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?

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

How I learned to fire my red glaze so that it comes out red.

Some reflections on learning how to fire pottery.

When I first started using reduction firing in 1993 I picked some exciting sounding glaze recipes from a book called The Ceramic Review Book of Clay Bodies and Glaze Recipes which had tempting descriptions and lists of exotic sounding ingredients. I had access to a gas fired kiln at Keith Ashley’s studio on the Archway Road in north London and no experience of reduction firing. The first kiln load was a complete disaster. The reduction had been too strong and the extra fluxing power of the reducing atmosphere caught me out, so that everything was over cooked with glazes running down into the middle of bowls and a purplish grey colour predominated.

I was a bit shocked as the pots were nothing like the images in my head that the descriptions in the book had prompted, but it did not make me want to stop experimenting. With Keith’s encouragement I tried again and gradually over months and years learned how to do it, reducing enough to make red from copper and not so much as to turn chrome green glaze dark by over doing it.

The lesson was that starting with a recipe book was not the best way to learn. You have to do your own experiments and look hard into the glazes on your test tiles to find little things you might be able to use. The ways that the glazes combine was also strange to me. I was learning the difference between stoneware firing and earthenware decorated with slips, the difference between glazes and paints. It took me a while to see how I could work with what I was getting.

One of the things I love about glazes which is hard to get with paint and hard to imagine if you have only ever painted with paint, is the depth and richness of the colour. And then the varied qualities of the surfaces – from matt, through eggshell to melting butter, and on top of that the range of opaque to transparent.

Here is a teapot – Coloured glazes over a white Cornish Stone glaze with transparent reactive glaze in between. Fired in reduction to Orton cone 9.

The thing I find most difficult while I’m decorating is trying to think how the glazes will look after the firing is done. The colours are not there yet and the glazes will move over the surface slightly as they melt – an effect to be exploited.

More thoughts to follow in future posts, including some of the secrets to successfully firing red glaze, how to sell pottery and “Why don’t you make art?”.

How I learned to fire my red glaze so that it comes out red.