For most, the word ‘art’ conjures mental images of oil paintings, such as Edvard Munch’s iconic work, ‘The Scream’. But like the man that Munch painted in 1893, many distressed ceramists would want to yell – because some people still don’t think of them as artists just because they encapsulate their ideas in clay instead of oil on canvas.
The title matters little to art critic and curator Aasim Akhtar, who waxed lyrical about the work of ceramists during his lecture. At the outset, Akhtar said that “in the post-modern world, an object’s medium does not preclude it from a seat at the art table”.
All 14 minutes of his lecture, which may have been a little difficult for a layperson to digest, were packed with elaborate theoretical arguments about where ceramists stand in the ‘art versus craft’ debate. In a nutshell, the debate goes something like this: art – physical manifestations of people’s thoughts – are distinct from craft, which is utilitarian in nature. For example, people may consider an abstract painting as art but a pot, not matter how ornate, is still a vessel, which can be used to hold substances and therefore pottery is a craft.
Akhtar also differentiated between pottery and ceramics sculpture – a division not apparent in the term ‘ceramics’ that both of them are categorised under. “Pottery seeks validation as a particular kind of art. Yet pottery is handicapped in its effort towards art status by the requirement of its function,” he said. “For as long as the pot…must fulfill obligations, then its commitment to expression is compromised.”
He then went on to question the attitude of ceramists towards the ‘art versus craft’ debate. “Is it the blurring of the division between art and craft that achieves equity? Or is it simply a high and just regard for craft and its discipline?”
Akhtar ended his lecture by stressing that ceramists need to develop their own critical language with which they can describe their diverse approaches to people outside of the field. reporting by Usman Liaquat
Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2013.