Sunday, 18 May 2014

Ceramicist Or Potter

Danijela K., some 15 years ago...

What is the difference between a ceramicist and a potter? This is the most common question I am asked when I talk about my work. Honestly, I am not sure if there is a universal definition that can explain these two terms.

Intuitively I would say that a potter is a person who works with clay and produces mostly functional ware, pots. Just mention the word potter and immediately I have this mental black and white image of Bernard Leach working on his wheel. 

Also, the first thing that I connect with the word ceramicist is a person who not only makes functional pots, but also non-functional objects of art. Please note that I would never consider the sculptural art as non-functional; in this case the non-functionality refers strictly to tableware.

An artist who creates only sculptural clay art (if he doesn’t call himself a sculptor) would probably title himself a ceramicist rather than a potter just because of the association this word brings with it. 

If an archaeologist digs a small clay figurine from some ancient culture, as I was told, he or she would not call it a piece of pottery, but rather a piece of ceramics. On the other hand, if the same archaeologist digs a bowl he or she may name it both ceramics and pottery. 

I think that a lot of people consider the word ceramics as an umbrella term that covers functional work, sculptural work and everything in between. Also, there is the industrial aspect of the term ceramics. Just think of all areas that include ceramics like sanitary ware, architectural and medicinal ceramics, to name the few. Now the matter is becoming really complicated.

If you look at the origin of the word ceramic you may notice that it comes from Greek word keramos (κέραμος) which means potter’s earth or potter. I guess this explains a lot. Both ceramicists and potters work with the same material: both of them go through the same process of wedging the clay, forming, firing and glazing. 

So, it is a matter of preference how you want to call yourself if you work with clay. A ceramicist, a potter, a clay artist, a ceramic designer... Did I forget any?

I really don’t like putting things nicely organized in some semantic drawers with a tag on it. However when asked if I consider myself a potter or a ceramicist, I say that I am a ceramicist. Many times they respond: “Oh, so you are a potter!” Well, yes I guess I am. Both.


So, if there are any fellow clay makers out there, I am really curious: How do you call yourself?


2 comments:

  1. If there was a village with two people working with clay nearby, and one of them had put up a simple sign with an arrow "Ceramicist 1km", I think most would think that it's an artist working with clay as a medium. The other person with the sign "Pottery 1km" would probably be perceived by most as doing work more on the artisan side and would probably attract more visitors because, maybe the kids could even get to see how a pot is thrown and probably the potter has cheap useful things for sale. I think it's all about the market you're after, and how you sell your work. I'm a potter :-)

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    Replies
    1. Hi Melker,
      I like your example with the two clay artists. It makes sense. Do you mean that a word ceramicist is not transparent enough? I do agree that a word potter (or pottery) is more precise and more inviting.

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