Theories of Co-Authorship in the Work of Andy Shaw and Mary Louise Carter

By Lynch, Adrienne | Ceramics Art & Perception, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Theories of Co-Authorship in the Work of Andy Shaw and Mary Louise Carter


Lynch, Adrienne, Ceramics Art & Perception


"IN MY POTTERY," SAYS CERAMIST ANDY SHAW, MAKER OF water-carved porcelain tableware, "I examine [the] format of vacancy and the tenuous balance it requires of the viewer-participant in establishing completion ... I resist the artistic impulse to create overall resolution, opting instead to leave room for improvisation by the cook whose own need for creative resolution is just as necessary as mine." Potter Mary Louise Carter, who also works in porcelain, writes, "My work is about ... honing in on the essential ... In my quest for clear and elegant solutions to form and function, I try to override my intellectual reaction; perfection is a trap ... Instead, I judge my work by trusting my physical response ... When someone I love walks into the room there is a bodily felt sensation. When the pot is right, a sense of warmth and excitement comes through. I want my work to offer a safe haven." Both artists, who shared Louisiana State University's Glassell Gallery in an exhibition entitled Works in Porcelain from 10 September through 14 October, 2011, gesture in the above passages to a poetics of resistance--not resistance in the sense of political or social activism but, more literally, in terms of resisting a tendency or impulse. In the interest of creating pots that the 'viewer-participant' (Shaw's term) will use daily, both Shaw and Carter withhold something of their own as a way of designing in space for what the user will seek from and bring to the experience of use.

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Whether what is withheld is a design element, such as colour in Shaw's case or, as in Carter's work, an impulse towards an artificial degree of perfection, such withholding challenges common notions of authorship and completion in functional ceramic art. While it can be easily argued that designing in a space for what the user brings to the experience of use is a fundamental obligation and priority for makers of functional wares (and thus, that the aforementioned potters' so-called resistance is par for the course in their field), research into the experience of users of Shaw's and Carter's works suggests something counter. One of the chief reasons people choose handmade over mass-produced functional objects today, based on responses to a set of 10 questions, is in order to be surprised and challenged by the singularity of each artist's approach to design. In other words, as one respondent put it, "in buying mass-produced tableware/vessels ... basic principles of ergonomics and industrial design ... have already been considered for us" from a standardised (and thus blandished and familiar) set of aesthetic and pragmatic values. Mass-produced functional wares must capitulate to concerns regarding efficiency of automated production, the economics of a higher output of multiples and current industry standards regarding ergonomics, user needs and aesthetics. Studio potters, on the other hand, enjoy spacious fields of anarchy as their creative domains. Each potter is free to choose the limitations that best suit his or her concerns, while exercising a wholesale disregard for other constraints--even those considered necessary for success. As such, prior to close examination or use, it is anybody's guess as to how much or how little user-centred space each studio potter will design into his or her vessels.

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While one could argue that functionality demands similar qualities from both industrially made and hand-crafted pottery, one indisputable key difference remains: the number of cooks in the kitchen. From concept to commercial good, the industrially-produced pot passes through many hands and value systems in order to yield a final product that is marketable, easily replicated and that can (at least in theory) reliably function. The studio potter, by contrast, enjoys sole authorship over his or her work. In light of this distinction, both Shaw's and Carter's choices to resist the fulfilment of the full arc of their own artistic impulses (colour, perfection and so forth) register as curious.

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