The Curious Failure of the Potter to Colonise the Modern Kitchen: Ray Hearn Turns to Material Culture to Explore Hopes and Fears for the Future of Ceramics

By Hearn, Ray | Ceramics Art & Perception, September 2010 | Go to article overview

The Curious Failure of the Potter to Colonise the Modern Kitchen: Ray Hearn Turns to Material Culture to Explore Hopes and Fears for the Future of Ceramics


Hearn, Ray, Ceramics Art & Perception


International Review Panel

Jorunn Veiteberg lives and works in Bergen/Norway and Copenhagen/Denmark. She has worked as a critic, curator and head of arts in Norwegian Broadcasting/Television and was editor-in-chief of the Norwegian art and craft magazine Kunsthandverk 1998-2007. She is currently professor of curatorial studies and craft theory at Bergen National Academy of the Arts.

Dr. David Craig is a member of the faculty in the Sociology Department on the Faculty of the Arts at The University of Auckland, New Zealand. His research and writings include writings about art and culture with a special interest in art after postmodernism and its re-engagement with issues of political economy as well as critical theory.

Paul Greenhalgh is a world-renowned scholar and former Head of Research at London's Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum. He served as President of NSCAD University (Nova Scotia College of Art and Design) and is currently the Director and President of the Corcoran where he oversees the oldest private art museum and oldest art college in the US capital.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

THE STARTING POINT FOR THIS PAPER IS MATERIAL CULTURE. For the sociologist or anthropologist (and the ceramist) material culture can be simply defined as "the relationship between man and his objects irrespective of time". In this context, the above quote from a recent review, together with a much older one, "archaeologists will judge us on the standard and quality of our mass produced article and regard our pottery as an archaising curiosity" have led me to realise that these reviews are not really criticisms but observations. I want to suggest that through material culture we might better locate the language of ceramics and ceramics criticism today.

Today, time is money and none of us seems to have enough of either. As I wrote plaintively in an earlier Ceramics TECHNICAL, a cup of coffee from one of those ubiquitous coffee shops now found on almost every street corner does not come in a ceramic cup anymore but a Styrofoam one. And, even if it did come in a ceramic one, it would most probably have been made in China.

Few ceramics are made locally anymore. Global economics and the world labour market have made western ceramics manufacturers noncompetitive, though the knowledge that somebody somewhere has worked for almost nothing to make it is hardly comforting. This state of affairs, though unavoidable, must contribute to our sense of propriety about ceramics in general and it seems to logically follow that as we eat out more and take away more, we are less involved with and less precious at home about our own tableware.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Industrial ceramics once were badly made, oddly designed and overly mass-produced as well, but not so today. Revivals of the hand made in the 19th century (William Morris and others) and the mid 20th century were able to take advantage of this. But now there are design teams both in the factory and the home wares chains that commission the wares and a laboratory of clay and glaze chemists in the factory. Commercial ceramic wares nowadays are slickly stylish, well designed and well made, certainly more currently fashionable and, probably as a result of such high level technical support, also more durable and consistent than much hand made stoneware.

Another recently emerged curiosity is that of the celebrity chef, so that the noun 'plate' has become verb, as in 'to plate up'. On ordinary looking white plates in homes and restaurants everywhere are piled little sculptures of foods stacked up so that you can not see what is underneath and around the expanse of white plate with an arty splash of (not gravy any more) but 'jus', or even a 'coulis'.

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

This is undoubtedly a fashion and, as such, a trend that will not last forever but one that does not happen in Japan, for example, where dining can also be a ceramic experience with a colourful and decorative array of plates according to food, be it rice or noodles, seafood or meat; and by season--winter or summer, or the asparagus of spring. …

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