author: gary healey | photographer: terence bogue
Like many people, I read lots of ceramic and art magazines. This helps in deciding whether the next crazy idea you have come up may be worth pursuing, or whether what you have just made is likely to find a market, but I often wonder whether I am in another business. There are lots of learned articles about the meaning behind what someone is doing or making. Detailed narratives are produced on objects which, to me, have little intrinsic value as forms; constructs are used which I have never seen; and wading through source material referenced in footnotes makes me giddy!
There is a role for intellectual commentary, particularly when it can help educate on an important social, political or environmental issue. It is important that people who choose this path not be judged; however, there is a big difference between this kind of commentary and something which is completely meaningless or, even worse, deliberately meaningless. I often do not understand what is being said in these articles, or necessarily how it contributes to the overall experience of a piece. It is almost as if the public cannot appreciate the work without this additional, quite specific, intellectual input
.The ‘art’ business has been doing a fabulous job for many years of making various things they do impenetrable. Again, this may not be a bad thing given that art needs to push boundaries; however, the language used is often very specialised. How many people do you see gesturing at an exhibition or artist statement as if they know exactly what it means when in fact they haven’t got a clue? Does everything really need to have a clear meaning? For me, good pots are strong enough to ‘just be’. Even by ‘just being’ they can do remarkable things like, for example, make someone who is chronically ill marvel at how beautiful an object can be, and in that short moment forget pain ever existed.
The following curatorial proposition appeared recently for an exhibition:
“You are on the last moments of this trip. The opportunities now exist to reframe and reposition the associations and the memories that clutter your vision of the frequent flyer, the internet surfer and the ecstasy-tripping Flaneur. You are slipping between the disembodied display of changing images and perception. The present global situation presents an overwhelming abstract experience that characterises 21st century existence. What will you do?”
I have no idea what this means.
Ceramics is a very down-to-earth pursuit, both literally and metaphorically. Is there a risk that by seeking to be too clever by half with our explanations, narratives and constructs that we will alienate the very people we are trying to sell to? I don’t know but I think we should discuss it.
My own work is, above all else, driven by the quality of the form, line and surface treatment. It must stand on its own and reject rates are high. The ideas come from my gut and my heart. Feelings are important. If something makes me feel good when it is finished it might do the same for someone else. I can sometimes find words to describe the feeling I am trying to evoke but often I cannot. If people like something I make that is fine but if they don’t, that is fine too. If someone reads something into a piece that is valid for them, great; I am not about to issue a single and definitive explanation with every piece I make.
Gary Healey is a Melbourne-based ceramic artist. He is also
Vice-President of Craft Victoria. The views in this article are Gary’s and should not be attributed to Craft Victoria.
T: (03) 9809 0703
Article from The Journal of Australian Ceramics 46#3