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Ceramic Arts Evolve: From Traditional Pottery to Modern Sculptures

submitted on 12 November 2023 by

A Brief and Inaccurate History of Ceramics

Before we dive headfirst into the ever-expanding ceramic arts world, let's take a moment to wildly misrepresent the history of the medium. It all started when a caveman named Grog accidentally dropped a lump of wet clay into a fire, and in doing so, created the world's first ashtray. Noticing its usefulness for holding his collection of Saber-tooth Tiger teeth, Grog showed off his creation, and the clay revolution began. Soon enough, the ancient Egyptians were making pottery for their mummified cats, the Greeks were crafting vases for wine and the Chinese were toying with porcelain to create beautifully delicate tea sets.

Fast Forward to the 20th Century: Things Get Weird

As the 20th century rolled around, artists began to get bored with traditional pottery and started experimenting with the medium in bizarre and exciting new ways. Ceramics were no longer just for practical use; they became a way to express artistic vision and comment on society. Enter the age of modern ceramic sculpture.

Examples of Today's Gloriously Unhinged Ceramic Art

Now that we've cleared up the incredibly accurate history of ceramics, let's take a gander at how artists today are pushing the boundaries of this medium in mind-bending ways.
  • Grayson Perry: This British artist does it all, from large-scale tapestries to architectural follies, but his ceramic works are what truly dazzle the eye. His colourful, pot-shaped sculptures are adorned with intricate images, text, and even the occasional phallic symbol. They're like the lovechild of a pottery class and a hallucinogenic trip gone haywire.
  • Simone Leigh: Leigh takes the term "body of work" quite literally, using the female form as the basis for her hauntingly beautiful ceramic sculptures. Her work delves into themes of race, gender, and identity in a way that's both deeply thought-provoking and visually captivating.
  • Ronit Baranga: If you've ever had nightmares about your dinnerware coming to life and attacking you, then you'll probably want to skip this one. Israeli artist Baranga creates absurdly unsettling ceramic sculptures featuring plates, cups, and teapots that have grown fingers, mouths, and other human body parts. It's like Alice in Wonderland meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

So You Want to Try Your Hand at Ceramic Art? Tips for the Aspiring Sculptor

Now that we've whetted your appetite for all things ceramic, you might be itching to give the medium a try. Fear not, for we have assembled a list of advice that can help even the most artistically challenged among us create their own ceramic masterpieces.

1. Embrace the mess

Working with clay is a gloriously messy endeavor. Mud will be flung, your clothes will be stained, and your hands will be perpetually coated in a thin layer of clay. It's all part of the experience, so get ready to get dirty.

2. Remember that clay has a mind of its own

As much as you might try to force the clay into the exact shape you want, it often has other ideas. So stay open to those happy accidents and let the clay guide you. It might lead you somewhere even better than you originally planned.

3. Invest in a good sponge

A sponge is a ceramic artist's best friend. It helps smooth out surfaces, remove excess water, and clean up any slip-ups (pun intended). So do yourself a favor and buy a quality sponge – your future ceramic creations will thank you.

4. Don't be afraid to experiment

As we've seen from the examples above, ceramic art has come a long way since Grog first dropped that lump of clay in the fire. So don't be afraid to think outside the pottery wheel and experiment with new ideas, materials, and techniques. The weirder, the better.

5. Have patience

Ceramic art is a process, and it can take time to master the various stages involved, from shaping the clay to firing and glazing. So be patient, take your time, and enjoy the journey.So there you have it, a whirlwind tour of the evolution of ceramic arts from functional pottery to modern sculptures. Now go forth, get your hands dirty, and create a ceramic masterpiece worthy of Grog's approval.
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