Why I don’t make Art.

Some quotes:

On the critic: “Interpretation is the revenge of the intellectual upon art. ”
Susan Sontag

On the artist: “All artists are willing to suffer for their work. But why are so few prepared
to learn to draw?”

On the art world: “First you do everything possible to make sure your world is antibourgeois, that it defies bourgeois tastes, that it mystifies the mob, the public, that it outdistances the insensible middle-class multitudes by light-years of subtlety and intellect—and then, having succeeded admirably, you ask with a sense of See-what-I-mean? outrage: look, they don’t even buy our products! (Usually referred to as “quality art.”)”
Tom Wolfe, The Painted Word

I say that making art has become an act of the intellect achieved through language and illustrated in the designated art space.

Skill and any use of purely visual/physical expression has been denigrated until it is entirely secondary to, and in the service of, the intellectual scaffolding that would appear to hold it up by explaining its value.

I don’t want to make art. To set out to make art is to start at the wrong end. I believe that we express ourselves through everything we do in our lives. The idea that an artist can express herself more powerfully or meaningfully through art is to assume that cultural significance can be taken on like a mantle, or held like a talking stick. The miss-use of the “A” word makes art look silly. “Look I’m making very important Art!” And we can all tell it is Art because it fulfills some of the magic criteria that classifies Art.

Here are some of the attributes that  can be used to identify something as “Art”:

  • It is not functional.
  • It is new and therefore avant-garde.
  • It is hard to classify.
  • It is very big.
  • It is in a recognised Art Space.
  • It is shocking.
  • It breaks or blurs boundaries. (Free and elusive.)
  • It gets in the way so must be an “installation”.
  • It is reassuringly expensive.

Art does not have to cover all of these bases, after all it is free and elusive in quality. But if we are going to make some Art we should try to cover more than one because logically a work becomes more powerful with each attribute you can add from the list. To make new Art  we must pick attributes from the list and find them in something that has been overlooked by the art world until now. New technology is a great area to find new ways of exploiting the Art formula. Exploitation in general is what it is about so we should exploit our audience to make the experience more real. Charge more money for our work and we will increase perceived value. We could design and deploy a dating app which will gather information on, and images of, our audience and then use it in an intrinsically shocking, hard to classify and boundary breaking way. It would be great Art. – But now we have had the idea, do we need to actually do it? and does anyone need to see it? *

Art critics are the interpreters of art who look at the puzzle that the artist throws into the Art Space. Their activity is a game in which they translate the raw artistic output into  an intellectually coherent adjunct to their own work, the work of Art Theory. At first glance you might think they have little influence over a world that they merely commentate on. However as Art has become increasingly dependent on conceptual justification for its status, so the role of Art Theory has become central to the cultural validation of Art. That’s enough about them, suffice to say, they are parasites who have caused a gross distortion of our cultural life.

You can tell by now that I’m not happy about Art. You might think that I envy the Art world, that it is just sour grapes. This may be a bit true, but this is not fuelled by the envy of Art prices. I am very disillusioned with the Art world. Because I love visual art and making things, I am sad that visual expression has been devalued, made secondary to intellectual expression to the point where the generality of people feel they are not qualified to have an opinion on visual art. You don’t hesitate to say what sort of music you like but more likely than not preface anything you say about art with “I don’t know anything about Art but..”. Somehow we are visually disenfranchised by the Art world.

To sum up I think that the word “Art” should be reserved for the best quality work in any field. It should not be used to define an area of creative activity. When I use words to express myself I do not make something in clay to support my meaning. When I use clay to express myself I do not turn to words because my thoughts come through clay. If the word art was used to denote the highest quality rather than the type of work – then there would be room for craft to take on this true meaning, and the best works of craft would be art. – Not to mention the best of football, cinema, theatre and all other non-essential cultural activity.

I notice that I have not mentioned the role of the market place in all this. More on money, meaning, mediocrity and alliteration later…

*  On second thoughts maybe I would like to see it!

Here are some images:

Scene from “A Clockwork Orange” where Alex is given corrective aversion therapy to violence and incidentally to the music of Beethoven which happens to accompany the violent films he is shown. I’m not sure how this is relevant but I think I see it is a metaphor for my acquired aversion to art, caused by going to Art School.
Salvador Dali paints a penis on a woman’s forehead and signs it “Picasso”. A very contrived photograph which could have been designed as an illustration to a written theory of Dada & Surrealism.
Marcel Duchamp “Fountain”. The great Duchamp is the original conceptual artist. Are we, as a culture, condemned to repeat this until we learn something?
Ceramic work by Copenhagen based artist, Maria Rubinke. Is she trying to tell us something?
Why I don’t make Art.

Then you haven’t smelled the tangle of The Isles.

This week I have been mostly delivering pots to two Galleries in Scotland.

The first, The Gallery in the Wood at Calgary, on the Isle of Mull has a replenished supply of banded stoneware which went on display on Tuesday. Calgary is a lovely place to visit towards the northern end of the island, it boasts a sheltered niche of a bay in the rugged coastline flanked by basalt cliffs. The beach there has dazzling white sand on a sunny day and is a beautiful place to discover. Beneath an upturned wooden boat at the north end is the one concession to visiting tourists – Charlie’s Ice Cream Hut. Here you can get Isle of Mull ice cream, buckets and spades, and those little windmills on a stick. The road away from the shore leads to arguably the best cafe in the north west of anywhere, The Carthouse. Nestled amongst the converted buildings of Calgary Farm is an oasis of art and good food. Matthew and Julia Reade have created a place where people want to linger. In a purpose designed building Matthew has his workshop and above is the art gallery. This is where you can find Matthew’s wooden sculptures and where, I am pleased to say, my pots seem to sell very quickly.

Stop two was The Resipole Gallery which is on the shore of Loch Sunart, on the way to Ardnamurchan (Àird nam Murchan, ‘headland of the seals’). This place has a reputation for very good quality Fine Art painting. I am one of the few potters on their books, they sell the Raku sculpture I make. Andy Sinclair, the owner, makes beautiful paintings. Take a look at the website for proof of this. There is a good display of local artists on at the moment with paintings of local landscapes featuring heavily – and why not? it all looks beautiful round here.

The road to Resipole

Both these places are well worth a visit the next time you’re in the Western Highlands. Fare prices on the Ferries to the Inner Hebrides have actually gone down this year thanks to the implementation of a new system which calculates the price of a journey from its distance in sea miles. A return journey to the Isles of Mull Oban to Craignure, with a car has gone down from over £100 last year to under £40, including driver and a passenger! so what are you waiting for?

Here is a form you can use to sign up for my Pottery Newsletter. You will get the occasional update about what I’ve been doing and making, some blatant advertising of my pottery and maybe some insights into the work of a potter. Or you could just use it to give me some feedback to improve the next post.

Then you haven’t smelled the tangle of The Isles.

How I learned to fire my red glaze so it comes out red – Part 2

Last time I did not explain how I learned to fire my red glaze so that it came out red. This time I will.

To start with it was Janice Tchalenko’s red glaze recipe that I had got from a book. It became my red glaze when I re-mixed it making little alterations to see how it would behave. Then I began to understand it a little.

Red glaze amongst other coloured glazes. #reduction

Copper red glazes fired in reduction are like magic, an alchemy happens in the kiln which is barely under the potter’s control. When Chinese potters first discovered a way to make red pots I imagine it would have been a well guarded secret that passed down the generations of a small band of craftsmen for many years before it became more widely known. Like all industrial secrets if someone else wants it badly enough they will be able to find it, either by their own experimentation or by stealing the knowledge somehow. The technical ability to make bright red is not the whole answer though, it is what you do with that technical ability which makes great pots or not.

To start with it was difficult to get the red glaze to be consistently red. It would come out transparently white -ish  over my base glaze, or dirty grey if I reduced too much. By asking around and reading as much about it as I could (this was a little before the internet and Google) I had worked out that you need to get the reduction in early for red. But sometimes it was beautiful red and sometimes it just wasn’t there, or not at the back of the kiln or near the spy holes.
I became obsessed with trying to understand what was happening in the kiln. Red glazed draw trials pulled from the kiln during firing were never red but somehow red would appear when the kiln had cooled. I started to have strange dreams in which I was small enough to walk into the kiln through one of the burner ports, wandering through a glowing yellow cathedral unharmed by the flames.
Eventually, after months becoming years of observation and adjustment of firing schedules, I was managing to get a consistent strong red. Then I decided I did not like it. The softer half lost reds were definitely more beautiful!

This leads to what I love about craft. The wholeness of the enterprise. You cannot divide the technical from the aesthetics or the function. You get to understand all of it slowly and each part is enmeshed with the others. You might love the look of a jug but if you find it awkward to use or it dribbles you love it less.

Technical stuff:

Janice Tchalenko’s Copper Red Glaze: Batch.
Potash Feldspar – F.F.F. (Potterycrafts P3296)
Borax Frit (Potterycrafts P2957) 45
Whiting 45
Copper Oxide 1
Tin Oxide 3

As you can see there is very little Copper in the recipe, in fact there is more Tin Oxide. Although the glaze comes out red in reduction because it has copper in it, it seems to be the tin that helps to fix the colour. When the glaze goes into the kiln it is off-white and powdery because it has no clay in it. We put clay in glazes to control the tendency of glazes to craze as they cool on the pot. Copper red glazes need to have little or no clay in them to get bright and clean colour. Adding clay to help control the crazing or keep the ingredients in suspension in the glaze bucket makes the red dull.

The other things that copper red needs to work  apart from early reduction and little or no clay in the recipe are:

  • separation from the clay body.
  • separation from the kiln atmosphere – the red develops best where the glaze is thick.
  • slow cooling from 1020°c – 950°c.
  • good fluxing and glaze transparency because the red colour is an optical effect.
  • protection from too much re-oxidation – glaze is often redder inside foot rings.

Here is a table of events that I have found should lead to a good firing:

Pyrometer Reading
 Action  Cones
Orton cones 09, 8-9-10
0 – 900°c Oxidising with the damper in the flue wide open. Temperature rising at about 100°c/hour.
 900°c  Adjust the damper in the flue to about ¼ closed to start gentle reduction. Start to notice smell of reduction.
 950°c  Heavier reduction – damper almost ½ closed. Flow of primary air at burners reduced.  Orton cone 09 fully bent.
1080°c Oxidise for 2 minutes with damper & burners open. This is supposed to brighten up all the colours, and it does.
1100°c While oxidising the temperature shoots up. Then reduction resumes as before.
1180°c I look at the cones at the top and bottom of the kiln to judge how even the firing is. If there is a big difference in the bend in cone 8 viewed through the top & bottom spy holes I will slow the firing to try to even things up. Orton cone 8 just flexing.
Up to about 1225°c Firing is slowed by easing off the gas pressure whilst maintaining reduction by use of the damper, to even up the cones.

Eventually the gas is turned off and the damper and burner ports are sealed up.

Cones fall one by one, about 30 minutes between each.

Cone 10 is left standing.

As every potter knows, the final temperature read out is not as important as the cones, they are the deciding factor in judging when to stop the firing.

#pottery #copper_red #craft #ceramics #glaze


How I learned to fire my red glaze so it comes out red – Part 2