Saturday 25 May 2013

To Art Or To Craft?

“Peach and chestnut trees bear fruit in three years, persimmon trees in eight. Skill comes in a decade, and art in a lifetime. Pottery takes a lifetime and a half. I need half of my lifetime in my next existence.”

These beautiful lines were written by the Japanese potter Wakao Toshisada. If one considers that Wakao's pottery lineage goes back more than 700 years, it is not surprising that he thinks of pottery as larger than life. I read this quote in Ceramics Monthly Magazine* back in 2001 and I pondered it over and over again ever since. His statement seems to be both humble and arrogant at the same time. 

In general, there is a disagreement on whether pottery is craft or art. Potters who produce hundreds of identical functional tableware in a row are often considered craftsmen. At the same time, these pots can be ornamented and painted by the same potter who gives his vessels a creative and arty touch. Are we talking about arts or crafts here? Maybe both?

On the other hand, there are potters who create unique pieces and limited pottery lines. Is it correct to label those potters artists just because they don’t do mass production? And after all, who has the right to judge a potter as an artist or a craftsman? 

Well, one thing is sure, to do some decent pottery one needs to master certain skills. Also, it takes time and endurance to achieve those skills. There is another aspect that should be mentioned as well: It is that hard-to-describe force that provides the potter with imagination, creativity and inspiration. It is that little bit extra that gives a cup that has been made in the same shape for thousands of years that genuine personal imprint. 

 Bowl, wheel-thrown stoneware, 10 cm in height, 20 cm in diameter.

So, don’t let yourself get pegged down with any kind of label. Instead let your inner art flow through your hands and just create. You may need a year or two, a decade or two or even a lifetime or two to get yourself where you want to be. I think it is not about when. It is about how and if.

*Richard Busch: Visiting four Japanese Potters. In Ceramics Monthly, November 2001, S. 74-77.