Sculpture or Pottery

Both Garth Clark and Howard Risatti made a distinction yesterday between Pottery and Sculpture.  I hesitate to put their names in the same sentence since they did not agree on many things.  Garth Clark said that sculptors and potters are trained separately and that the impulse and criteria for evaluating are totally different.  Howard Risatti said that he considers an object to be either a sculpture or a pot and that defines how it would be evaluated.  We had quite a conversation about it at the Patina Gallery while considering the work of Nicholas Bernard, who makes pot forms, some of which are large and sculptural, and not functional, and others are smaller and might be considered functional.  I asked how it can be that one must consider his pieces one or the other when they contained aspects of both.  Howard ultimately said he feels it is necessary to make this distinction in order to avoid being wishy-washy (my term) about the object. One of the distinctions he seemed to be saying is that pottery you would pick up and hold and sculpture you would not.  However, I feel there are many sculptures that are designed to be picked up and held (see picture of one of mine above).  My piece is obviously a sculptural shape, but is 12″ in longest dimension and designed to be picked up and held (the glaze is very tactile) and turned over and can sit on different sides.  Howard said he thought perhaps I make sculpture, not pottery, which is true, but I believe some aspects of the piece need to be evaluated on basic ceramic criteria.

I think Garth Clark is completely wrong about sculptural ceramics and pottery being trained differently…I can cite many, many artists who started in pottery and moved to sculpture and many, many artists who continue to make both. Someone said perhaps this is different now in Universities, but I don’t think so.  I see schools still combining pottery and sculptural pursuits in the same classes and same studios.

At some times during the lecture or discussion, I felt like these two men were talking from a different planet!  Then, I realized, they actually are.  Their distinction comes from a type of thinking that is categorical in nature.   My need to consider an object as both comes from my tendency toward integrative thinking.  I didn’t make these things up…they come out of left/right hemisphere research on the brain.  I don’t know whether Risatti and Clark tend to be categorical thinkers or whether they believe that is the appropriate mode of thinking for criticism, or both.  The reason I feel it is important is because I believe something may be lost of only one aspect of a piece or a body of work is considered.  Of course, we really haven’t gotten into the actual criteria that would be applied to either category of work during a critical exercise, so I don’t know whether my issue would be resolved on more detailed consideration.

This brings me to an aspect of the symposium that I find troubling.  It seems the most time is being spent on justifying criticism, does it exist, it’s problems, explaining what role it plays and defining it in respect to other roles.  We have never really talked that much (Janet Koplos exception) about what are the techniques and practices of criticism as applied to ceramic art.  I would like to know from the critics when writing about a body of work or an individual piece, what criteria, topics or considerations do they use?  How do they analyze the work?  Perhaps their process is so integrated into their thinking that they have a hard time describing it.  The only person I have ever heard engage in this type of discussion is Jim Romberg…at the NMPCA Ghost Ranch workshop in 2008.  I found it very valuable.

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One Reply to “Sculpture or Pottery”

  1. Michael Lancaster

    It intrigues me that there is a discussion from opposite polls on this subject. I have to site two different people whose lives, talents and work overlapped: Hans Coper and Ruth Duckworth. In some cases I tend to mix up their work. Both made ceramic ‘sculptural pieces’ that definitely hovered in the realm of purely sculptural ‘SOFA’ type objects. Duckworth described herself a sculptor. Coper insisted on being called a potter. The decision, in my thinking, on how to describe them is inconsequential to the work. How do [we] describe their work. I would describe it in sculptural terms. The technician, (albeit limited) in me, would describe it in pottery terms. I might also describe a rock in nature in sculptural terms, and in fact am most inspired by the sculptural beauty of old industrial junk. However, I am a bottom line thinker.
    In that realm of bottom line thinking I have a basic rule for myself and my students: “There are no rules.” Dispense with the rules, guidelines, right, or wrong, and just allow the creative energy that is basic to one’s humanity to flow. There, one can ‘reflect’ on the simple truth that the appreciative eye can see all three dimensional things in this world in sculptural light.

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