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


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.


Learning from RSI

I am dictating this as I recently developed serious hand and arm problems through RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) which has resulted from 15 years of intense computer work. Like most artists I have to support my practice with other work. I do web design which requires lots of keyboard and mouse manipulation. Poor posture and over enthusiasm have ended up giving me aches and pains to deal with.

I have had to find alternative ways to write other than typing which is difficult for me at the moment. I have found an app that let’s me talk to it and it turns my spoken words into text. It does this brilliantly but with mixed accuracy, it’s inventive and like predictive texting it sometimes comes up with accidental genius.

An experience shared

When I mentioned RSI at a recent artists meeting I was interested to see how many shared this experience, out of a dozen people present three or four had endured it, some with more serious versions of it than mine. I looked RSI up online, it turns out that it represents a very wide spectrum of ailments so people get it in a different forms with different symptoms and different cures or treatments (where there are any). RSI has long been part of the working landscape and if you suffer from it you have to find ways to deal with it, although if you are lucky you may be able to get help with some of the things that are known to cause it.


The rather shocking thing about this is how stereotypically male I have been in response to it. It took me a long time before I got any help even though I had aches and pains which were gradually getting worse. Eventually it was my wife who prompted me to get treatment. This doesn’t reflect well on me, and it makes me wonder how bad things have to get before I act of my own accord and take action to maintain my own health. I am sure I could think of plenty of excuses for this (-too busy, -can’t afford osteopaths, -it might not be that serious in the end etc) but that’s a waste of energy so it’s time to review my attitude and look at an alternative and more effective strategy for getting healthy when things start to go wrong. Wait and see just won’t cut it.

Change is in the air

I think I have managed to start changing my working posture when I am at the keyboard with a lot of help from my osteopath. I have started to dictate my writing and I am told I could take this a lot further if I need to. But I suppose that’s the nub of the problem I don’t really want to make these changes, they have been imposed on me by adverse health and that’s why it’s taken me so long to react appropriately. At this point -although I am working on getting better I really don’t know how it will turn out. Illness is very threatening to the established pattern of my life and it could change it drastically in quite an unwelcome way.

It’s in the balance

So there is a lot at stake, I am highly motivated to recover and to practice better posture in future. If I am lucky this means that I need to learn to strike a better balance between the drive to get work done when I’m at the computer and being aware of my body posture. I will have to find a way to work that is more relaxed and that I can maintain. If I am not so lucky I will have to really think my life plan again. Until I wrote that I didn’t recognise that I have one but I of course I do and now I think about it, it’s quite complex and it’s based on a lot of delicately balanced pieces being in place such as a basically sound body. I really don’t want to be blown off course if I can help it.


As this is my first post I thought I would try to summarise my concerns, things I now think I am likely to mention in future posts. This may also serve to give some measure of how far and how fast I progress, as time goes on. This list includes a broad range of ideas which might not actually get included in the blog in the long run but I think it’s important to be ambitious at this point and set a broad stage.

1. Is ceramics a viable art medium? I think it is – will I be able to sustain that view?

2. Is my spontaneous drawing method credible to anyone except me? What else could I do with drawing as well as or instead of this approach?

3. Can I find an audience for my work, how can I get my work to market?

4. I have been an artist all my life in various guises. I still aspire to making more of my income through my own art work. Starting with an OpenAir session I attended about three years ago, I have embarked on a sustained informal learning programme and I continue trying to learn as much as I can from fellow artists and curators in a bid to become more connected and better informed about the things that concern us individually and collectively. I will be reporting here on how this process progresses.

5. How can I create an environment to show and curate work including my own that I can develop while I continue my current work pattern?

6. Is the art world in thrall to academic and scientific approaches, looking to them as models of learning and progress at the expense of tacit, subjective, and holistic knowledge? This is me saying linear thinking is not enough in terms of understanding visually oriented minds, that the full range of ways of working things out are not covered by education systems increasingly geared to competitive capitalist models. I am making a stand for diverse ways of thinking and playful approaches to problem solving.

7. I have been a member of a men’s group for over 20 years now. This is an important part of my history and education and part of the perspective I will bring to the blog. Men’s roles have changed enormously during my lifetime as economic and cultural conditions have changed and transformed the social landscape. Many men have had to adapt to big changes in their lives largely in response to changes women have had to fight for in theirs. I am interested in maleness, what it means to be a male artist, to appreciate and understand masculinity and male roles in a diverse and complex society. How does this interest advance or distort my perception of the world and does it need to show directly in the work I do?

8. Ageing is becoming more and more of an issue as you would expect in a man of my years (I am now 58). I am finding that health issues are becoming more intense and the time it takes to recover from health problems is elongating. So this is likely to be a theme. Mortality is an issue, I don’t think I will be tackling it here but I am sure it will provide a rich backdrop.