Category Archives: Art (nonclay)ศิลปะไม่ใช่ดินเผา

About Painters

It doesn’t but I do.

About painters, at least young ones that I knew when I was young, or at least younger.

Frequently I had people from other media wonder/ask how the uncertainty of firing could be dealt with. I always found this question baffling. I could not always put it into words.

The uncertainty can be excitement. You can have certainty if that is what you want, or at least close to it. Test and measure until you are certain. Its not what I want from clay, but someone can. Life is uncertain, you are always balancing variables in everything, is the pan hot enough for the eggs not to stick or is the butter going to burn?

But all of this is prefaced on the idea that painters can visualize, fully comprehend, fully plan, fully understand, what their work will look like, how it will impact people, themselves, how it will stand. They work in a similar manner, and really have no idea until it is finished. They too have surprise. The too are orchestrating process.

Really though, the work is not finished until we are gone, and well after that. When someone uses your coffee cup or mug, or looks at your work anew, each time the work changes. It is not some fixed static entity when it comes from the kiln.

The classic example of this post firing manipulation of work is Old Teabowls, with records kept of who drank what and when, with stains, cracks, repairs, Kintsugi, thoughts, writings poetry. But it really is not different for any other object. Price is part of the work, What Rick Newby thinks about it becomes part of it, who bought it, what gallery, a thrift store?

There is nothing that does not add to the work, even if it seems to detract. I am not sure it is over if it is buried. Although if its been subducted, melted and extruded as new igneous material the relationship is getting a bit thin,

intendedness vs effortlessness, consideration

It is clear to me that as a media we are making progress at least in some ways. Sure there is more technical know how and horsepower than there was 40 years ago. There is more knowledge and more people doing glaze calculation and substantive kiln innovation. But even the pots themselves are getting better. This can be demonstrated pretty well by looking at handle attachments. I have joked about looking at upper handle attachments pictured in CM from the first issue forward using the criteria of intendedness(1). But I am not so interested in quantitative research in the field. I just want to generate thought. Still it seems that progress here can be demonstrated.

In this regard I have been looking at Simon Levin’s handles on cups. Really the whole cups are wonderous but it is the handles I am most in to. The mimicry of the smooth upper attachment is so well done at the bottom that the effort that goes in is not apparent. There are no signs of any effort. The bottom attachment looks as is it was accomplished the same way the top attachment was, no muss, no fuss. But it wasn’t. Simon has apparently developed the skill  and technique to make the bottom attachments look the same and a lot of effort went into this.

The lack of unresolved details in the bottom attachment meet my definition of intendedness. Every part of the attachment looks like it was considered. The details look like they were all intended. The clean lack of struggle, the lack of unintended marks, makes these lower attachments look effortless and I wonder if the terms “apparent consideration”, “intendedness” and “apparent effortlessness” are not in some ways relating to pots, synonymous.

(1) Intendedness: This is the appearance of intent, rather than intent itself. Something can look like it has intent but if it is actually accidental, or a controlled accident it still has intendedness. The Bauhaus  designers used to say that every aspect of a design needs to be considered. This is an important principle, but in my opinion poorly stated. I say that every aspect of a design needs to look considered or intended. They do not need to be intended. How well something conforms to this ideal, this look of intention or consideration is its intendedness.

Once something looks intentional it is possible or easy and almost automatic to either think you know why something was chosen the way it was or to wonder why. Either of these is a gateway to meaning.


Breath and the Brute

Breath and the Brute: Exhaling Stone in Thailand

Potmaking, making real pots, is a good educational track for future sculptors. Former makers of real pots, assuming these are pots with breath,  go on to make sculpture with similar life and erumpent form.

Chris Berti’s carved limestone sculpture shows such breath apparently descended from his potmaking. The sculptures have a taut skin. They look as if a prick in the skin would lead to a fountain of limestone squeezing out; the skin hangs on the volume. In these forms the tight skin creates the feeling of erumpency, a readiness to burst forth, also know as pregnant form.

I have been thinking of the obvious visual differences between the form of pottery and that of traditional European stone and bronze sculpture and the basis for this difference. The great stone sculptures shown in traditional Western art history survey courses have skin on muscle and bones, the muscle and bones being the structure upon which the skin is stretched. These sculptures never deny mass, you sense their weight, their density. If you were to squeeze them you would sense muscle, and bone. The muscle bone and sinew sensed through and reflected in the nuance of the skin reinforces our knowledge and understanding of the mass inside. In pottery-derived form the mass is denied or minimized, the skin seems stretched on volume, a moving kinetic volume of air, or perhaps another light fluid medium. Squeezing volumetric form, at least squeezing it in your minds eye causes a sense of increased or decreased pressure, of air movement, or in some closed forms a sense that the form will “pop”.

I am not convinced of the superiority of either paradigm, these paradigms of mass or volume, but I work in a University studio next door to a sculpture studio and notice the shift when I travel just a few feet. It is not the materials that change but the eye, conventions, and aesthetic. This is not to say that volumetric form is unknown in sculpture (or for that matter mass to the potter). In fact sculptors working with volume, in the potter’s paradigm, seem to gain recognition on its account. It is just that this kind of form is harder to get in concrete media than truly plastic media. Mass is what stone is about. Denying mass and stressing volume is apparently difficult to do but it can make work dynamic. When one paradigm informs another it makes both stronger.

Several years ago I had the good fortune of returning to Thailand. I had been thinking of Clary Illian’s book on potmaking. I visited the remains of a bronze foundry that had been relocated outside of Thonburi, a suburb of Bangkok. The old factory specialized in Bronze images of the Buddha. The sizes ranged from 6 inches to 9 feet tall. The sinuous limbs and lithe but full form of Thai Buddha images sculpted in wax on top of plaster cores have kept my mind returning to this foundry. These wax forms had no sign of the underlying bones and muscle, no structure. What they had was erumpency, the breath of inflation, a sense of the volume within. The skin was taught. Visiting the factory and revisiting the process gave me a clue to what I believe is the reason. I have ceased wondering if the sense of fullness in these forms is related to the importance of breath in Buddhist religion and meditation. I now believe that breath was imparted consciously by the sculptor.

Several years ago I returned to a bronze foundry in Thonburi Thailand after an absence of 8 years. The old factory specialized in Bronze images of the Buddha. The sizes ranged from 6 inches to 9 feet tall. The sinuous limbs and lithe but full form of Thai Buddha images sculpted in wax on top of plaster cores have kept my mind returning to this foundry. These wax forms had no sign of the underlying bones and muscle, no structure. What they had was erumpency, the breath of inflation, a sense of the volume within. The skin was taught. Visiting the factory and revisiting the process gave me a clue to what I believe is the reason. I have ceased wondering if the sense of fullness in these forms is related to the importance of breath in Buddhist religion and meditation. I now believe that breath was imparted consciously by the sculptor.

Most traditional bronzes in the west start as a clay model often with a wire or wood armature, a mold is taken from the model and then it is cast creating a thin skin of wax inside the mold. The hollow interior is formed by pouring plaster investment inside the thin skin of wax. The outside is then also invested in plaster. In large scale Thai Buddhas the core (volume) is modeled out of investment first. This looks a lot like a Buddha, but the artist has to visualize the finished form. Detail is left off. Over this core, this image of the internal volume of the figure a skin of wax is applied. Then details such as the curls representing hair, fingers, and other thin details such as folds in the robe are added. The finished images, like well made pots have the sense of kinetic volume, and a dynamic volume like that talked about in Clary Illian’s book. The skin although just wax has a sense of elasticity. In ceramics this dynamism of surface comes from the process and materials but requires skill to enhance and conserve. This sense is easy to kill. In wax it seems to come solely from finesse. Lots of finesse.

Back when I was in school in Kansas City we used to grunt about pots. Our ideas were at the state where we did not have many words to describe them. Victor (Babu) with brilliant hand gestures would do minimalist dances describing the positive, negative, or lacking attributes of our pots. Victor would talk about pots, springing from within, as blossoming and would talk about pregnant luscious form. With the dance and gestures the words had great meaning.  We went on a dictionary quest for more words for Victor’s use and found the word erumpent. He wasn’t much impressed. It may have been that I defined it as, “Ready to burst”.  It may have been the lack of positive connotation. These words, blossoming, luscious, erumpent, pregnant, kinetic are all variations on a theme. They seem to reside inside the overarching term of what is now called breath. Even in pots, this term breath seems to speak of life-force. In a less spiritual language breath is the word to describe an active skin/volume relationship.

I am not a big fan of sentimentalism in discussion of art but when you talk about art you necessarily tell lies, what some of my Catholic friends might call lies of omission. The words trim off essential nonverbal meaning. I tend to think that a lot of what is said is vacuous, words with no insides, like pots without breath (Dancing while speaking, gesticulating, give words greater fluency). While in school I always had a suspicion about all the talk of the inside hand, feeling the form from within, sensing the volume. My suspicion was that it was poppycock. I could not have been more wrong. I had begun to be converted sometime in the mid to late eighties. It could have been a small series of pitchers by Josh DeWeese while he was between undergraduate and graduate school. To really see it you have to look at bad pots, next to good ones. Photographs only carry traces of breath. I became convinced of the primacy of volume over form in potmaking while working on inflatable teapots for the Las Vegas NCECA. We put together some not well-made inflatable clear plastic teapots the size of travel trailers, and put an audience inside them while we subjected the audience to a tortured story about Alice’s life with Lewis Carroll. Looking at the skin while inside a teapot was a big education. I learned volumes.

I now talk about throwing from the inside, the volume, breath, erumpency, the inside form, with my students. I see the same look on their eyes, “what a bunch of sentimental art talk without substance”.  I wish for them a visit inside a teapot, a good look at a Thai Buddha, and the clarity that comes from a good deep breath. Breath is there to see, once you look

Louis Katz Breath and the Brute: Exhaling Stone in Thailan

Volumne, axis, centrifigualforce as the replacement for bones and mass.


The box. There is always a box. We say that some people can think outside of the box. We say this  because their thinking is outside of our own box. We make these boxes ourselves and dutifully place or just find ourselves inside them. Much of our personal box is determined by the frame-set we grow up in; the boundaries defined by parents, teachers, children, environment, and cultural identity.

We, the big we, humans, have a box that we all live within, the box is bounded by our earth, and the box of our common mental structure, maybe astronauts and the insane can escape in some measure. Physics boxes us. We understand momentum, mass and acceleration as we move our limbs. Because of our box instantaneous acceleration of arms or legs is hard to comprehend. Light stopping as it travels is hard to comprehend. Our senses box us with their limits. Even trying to visualize, to internalize non-visible forms of radiation, infrared ultraviolet, radio waves, these visualizations lie outside our box.

Artists are supposed to be able to think “beyond the boundaries”. They are supposed to be able to develop new ways of thinking, new relationships. They should be able to create “the new”. Yet even artists create seemingly arbitrary boundaries to their thoughts and work. This dogma defines us as we define it. We box ourselves.There is no absolute help for it.

Fortunately artists, people in general, humankind are not  homogenous, and different cultures and groups and individuals place different boundaries on our thinking. By comparing where these boundaries are we might be able to discern where as a species we limit ourselves. It is these intercultural differences, specifically in American/ Thai art or more generally even culture , that I am trying to ascertain, to get a handle on, to try and grasp. My hope is that by understanding these differences a little more light can be shed on the larger boundaries of thought, the boundaries of expression and the boundaries on art  that we needlessly impose on ourselves.
Some of us play with box shifting. Until recently I called it phase shifting. The word box puts me in a more open frame of mind.
These shifts seem easiest when they are applied to organizational schemes. The best example I have is the typical structure of art schools around groups of tools and techniques; media specific structure.
We tend to structure our courses around media and tools:
•    Drawing classes,
•    Painting Classes,
•    Printmaking Classes,
•    Ceramics classes.
We could instead organize around content types:
Formalism, and minimalism etc. .

Or perhaps we could take the sculptor’s approach:
Subtractive processes,
and use whatever materials to teach these things.

We could also have a freshman art class, a sophomore class, junior and senior and rotate media people in and out or just use individual instructors. There really is no end to the variations on these box shifts.

It is only recently that I realized it, but nearly the entire body of my work has been the investigation of these shifts with a fixed center of clay.
What is function? This started with oddly functional objects, as mundane as soy sauce droppers and as far afield as ceramic counterweights and insulators.
What is a pot? What is the art object, is it the pot, the message, the effect on the viewer or the viewer’s perception and understanding of the artist? When a clayer paints a pot, is it a pot? Is their relationship to clay more important than the paint?

The question I seem to be asking has been getting more general. What is clay? Is it just the stuff, the material. Is the real primary object the “finished product” or is it the thoughts and feelings we have about it, how the cup affects our lives and hearts, minds and relationships?

My work at the Archie Bray several years ago, “Manifestation: Bray” and its predecessor “Manifesto” make the case that “we” are not just “makers”. Certainly many of us make ceramic objects; sculpture and pots. But many of “us” are also historians, critiques, and just our buying public. It is a mistake to view “us” without at least a query of our boundaries. Since this is about people, it becomes a question of “us and them”. “Them” are those that don’t see, appreciate, breath clay. To us they are as Muggles, “Them!” said Stan Shunpike contemptuously. “Don’ listen properly, do they? Dpn’ look properly either. Never notice nuffink, they don.” (Rowling, 1999)

Rowling, J. K. (1999). Harry potter and the prisoner of azkaban. (1st ed. ed., p. 36). New York: Scholastic Press.

Hello world!

I have been granted a faculty development leave next year January – May to visit Thai studio ceramists and traditional potteries. I expect to be gone for 4 months. I am not sure of my exact departure date. I have a long list of things I need to do before I leave, some of which I have already started.
One is working on abstract vocabulary, the other is trying to fill out my list of people and places to visit. I expect my time there will be very busy.