dark background. Is there something I can do from my side perhaps? Kind regards Cathy Brennon

Eugene Hon said...

I have really tried - but the black with grey writing is the best styling option for me - heres what you can do to increase the size of blog post - If you have a MAC go to the Safari Tool bar at the top of your screen and click on VIew - click on Zoom in until the blog is the desired size for you to read the text. I have two sets of glasses - one for drawing and working up close and hence the fact that it is not a problem for me anymore.