This is the second issue in our 60th volume year, and I’m a little embarrassed to say that I almost missed the fact that such an auspicious milestone was being passed all but unannounced. Now, to be honest, it’s wonderful for a magazine (particularly this magazine) to have been around that long, but there is no reason to dwell on the past. Well, maybe just a little bit. When I was looking back through all of the previous covers during our 2011 redesign in order to track the evolution of the magazine’s content and design, I was struck not only by how many great, now-retro, covers we had, but how far publishing technology (and studio-ceramic technology) has come in the last 60 years—not to mention the last five years! I won’t fill the pages of the magazine with the covers of the past, but I will share our very first cover, which I think is still a nice cover—even though it was printed with only two colors.
I came into ceramics in the late ’80s, and into publishing in the late ’90s, and I don’t think it would be too far from true to say that both have changed in the last 10 years more than they had changed in the previous 30. Perhaps this is more true for publishing than for ceramics, simply because the tools of the trade for the former are so much more reliant on current technology than for the latter. We had the desktop-publishing revolution, the Internet revolution, and now we have the mobile-device revolution (each one faster and more intense than the last). Each of these has affected all of our lives, even if we don’t work in publishing—and even if we do work in ceramics.
For a set of technologies that is thousands of years old, ceramics is quite maleable (seriously, not an intentional pun). Its practitioners use it in combination with (and sometimes solely using) technologies from other artistic and scientific endeavors. Are ceramic artists just more open minded and embracing of alternative approaches? Well, I would really like to think so, but I just don’t think we can claim that. More likely, ceramics lends itself to so many approaches, techniques, and finished products because ceramic materials are pretty much everywhere; there are literally tons of it all over the place, and they have been around for so long that our technologies have grown up around them, have been tailored to them, and have been made to accommodate them whether they were originally intended for ceramic application or not.
As an example, we’ve discussed 3-D printing and ceramics here before, at its infancy and a few times along the way. It could be argued (rightly) that it is still—and perhaps always will be—along the way, as evidenced by Roderick Bamford’s article (p. 60) on how he uses this technology to play with and introduce the elements of creative discovery and accident into his making process. This is something that was not necessarily possible with the 3D printing technology available even five years ago—you couldn’t even put clay through it without voiding the warranty of a $10,000 machine—and the technology he uses can, in fact, be used for highly precise and controlled manipulation of clay. But like any good technology that wants to stick around, it has found a way to bend to the will of those who employ it.
I just love the fact that you can make something from digital bits and bytes and then turn around and fire it with wood in a pit, connecting technologies from as recent as this year with technology that is about as old as our species. At the same time, you could squish clay through your fingers, let it dry, and fire it in an electronically controlled kiln that can be monitored from pretty much anywhere in the world on your fancy mobile device, connecting the oldest tool we have with one of the newest.
Every month when I write this column, I seem to be able to find something about ceramics that is new and interesting (to me—hopefully to you, too), and that’s always taken me a bit by surprise. Not anymore. The rapid pace of invention and discovery that includes ceramics is such that I’m not sure any one of us can keep up. And I’m not just trying to say that I think technology is great (which I do), or that it will, or should, or is even capable of, supplanting the incredible tradition from which we draw. What I’m trying to say is that I think we may see as much development in studio ceramics in the next 10 years as we’ve seen in the last 60, and that is more exciting than it is daunting, more hopeful than it is ominous. And for us, at the end of the day, it’s really still just the basic material of mud in our hands that inspires us to create—which is why it’s worth exploring for another 60 years.
Check out the rest of the February 2013 issue!