In the Beginning…

Contributions are invited for this, either as original documents or in response to listings made. Opinion is encouraged, if controversial then even more so, in the belief that debate is vital. The apologists will step up saying that by maintaining an aura of niceness everything stays just dandy. But how far has blandness (and blindness) got us?  “Art doesn’t work because we’re all nice,” remarked one widely-quoted senior USA potter. “Voulkos may have been an ass, but Abstract Expressionist ceramics were still important.”

It is issues, not the personal, which need writing about.

There are myths in wide circulation: driven artists who only consider the conceptual, fingers poised above a pile of wet clay, communing with their muse and thinking only about Art, unsullied by any yearning for fame or at least establishment, a space in the white cube or lots of dosh in return for their efforts.

There’s another about the rational, emotionless writer with keyboard poised, plumbing the secrets of the universe, their art historically attuned methods unsullied by bias of any kind.

And yet another that arts workers and administrators are logical beings working only to rules and not as trivial and vain and human as those they are paid to serve, support or teach.

The sad fact is, as most people know, they’re all mythologies. We are all human; and humans come with dogma as standard equipment. We can no more shake off our biases than Bernard Leach could pay a compliment to Peter Voulkos or Jim Pollard to Tony Bond or Renton Murray to Richard Stratton. The best we can do is make sure that at least, we get to choose among competing biases.

And that is one function of this blog; variety in opinion around our many issues, which is why the polemical is encouraged (short of litigation territory). Controversy urges reaction and that way issues can be scrutinised and considered from a number of viewpoints; something we don’t have enough opportunity for. Then, hopefully, the nuances of some issue can be understood and the first strong opinion heard be not simply accepted as gospel.

This is how it works: you put your creation here in the coliseum, and a bunch of people with keyboards or a seminar platform can comment as they see fit. If it’s still alive when the dust clears, your brainchild receives conditional acceptance. Your ideas get an airing. They may even enter common parlance and be further discussed if lively, entertaining or sensible enough. Even later, assuming still some animation, they will indeed probably be accepted as gospel. But gospels must take time for adoption and only after a thorough kicking around. And anonymous is OK if you are reluctant to take credit. Your secret is safe with me.

I know a couple of people who will probably never get credit for the work they’ve done, for the insights they’ve produced. But the insights themselves prevail. Even if the establishment shoots the messenger, so long as the message is valid it will work its way into the heart of the enemy camp. First it will be ridiculed. Then it will be accepted as true, but irrelevant. Finally, it will be embraced as canon, and what’s more everyone will know that it was always so embraced, and it was Our Glorious Leader who had the idea. The credit may not go to those who deserve it; but the field will have moved forward.

Ceramics is alchemy: it turns base matter into gold. Keep that in mind the next time some ceramist decries the ill manners of a bunch of gallerists, a group castigates the stupidity of panel members who turned down a grant application, or you feel under continual siege by forces with vastly deeper pockets and much louder megaphones.

Yes, there are mafias. There are those spared the kicking because they have connections. There are established cliques who decide what appears in Art News or Art New Zealand or even the ASP newsletter, who gets to give a spoken presentation and who gets kicked down to the demonstration sessions with the kiddies, who gets the solo show in what space and those who must make do with Big Clay Day Out.

As for me, I’ll follow the blogs with interest and see how this all shakes out. Sometimes I’ll add some provocation, or possibly some oil for those troubled waters. The end of ceramics as a separate discipline is in sight but before that will be a mass of work showing us that art and ceramics are not as far apart as was thought and that intelligent ceramics, backed by historical knowledge and understanding and informed by contemporary issues will prevail for a while yet.

Richard Parker pots spotted in a private collection in Munich, October 2010.


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