Post-conceptual craft post
In my introduction to the Restart blog I asked “Is ceramics a viable art medium? I think it is – will I be able to sustain that view?” Here are my current thoughts.
It is my understanding that any artist sets out the parameters of their work with their work. Cues in the work let the viewer know how it is to be understood through it’s context and content. The viewer has to be knowledgeable about art to understand this and to make any judgement about how successful the work is in the task it has set itself. There is nothing here that says ceramics or any other craft should be excluded.
Now I’m wondering why is this question important to me?
Is it possibly because we’re in the process of making the post-conceptual* era? As artists do we still feel that the concept should be the primary determining factor for deciding what medium and what imagery to use? This seems to be the way most high-profile artists are working if you look around galleries that show contemporary work, this is the dominant approach. I have the impression this is also the dominant thread in art schools too. Ideas should lead the way, the execution will follow the logic of the idea, the medium will be chosen at a secondary stage.
I’m just not sure I am this kind of artist even if I would like to be. When I was at art school in the early 70s conceptual art was on the rise and seemed very exciting and fresh. That’s probably why I spent three years on my degree course trying to be a conceptual/ performance artist. This experience was fairly frustrating and unrewarding so I could not sustain it as an approach. Now I think that being a media based (clay-dedicated perhaps) artist is much more appropriate for me, my skills in making and drawing are the driving reasons for my choosing a career in art and design. My admiration for certain conceptual artists no longer extends to thinking I should mimic them although I do thinks it’s important to understand their thinking. Powerful ideas well expressed in any medium are simply impressive. My task is to find ways of expressing my own ideas in my chosen materials and tap into my own artistic power.
The limited palette
If you follow conceptual logic to the letter, commitment to a particular medium is a mistake, something restrictive. If you don’t keep all options open so that your concepts can be truly agile in their mode of expression you are creating a restricted palette. Of course artists and designers often make use of a limited palette in a pro-active way in order to clear confusion that can result from an over-worked composition. Too many possibilities can block inventiveness so a limited palette, a decision to restrict the options available can clear the way forward. Is this why a pencil drawing is so often the starting point for an idea? Perhaps in future if anyone asks why I have persisted with ceramics I could explain that it’s my limited palette strategy.
When I started writing this I thought it was problematic to be working in this medium. Now I am beginning to consider that it actually seems like an advantage. I am not sure that ceramics is a miracle medium, but this is a sector where artists like Richard Slee and Grayson Perry have demonstrated how a method formerly seen as residing low down on the cultural scale can be re-invented and understood as art. Work made in any craft media could now be interpreted as art, craft or design depending on the makers intentions and success in conveying this.
There is still the major hurdle of how you market your work and established market patterns do not favour artists working in materials that have traditionally been the reserve of the craft sector but this could be changing. Breaking into the market is also a major challenge for any artist working in any medium.
*from Graham Crowley Precious things