Ethnocentrism and Flux

This seems an essay rambling through topics. Structurally it is all about the models we view the world with, their limitations and the power of stepping to the side and gaining perspective. In this the word “flux” refers to a group of ingredients and related concepts in glaze and clay.

Probably the single most important lesson I had in school was one on the word and concept “ethnocentrism”. I believe that the class was in fourth grade. It could have been fifth. I grew up in a suburb of Detroit, a “shtetl”, an area where greater than 90% of the people had Jewish ancestry. I believe that the word was part of the curriculum for that grade as others I have talked to had similar lessons. Its inclusion, not having anyone to ask about it, seems likely the result of, a response to, antisemitism, The Holocaust,,, ongoing problems. Cities near us did not allow Jewish residents, pools were segregated. For me the lesson on ethnocentrism was critical.

Ethnocentrism is the concept that from within a cultural viewpoint the actions of that culture seem consistent, meaningful, sensible and from outside the culture they can seem otherwise, bizarre, random, nuts, etc. The concept states that our feelings of our culture and that of others are framed, guided, by our cultural standpoint. Ethnocentrism has its strongest expressions in monolythic cultures, but certainly exists in multicultural environments. It is often, maybe always, a root cause of “isms” such as racism, ageism,  nationalism, religiocentrism, etcetera-ism. 
The lesson  and the thoughts related to it tied itself over the years to many different topics in my daily goings on. So many that it now seems like it is part of every day, every thought, every moment,, connected, a sinew atttaching my hair to my toenails, my thoughts to my emotions.

At the University of Michigan in a course in The Pilot Program, a living/learning environment/dorm/community at Alice Lloyd Hall I took a class called “An Overview of Low Energy Technology” taught by a multi-talented individual, Jim Burgel. One of the requirements, seemingly unrelated to this course, was reading, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. This book, although seemingly on a different topic than ethnocentrism melded into this topic. In some ways the book is about how our concept of the world changes how we perceive it, and how there are different ways to conceptualize the world. The differing rationalities described in this book seem consistent from the inside.

At the same time I was taking an Art History Survey course, “An Overview of Far Eastern Art” History taught by the late great Professor Walter Spinks. In it, at the beginning of each section, he tried to give us an overview of how a people perceived the world, what concepts guided their thoughts. I remember much of what he said about Taoism. I found it captivating. Later in the semester we discussed Buddhism and Zen Buddhism, and the illusory nature of perception and confusion of it with reality. Over the years it took hold. An interesting look at this is contained in The Jews in the Lotus, by Rodger Kamenetz. The book is a discussion of the events leading  up to a meeting between a group of Jews and the Dali Lama. The Dali Lama was trying to understand how a people can live and thrive in exile and wanted to talk with experts.

But in the book there is a short discussion of JewBu’s, Jews who become Buddhists. There seems to be a lot of these. It seems, although hard to quantify, that the Jewish mindset meshes well with Buddhism. I do not have any great insight on this. I cannot step far enough out of my own box to gain perspective. The one idea that I do have is that both frameworks are very abstract.

So, what does this have to do with “Flux”?
The word has many meanings, lots of definitions, and exists in many realms. But this discussion is its use in Ceramics. There are lots of definitions, complications,  overlaps, inconsistencies in how ceramics melt and sinter. The word and concepts are not simple subjects.

Perhaps the most general definition is, “A flux is a chemical that promotes melting”.  Great! It is a nice concept. It apparently is descriptive. It has nice defined edges. Something that does not promote melting is not a flux. 

As you add say calcium oxide to a clay body or a glaze that has none it melts easier and easier at a lower and lower temperature. The problems are that there is a lower limit below which it does not seem to help the melt, or at least not much. There is also a limit of the material above which it does exactly the opposite, prevent melting.
The relationship, and the problem with the word “flux” as it is used here is best illustrated with calcium oxide (calcia), aluminum oxide (alumina) and silicon dioxide (silica). These three ingredients form a nice looking stoneware glaze and sit close to some traditional celadon recipes from China. If you take the lowest melting composition, you can mix a recipe close to it it with one part of kaolin clay, one part ground quartz sand, and one part limestone. It simply demonstrates  the complexity. The limestone is traditionally called the “flux”. But if you remove or just lower the alumina the melting temperature goes up. Alumina in this composition helps the melting. It is by this definition a “flux”. The same thing is true of silica. As you remove the silica, the melting temperature goes up. It fluxes the alumina and limestone. It helps them melt. As you remove the limestone, the same thing happens. Each of these materials fluxes each other. Understanding this is critical to understanding glazes.
So the next most useful way to pidgeon-hole materials is to remove the silca and call it a glass former and alumina as a stabilizer or amphoteric. This makes the definition of a flux something that helps the alumina and silica to melt or sinter. This makes a lot of sense. It is unusual for us to add silica to lower and melting point. Normally what we seem to recognize and encounter is that adding it to glaze, after a certain point, raises the melting temperature. Alumina starts raising the melting temperature in much smaller quantities. But at temperatures down to the very low temperatures for glazes, little bits of alumina lower the melting points.
Hermann Seger developed the modern pyrometric cone,  a device for measuring the temperature and time components of the melting of glazes. Little tall cones of glaze materials, “cones” are made of the materials used for making glazes. At certain temperatures, after a certain amount of time they begin to melt and slump over. The can be spyed, throught what in the US is called a spy or peephole to determine the maturation of glazes in a kiln.
In doing so, he developed or at least further developed a system for analysis of glaze, still used today, called the “Unity Formula”. Rather than opperate on weights of materials, the unity formula uses counts of molecules, or moleclar equivalents in the glaze.
The unity formula is divided into three columns. The first is “The Fluxes” the second is “The Glass Formers”, the third is the “Modifiers” or amphoterics. But as simple as this seems, it too is an oversimplification, and some call the first column RO/R2O meaning items that take the form of an atom or two of a metal (R)  and a single atom of “O”, oxygen. The second column is the RO2 (one metal two oxygens) and the third is R2O3. Fine.
The material whose fit is seems the worst is Boric Acid, B2O3. By formula it should exist in the modifiers. But we add it to lower the temperature of melting, a flux, but it forms glass by itself and is a glassformer.  Most of us have left it in the third column but it needs to be thought about on its own.
We used to have a fourth grouping, “colorants”. Some of us still use this grouping. These are things that we add to glazes to change hues, or to add hues. The problem is that most of these materials also  act as fluxes, or help lower the melting temperature of the silica glass. Some of these exist in different forms depending on the temperature and composition of the gases they are melted in.  Some can loose oxygen as they are heated, some loose some of their oxygen if heated in a gas containing carbon monoxide or hydrogen, and some change how they function depending on their quantities, really all of them do. In terms of how they affect melting most of them belong in the fluxes. Some don’t and are glass formers.

I think that flux,glass former, amphoteric, is fine to a point. But thinking of things as melting is a limitation. Sure, they melt. But once we have a liquid using the vocabulary and concepts of solutions is much more informative. A solution of alumina silica and calcia above its melting point has an infinite ability to dissolve feldspar. Its ability to dissolve baria is limited, as is its ability to dissolve chrome oxide. At some point the solution gets saturated. Generally speaking in a saturated solution once the temperature starts to drop, things can crystalize out of solution if the mix does not become super saturated. This concept, solution, contains the complexity that happens as you add calcia to a  melted glaze.

Like many other things involving the definitions of words, “what is a flux” can become a turf war, especially between people who see the word or words as a real map of reality. For those, the word gets confused with the hopelessly complex reality. I too can get caught in this trap. I am not sure who does not or cannot. If the Buddha, the “all knowing and aware one” exists, than I suppose, again by definition, they are not confused. My belief is that the only real model for how the universe works would be another universe. I find more resonance in knowing how things flow, the patterns they make. This relates more to Taoism.



Words, the concept of them create a box from which we see the world. We define colors, speeds as fast or slow, temperatures as hot or cold, objects are cars or boxes, we create our world with our words and concepts.
Because of this I have a tendency to “dedefine words”. Art rather than being on object made by an artist, becomes “any object of intelligence”. But even this is not as broad as my real desire, nature too is art. So every object, idea, concept is art. Art is everything. It just become another “everything word”. It describes a particular set of glasses through which you view existence. The other problem in the “object made by an artist’ is that I define everyone as an “artist”. Everyone is expressive, everything the do is expression, and creative. 

Now there are ideas in the West that embody at least part of this connected all/everything. I call these ideas, or box them in, with the concept “everything words”. We here these all the time. “Everything is G-d”, Everything is Love, Everything is Chemistry, Everything is Physic, Math, Science, Psychology. And inside my box, I see everything as Art. The truth here seems to be that everything is everything.  But I find that I need to qualify this, Everything is Everything except when it is not.