RECONSIDERING THE CERAMIC OBJECT

Modernist hierarchies, ideals of originality, and notions of progress have placed craft-based practices in a marginal position within academia and the broader art world.  The study of ceramics offers an opportunity to investigate, question, and challenge this received history. My talk provides a case study of teaching a history of craft and craft-based practices.  In this course, students engage in a reassessment of Modernism by drawing on a range of texts both within and beyond the field of ceramics.  Further, they work with a broad set of methodologies to rethink ceramic art and to create a strategic framework in which to place their own emerging practices.

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“Reconsidering the Ceramic Object” is a course that centers on a critical re-examination of the economic and ideological place of ceramics in the 20th century.  I originally designed it as an intensive, three-week summer offering.  In brief, the first week we assess the Modernist canon and reassess functional ceramics as a point of anxiety within that canon.  During the second week, we examine the field of ceramics at mid-century that is initially consumed by incorporating avant-garde practices and then subsequently concerned with interrogating its own “low” craft history.  In the third week, we focus on how contemporary ceramic practices engage postmodern theories of feminism, identity politics, and post-colonialism.  Our final day is the student’s forum discussing how to speak and write about one’s own studio practice and remapping ceramic history of the last century.

Ceramic history, which is either absent or marginalized in standard 20th c. art histories, is an intriguing platform to reexamine Modernism.  Before the class examines specific artists and movements or general practices and theories, we critique the very creation of the modern canon.   I lead off the course with these two images:  Alfred Barr’s “Development of Abstract Art” that he created for his 1936 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art and a Mark Lombardi drawing.  This comparison jump-starts our interrogation of how information is displayed and how history itself is constructed.  This detective work continues into an investigation of the very language we use to discuss and critique art.