Monday, January 4, 2016

"The sky is falling!" ...Henny Penny*


*The title of this post is tongue in cheek.

I started writing this blog after a 23 December 2015 C-File posted about a New York Times article:

"Why Handmade Ceramics Are White Hot" (DEC. 16, 2015)

The NYT article nominated a small group of "Hot" ceramicists.

I suspect that the  C-File editor, writers and some readers took exception with the NYT deciding which ceramic artists are "hot", because by implication, it might imply that  the C-File's own A list was not.

Perhaps a wider perspective will give a more balanced perspective.


One of the detailed explanations for this trend, was written up by Canadian MA student Mary Callahan Baumstark, before the trend spotting journalists at NYT, and Vogue.1

She also highlights its feminist ideological foundation, and the way social media has enable a small number of craftspeople to quickly surpass the localised popularity of the orthodox ceramic community's champions.

I suspect social media has enable the Mass Intelligentsia to emerge independent to the established ceramic elite Intelligentsia.  It's almost like a reverse of the classic "high culture" stealing from the  "low culture" conflict (e.g. graffiti appropriated by Street Artists), but in this case the emerging digitally empowered middle class have now stolen from the high.

Meanwhile, many long term ceramic artists in Australia like myself have been transfixed like kangaroos in headlights by the UK BBC short series Great Pottery Throw Down.  

Personally I cringed while watching it, to see so many redundant studio techniques-a bit like watching someone carry around and use a brick sized mobile phone in 2015.  Completely unnecessary and uneconomical  way of working, and just plain hard work.  I suspect an experienced Chef would feel the same watching the Master Chef or UK Great Bake off TV series. 


Baumstark referenced the " maker movement (or DIY) movement after 1989", which is still going strong here in Australia (see the short ABC TV Bespoke series.)2  


But this misses the point.  Ceramics has always been a contestable market, and no amount of fancy writeup in peer reviewed journal articles (or the digital equivalent C-File) read by a tiny audience (myself included) will protect us, against someone skilfully using social media (and now noticed by the NYT and Vogue), and making adequate unique, functional objects.

What would Marx make of this triumph of Social Capital over Cultural Capital?

You can't beat them, and by creating C-File, Clarke et al are already trying to join them.

As makers, we have to be careful, as Baumstark points out:

The reality, however, was more complex and although it offered economic stability for some, the majority of economic revenue came in the form of craft support (such as supplies, retail space, and marketing) and was garnered not by individual makers, but by platforms and corporations masking themselves behind the maker's’ efforts. 

We have to be careful that C-File does not become another such platform.

Moreover, I hope C-File does not get in the habit of white anting the NYT and other digital media platforms promoting individual ceramic practitioners, while simultaneously promoting it's own stable  of individual ceramic practitioners.

To do so would do the ceramics community a grave disservice.









1 For those interested, I've dug up some of the Vogue articles:
Earth, Spin, and Fire in the bumper Sept 2015 
The New Look of Traditional Japanese Ceramics October 20, 2015
The Latest Trend in Fashion? Mixing Clothing and CeramicsMarch 12, 2015 
One-of-a-Kind Ceramic Tableware, Perfect for Summer Gifting July 22, 2015

Paradoxically in Australia: just about all universities and technical collages have closed down their ceramic major courses over the last decade, and now many community ceramic classes across the nation have waiting lists-but that's the subject for another blog...)





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