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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


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Changing your mind

I changed my mind about my cast figures, I thought I would make an edition, all exactly the same, I had the figures cast in aluminium intending to attach them to a series of press-moulded ceramic bases and then I changed my mind. Now I am considering turning the figures into a series of ‘adventures’. The same cast figure in a series of vignettes, like a 3d strip cartoon. One of the pitfalls of embarking on a large project is that your ideas and understanding change during the making process. In effect you are learning as you work. Thus the original idea is altered, hopefully improved and refined by experience, inevitably your mind is changed.

Changing your mind is a peculiar phrase. It sounds like you took a mind altering drug and chemically diverted your brain when all you did was changed tack. Should I do this, or should I do that – it’s making my mind up time. Does it mean I am indecisive? Perhaps it means I am flexible -I adapt as I get new information like a flock of starlings changing direction, catching the evening light and changing colour as they gather for the daily roost under the pier at Brighton.

The creative cycle

When I was at art college I used to find it distressing that I couldn’t just produce ideas on demand as it appeared to me that all other students could – now I am sure this was an illusion.
Indecision or confusion now seems a familiar and integral part of the creative cycle. Now I think of it as a phase where it is necessary to be diffused or observant rather than expect yourself to be constantly generating ideas. That stage comes later, in it’s own good time usually. This makes it hard when you are working to project or application deadlines, but in general the concept of the creative cycle is re-assuring.

Changing your mind is integral to the creative process, perhaps it is the main ingredient. The over-arching theme of these blogs is learning. What is learning if not an attempt to change your mind by feeding it with nourishing new information? In fact now I reflect on it this whole blog is about changing my mind through learning. The process I embarked on when I went to my first Openair gathering was all about recognising that I needed to grow, to listen to other artists and curators and learn about their diverse practices in order to broaden my mind.

No joke

When I draughted my introduction to the restart blog I originally put it in a jocular tone as if I was somehow bound to entertain my readers. I asked my wife to review it and she soon put me straight. To summarise our conversation: There is no need to entertain in this context, either readers are interested or they are not, a few jokes are unlikely to hold them. In fact the light hearted tone came over as me not taking myself seriously.

I think I went down that route through a mistaken sense that it’s not enough to be straight-forward, somehow it’s necessary to spice things up for public consumption. But this a blog, a log of my experience and ideas as an artist, entertainment is not really required, the bottom line I suppose is that I manage to engage readers in some measure of shared experience.


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