The Hand and the Glove... ramblings about making.

Thoughts from Matthew Collings ‘This is Civilisation’ series 4th programme – Uncertainty. [1]

Matthew Collings purports that art since the Impressionists is created by artists to reflect Western mans uncertainty in understanding the world around him. Previously, art was used to support man’s understanding of the world, backing up political and religious doctrines.
As advances in science provide answers to the fundamental questions of how we relate to the natural world, some of which were previously answered by religion, many people question their relationship to the society with which they are obliged to engage.
In the part of the world that I inhabit, employment for most people brings wealth well beyond their basic needs. Though potentially rich in material terms, the price paid in both physical and mental health terms, relationships with partners and family members etc. are considered by some to outweigh the gains. However, there are few alternative ways to successfully negotiate our modern world. Rejection of the system usually results in economic hardship and alienation from conforming members of society. Frustrations are sometimes negatively channelled into excessive consumption and violence, but can also lead, perhaps subconsciously into acts of creativity like gardening, and other outdoor activities that bring us into contact with the elemental forces.
The creative process can also be engaged with indirectly, through visits to galleries. Artists have always operated at the fringes of society, and are seen in many societies almost as shamans. They are the natural conduits through which questions can be asked, not to provide definite answers but to encourage debate and allow the participant to find their way of engaging with the modern world. Installation artist Clare Twomey says:

“I hope my work raises more questions than answers; the viewer is in control of the level in which they engage” [2]

Where does ceramics fit in to this dialogue? Only at its fringes? Studio ceramics, though a dominant force through the middle 50 or 60 years of the 20th century is now seen by many as side-lined, having no relationship to contemporary art. The word ‘Craft’ has been under attack for some years, being seen as the poor, or no relation to Art. There are now attempts to rehabilitate the word in exhibitions such as the joint V & A/Crafts Council ‘Out of the Ordinary – Spectacular Craft’. It’s not the craft that we are comfortable with; there may be superb craftsmanship but there’s no function, it’s cerebral work, posing questions, making observations. The exhibitors [what do they call themselves?] may specialise in the materials and techniques of one craft, but perhaps for the first time that is the subject of some of their work, not just the vehicle. The viewer takes away an experience, not a gewgaw.
The ‘Out of the Ordinary’ exhibition is the flux that is helping to forge a new definition of ‘craft’. With our world juggling sustainability and over-consumption, green issues and the latest ‘must-haves’ craft is beginning to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

[1] Broadcast on Channel 4, 15.12.07
[2] ‘On the Cusp’, Clare Twomey. Ceramic Review 229 Jan/Feb 2008, p.48.