SOME ARGUE THAT CRITICISM IN CERAMICS LACKS INTELLECTUAL rigor and critical scrutiny, which is the reason ceramics is held in lower esteem than art. Despite the overwhelming consensus formulated around this opinion, it is not founded on rational argumentation. To evaluate the legitimacy of this argument we should determine what we mean by criticism. Crucially we should come to some consensus about what we mean by ceramics. Both terms are used in a wide variety of ways. The basic problem is that under any reasonable interpretation, the categories are broad and have become ambiguous through a variety of use. This ambiguity defines not only the condition of criticism but also the ceramic activity of our contemporaneity. Ceramics criticism is a body of critical writing whose focus is the ceramic object or concept and all of its inter-connectivity with the world--not a style of criticism that is specific to ceramics. In this sense, it is not different from nor does it need to be different from other styles of criticism. This paper uncovers the roots of the confusion, which are based on pathological necessity more than reason, to answer the questions: What is ceramics? What is the ceramics sphere? And what is ceramics criticism?
The field is more or less agreed upon what it would like to accomplish--the creation of a newer ceramics criticism--and the conversation revolves around the best way of achieving it. The reality is that criticism, both intellectual and critical, does exist and the confusion stems not from the lack of critical writing, but rather it is the result of a misrepresentation of the subject (ceramics), what critical writing (criticism) is, its function and the audience who benefits. Creating a theory of ceramics or a theory of criticism is no simple accomplishment. An essentialist position may not hold up under pluralism. Nevertheless, there must exist some fundamental similarity in which to contextualise the work. The aesthetical and philosophical point of the expanding field is constantly shifting and the ideological point seems to be not to have one dominant ideology. This paper sets out to explicate how the field has created a dichotomy perpetuating and entrenching all ceramics into a craft context over and against an artworld context. The following discussion addresses the definition of objects made with ceramics that may or may not reside inside the history or discourse of the field per se.
Recent debates offer polarizing views to remedy criticisms' supposed impotence. On the one hand, there is a movement to excommunicate ceramics from its material categorical designation altogether--finally assimilating ceramics into art--and thereby falling under the reign of art and art criticism. There is a desire to invent a ceramics-specific vocabulary, formulating a criticism and language specific to and only for ceramics. Another still is to ignore as insignificant all practice that does not pursue ceramics' standards and to blame the success of art for lack of equivalent prestige, which is antithetical to criticism's very nature. None of these approaches appears to be thought through completely. Nevertheless, 'ceramics' prevails metaphorically, physically, materially and/or conceptually despite efforts to theorize it away.
There is confusion among barkers promoting a criticism separate from that of art criticism. Criticism is the written application of a theory or multiple theories toward interpretation. It is not necessarily theory in and of itself but the theory set to action. Literary, film, photographic, design, art or ceramics criticism are mutually exclusive. The difference is the filter or the 'historiography' that the criticism is passed through. Is the field seeking theories of art that incorporate ceramic concern or a theory of ceramics which criticism can utilize to facilitate understanding?
The goal of criticism is to explicate essential conceptual points of a work, a body of work, a movement or the field itself. Therefore the vehicle of that expression needs to be examined. Ironically, the same critics who want to decry materiality are likely those who elevate Marcel Duchamp's Fountain as the masthead of ceramics' claim to art status. One's argument becomes attenuated when a claim of art-world status is contingent upon the ceramicness of the object. Ceramics maybe art but ceramics is not synonymous with art. Not everything that is art is ceramics and not everything that is ceramics is art. Therefore, simply removing 'ceramics' from the designation and replacing it with 'art' has no logical justification. Alternatively, a ceramics-specific vocabulary further isolates and complicates the discourse, hindering the readers understanding. Ceramic adjectives or terminology will not help interpret the concerns of the work. Lastly, to claim that ceramics criticism should seek to set a standard based on aesthetical achievements of past art is to remove oneself from the human condition. Moreover, critics should focus on what they are seeking rather than how or if criticism can confer art status.
The dialectic conflict within ceramics criticism is characterized by the question, "What is ceramics?" which is as accurately determined by "What isn't ceramics?" though neither question affords definitive answers. An analytical approach to these questions has apparently run its course in art theory. Yet, this decisive checklist necessary for categorization remains prevalent in a field defined by material. When referring to 'ceramics', it is addressing a specific field of inquiry, a discipline. Ceramics is largely understood by explicit tangible characteristics consistent among the field, namely the use of an identifiable material handled and treated in a manner consistent with tradition. The difference between this analytical approach to the discipline and essentialism is that it remains in conversation with the expanding interdisciplinarity of contemporary practice.
This tradition is identified by fired clay turned into …