Saturday, May 21, 2011

Are “Thrown Pots” Sculpture?

Here’s a Thought Bubble

I got an e-mail from a friend regarding an upcoming show this summer at a neighborhood gallery.
It’s was a gentle reminder that it’s sculpture show that’s coming up… thrown pots just might not fit the bill.

Fair assumption
I quite honestly hadn’t given the notion of whether thrown functional ceramics were “sculptural” or not. I’ve been operating with the notion that they were, but I hadn’t really taken a few extended moments to work though exactly why.

After a day spent in the gardens thinking it over, I believe it all comes down to “intent”.
If the maker intends something to be sculpture, it simply is.

A piece of paper standing on end is a sculpture if that is the intent of the person that stands it on end.
Whether its Art is a completely different matter…
Simply put, a “pot” can be a sculpture when it's created with intent. Anyone can easily see that there are a wide variance in the degrees of intent applied to the forms and surfaces. It's also noted that not all pots are actually created with intent (that distinction is a much lengthier thought).
There is is.
Thrown Pot + Intent = Sculpture

Now I'm wondering if this a valid view point, or an over simplification of a big can of worms?


TropiClay Studio said...

Could you say that sculpture (just as art and beauty) is in the eye of the beholder?

Mesnic said...

I agree anything intended as art is art, this is the only reasonable answer to the classic "what is art" problem. Beyond that I think that functional pottery fits the stricter definition of art as the combination of form, line, and color. Art isn't in the eye of the beholder, only in the eye of the artist, sure it's nice to have others consider your work "art" but irrelevant as to it's definition as such.

Lori Buff said...

You're post makes me think about Duchamp's Fountain sculpture. I imagine he would agree with you.

FetishGhost said...

It's funny you should mention Duchamp, that's who me grade school art teacher used to drive this point home 30 years ago for me.

carter gillies said...

This seems like a very good point. Potters have been getting such a hard time because they are not intending anything beyond mere function and beauty. They can be dismissed out of hand unless there is something else going on, some other intention, some content that makes the work meaningful in some other way. And most pots don't usually look like they carry that content, or if they do it can be misinterpreted or simply taken for granted that basically its still only a pot. 'Sculpture' in the traditional sense escapes this because the physical form is recognized as carrying content more readily.

But this still seems to be only one of our more pernicious prejudices because, as you say, pots can be made with the intent for other meaning, and 'sculpture' can also be made with no other intent than being beautiful. It is entirely arbitrary that pots are not considered sculpture by any definition except that "sculpture does not include pots", and of course that's debatable....

And there are sculptures ABOUT pots, sculptures that reference pots but are not themselves pots (in other words fail to function in that they don't pour, are too big to drink from, etc.). And if something can be both a teapot and not a teapot, then obviously we are right where Duchamp wanted us, and the gatekeepers should be more lenient about letting 'pots' into exhibitions.

The funny thing I see in some academic ceramics departments is that as soon as you put words or drawings on the surface an otherwise straightforward pot becomes acceptable art, but not until. Its as if painting=content and that therefor any 'pots with images'=painting=art. I would laugh if it weren't so sad....

Sarah Dungan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah Dungan said...

(reposted after proofreading to correct glaring and confusing word errors, oops)

I think other folks are gonna get all the good modern art - concept - intent - discussion out there, I'm gonna go a different place that I find really interesting.
I have this running conversation with my sister, who is an archeologist regarding what is art, what can be defined as art if we no longer KNOW the intent, and conversely, what can be defined as 'purely functional'. Pots especially! Because archeologists dislike defining artifacts as art - mostly I suspect because it tacitly encourages collecting, stealing, and black market selling artifacts. But when you don't have an artist statement telling you the intent, where do you draw the line between when a pot is 'art' and when its just 'cookware'? There are some pretty fantastic Mayan, Greek, and Native American pots going back into pre-history that are obviously intentionally decorated well beyond what is required for just using the vessel. But if you open up ritual and religious purposes as functional rather then art, you lose the argument that anything added for purely decorative reasons makes an object art. But then again, you can't discount religious visuals from being art either, else you've just crossed out most of European art for hundreds of years, when the church was the biggest patron for artists and craftsmen.
So I guess my thought is, sure, if you intend it to be art is IS art, but is intent the only thing at issue? If you don't intend something as art can it become art anyway? If you don't know the intention, what then?


I think there will always be people and organizations that exclude pottery from other "artistic" mediums or who characterize it as a craft versus an art. I actually really like your short and succinct summary that sculpture is about intent. I think art in general is about intent in it's simplest form.

In short, beautifully said...even if it does open a big old stinky can of worms. :)

FetishGhost said...

Thanks for climbing on the dog pile.

Intent + thrown functional work = sculpture
This is most definitely not the same as
Intent + thrown functional work = Art

That crosses into sacred territory.

carter gillies said...

Ain't that the sad truth.... But it seems that is the limit of what academic ceramicists can defend. Kind of funny when you think that Art History includes straightforward ancient pots and museums exhibit ancient and historical pottery. Its just the contemporary potters who get kicked to the curb....

jim said...

hi joel, considering all the 3 dimensional objects that pass as sculpture, pots (thrown or not thrown) certainly fall well within those boundaries... wait, what boundaries?