Well, what can we say about new developments in a field as old as ceramics? Luckily, quite a lot. It would seem that the age of the field is not as much a determining factor in development as the fact that most of Earth’s crust consists of ceramic materials! Some might also remind us that studio ceramics as a vocation and avocation is such a relatively new development that we should expect new models at a pace more rapidly than we do. Really, there is no reason to expect that new developments in ceramics will ever stop; its capacity for adaptation to new applications is what draws many of us to it in the first place. I think this is true whether we’re talking about ceramics in art or science. Both are based on experimentation and exploration. And any number of other fields can’t escape overlapping and intersecting with ceramics: space, batteries, armor, museum conservation, electronics, energy, transportation, medicine (and the list could go on forever).
Okay, so maybe that’s old news to some of you (perhaps many of you), and maybe you’ve found your own groove of exploration that will occupy you for years—perhaps the rest of your life—and you really don’t want to move in another direction in the studio or explore different societal or cultural applications for ceramics. But I refuse to believe that means you’re totally uninterested in finding out how others use this amazing material. In this issue, we devote a bit of attention to the intersection of the traditional individual ceramic studio and design. I know I’ve mentioned here before that design is an activity we all engage in on a regular basis, but here I really am talking less about the verb and more about the noun that is the professional designation of a person who works from a brief (a problem-solving assignment, which can be self-imposed), sometimes working directly with materials, sometimes not. This type of design historically has been, at least in the minds of studio artists, tied most closely to industry, since it endeavors to solve problems for large numbers of people in an efficient manner. And this means (again, in the minds of studio clay folk) mass production.
There are many educational institutions that have embraced industrial technology in their ceramics departments—some strictly for purposes of creative exploration on an individual scale, and some for intentionally embracing industrial techniques and companies to bring an additional group of professional possibilities to their students. Regardless, it cannot be said that studio-ceramic education today is an endeavor in anachronism. I find this to be encouraging, particularly because many of these programs also include traditional pottery making, sculpture, and ceramic history in conjunction with CNC milling machines and 3D printers.
In this issue, among our usual fare, we will talk about the approach to ceramic design some have taken, and look at the resulting work so you can make up your own mind. We start with “Reversing the Flow: European Designers in China,” by Heidi McKenzie (p. 30), in which she relates the endeavors of two Scandanavian designers who chose to set up shop in the center of China’s porcelain factories. This is not uncommon for companies (it’s what the town is designed for), but it’s still relatively new for individual makers. Luckily a residency program built to take advantage of what Jingdezhen has to offer gave them a leg up. Read their story, and see if perhaps there is inspiration there you did not expect. And don’t miss the Spotlight this month, where we discuss this intersection of design and studio ceramics with a maker who has explored this cross-pollination both academically and personally. Heather Mae Erickson is one of the makers and educators laying the foundation for a new (renewed) collaborative approach between the studio and the factory. The key is to recognize the advantages and disadvantages of both, and take what you need from each to make the work you really want to make. Sounds pretty darn creative to me.
Check out the rest of the February 2014 issue!